Middle Eastern and Scientific Societies Professor Salim Al-Hassani, ‘1001 Inventions’

With the kind permission of the Provost, the Middle Eastern and Scientific Societies hosted Salim Al-Hassani, Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Manchester, and founder of the 1001 Inventions touring exhibition. Professor Al-Hassani raised the question of why accounts of the history of science and technology often jump straight from the ancient Greeks to the early modern age, with a gap of over a thousand years in which humanity seemingly produced nothing of note. He then went on to list hundreds of scientists and inventors active in the Middle East during this very period. These were people of various faiths, including Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, in addition to Muslims. A number of women also featured. Professor Al-Hassani’s presentation included an enjoyable short film starring Ben Kingsley as a tour guide through this oft-ignored period, as well as a series of virtual 3D reconstructions of some of the more remarkable inventions, including a mechanical system for converting circular motion into linear motion, and an intriguing water-powered elephant clock. Professor Al-Hassani was most animated when talking through the details of feats of mechanical engineering – perhaps unsurprising, given his academic background. Moreover, he made it clear that he was less interested in hackneyed debates on ‘who influenced whom’ and ‘who invented what first’, and much keener to celebrate human achievements wherever and whenever they took place, while emphasising the need for this particular forgotten chapter to regain its place in the story of mankind’s capacity for discovery and invention.

The talk stimulated a great many questions, including some probing queries from the secretaries of the Scientific Society on the relationship between these practical inventions on the one hand and progress in scientific theory and method on the other. We would like to thank Professor Al-Hassani for a fascinating presentation.