Pink elephants. It’s a silly image, but it’s one that Professor of History Mark Smith uses effectively to illustrate concepts in the otherwise dense material he translates. Dr. Smith works within a unique field, the history of science. There is a prominent duality in this work, as he translates medieval science into modern terms but also puts the work he translates into historical context. For the majority of his academic career, his research has concerned one single, massive editing project of The Book of Optics, which involved establishing a coherent, critical Latin text from several manuscript copies and translating it to English. The Book of Optics was written in Arabic in the eleventh century and translated to Latin in the very early thirteenth century. This work concerns not only the physical science of optics but also the philosophy behind it, which includes the process that happens when you hear or see the words “pink elephants.” Automatically, you call up a picture in your mind of a pink elephant, and that process is a key part of Dr. Smith’s work.
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