Sonja Brentjes

Research Scholar (Since 2012)

PD Dr. habil.

I am a historian of science with a focus on institutions, mathematics, and mapmaking in Islamicate societies until 1700 and cross-cultural encounters in the Mediterranean and western Asia since the eighth century. Currently, I am working on a new interpretation of the Book on the Balance of Wisdom by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Khazini (d. 1130s). With an international group of scholars, I am also building an image database on the visualization of the heavens in Eurasia and North Africa until c. 1700 and the material and intellectual cultures of these images.

I studied mathematics at the Technical University Dresden (1969–1973), history of mathematics and science at the Karl Marx University Leipzig (1973–1976), and Near Eastern history and Arabic at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (1978–1982). I wrote my PhD on the history of linear programming and my second dissertation on number theory in Arabic and Persian texts composed between 800 and 1250 (1977; 1989). In 1991, I acquired the venia legendi.

I have published broadly on different topics in the history of mathematics, cartography, patronage, higher education, science and the arts, cross-cultural encounters, and historiography. Recently I edited a book on processes of globalization in the Mediterranean between 700 and 1500 (with Jürgen Renn) and a book about historical narratives on scholarly activities in non-Western societies of the past and their distortions (with Taner Edis and Lutz Richter-Bernburg). My latest published paper deals with early modern sources that reveal how Europeans learned to speak and write Arabic outside the university.


A Book on al-Khazini’s Book on the Balance of Wisdom


Convivencia. Iberian to Global Dynamics (500–1750)


Cross-cultural Knowledge Transfer through Translation


Visualization and Material Cultures of the Heavens: Image Database Eurasia and North Africa (4000 BCE–1700 CE)


Visualizations of the Heavens and Their Material Cultures in Eurasia and North Africa (4,000 BCE-1700 CE)


Teaching and Learning the Sciences in Islamicate Societies (800-1700)


Selected Publications

Brentjes, S. (2019). Mathematical commentaries in Arabic and Persian – purposes, forms, and styles. Historia Mathematica. doi:10.1016/

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Brentjes, S. (2018). Visualization and material cultures of the heavens in Eurasia and North Africa. In S. Schmidtke (Ed.), Near and Middle Eastern studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1935–2018 (pp. 134-153). Piscataway, NJ:…

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Brentjes, S. (2018). Teaching and learning the sciences in Islamicate societies (800-1700). Turnhout: Brepols.

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Brentjes, S., & De Young, G. (2016). al-Ḥajjāj b. Yūsuf b. Maṭar. In K. Fleet, G. Krämer, D. Matringe, J. Nawas, & E. Rowson (Eds.), Encyclopaedia of Islam (3, pp. 75-77). Leiden: Brill. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_ei3_COM_30200.

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Feature Story



Institutions of Knowledge in Islamicate Societies: Patronage, Books, Families, the Arts