A Medieval ‘First in Flight’ is an interdisciplinary project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It focuses on ‘Abbas Ibn Firnas (d. 887 CE), a celebrated polymath of Córdoba, the capital of early Islamic Spain. ‘Abbas Ibn Firnas is best known for conducting an early experiment in human flight.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary intellectual culture of early Islamic courts, our group combines tools and perspectives from arts, humanities and the sciences to analyze accounts of the flight and its historical contexts. Our project is informed by the earliest Arabic texts and the material and historical evidence of the ninth century. Nevertheless, our investigation is creative and exploratory – imaginative interpretation and visualization, rather than representation, is the aim of our project. We approach the flight as a framework to consider artistic and social dimensions of scientific and technological experimentation in Córdoba and other early Islamic courts.

We are pleased to carry out this research in North Carolina, the site of the Wright Brothers’ famous ‘First in Flight.’ By connecting their modern aviation milestone to a longer historical trajectory of interest in human flight, we present our own example of how the spheres of art and science creatively intersect.

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