Ross School

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mission Statement (partial)

The purpose of this M-term trip is to survey the evolution of world culture through the lens of complex dynamical systems theory. In this view, a matrix of historical nodes are connected by a system of links or routes, along which cultural and trade goods are transmitted, people migrate and armies conquer. We call this system the Golden Matrix. Through scholarly translations and creative contributions, culture diffuses and evolves. The ideas, philosophy, customs, beliefs and cultural wealth of one node, when transmitted along a link, is transformed by an alchemy of language, resources, art and geographical context into a new and more complex form. Over time, hybrids emerge that represent the repository of cultural and scholarly heritage in new forms and that serve as catalysts for the evolution of culture and consciousness.

This is the third installment of three trips exploring the preservation and dissemination of knowledge, commercial and cultural exchange from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley to Greece, then through Byzantium or Baghdad (via al-Andalus, Sicily, and other routes) to Rome and Renaissance Florence. The first trip examined the culture of tolerance and evidence of cultural fusion amongst the three Abrahamic religions in medieval al-Andalus; the second explored the birth of Western philosophy and culture in ancient Greece and the final fluorescence in Renaissance Florence. This trip will address both the role of Byzantium as the link from ancient Greece to Renaissance Florence and the influence of the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt in fostering the foundations of Greece’s contribution’s to philosophy, mathematics, science and government. Constantinople, straddling the Asian and European continents on the Bosporus, served as a nexus for cultural, scholarly, commercial and religious exchange. As the socio-political and religious heirs to Rome, the Byzantines spoke Greek and established institutions that produced scholars who were invited to Baghdad by the Islamic caliphs. Eventually, these illustrious scholars would carry the knowledge and philosophy of the ancient Greeks to the Medicis and spawn the establishment of Ficino’s Florentine Academy. 

Likewise, Hellenistic Alexandria played a critical role in the preservation of ancient knowledge with the establishment of the Alexandrian library, the largest of its time. Fusing the rich heritage of ancient Egypt’s archaeo-astronomy, medicine and technology with revival of Platonic philosophy, Alexandria was the home of the great Pharos, one of the ancient wonders of the world. From Alexandria, the work of Euclid and the Neoplatonists diffused to the cultures of Greece and Rome. Not only was it the crossroads of commerce between Europe, the Near East and Asia, and with Sicily, the breadbasket to the Roman Empire, but it was also the largest city of its time and the one with the largest Jewish population in the Hellenistic world.

Students will analyze the roles of Alexandria and Byzantium as nodes in the Golden Matrix--preserving and transmitting ancient knowledge, fostering new interpretations and cultural paradigms, and engaging in transcontinental commerce. They will draw connections between these two nodes and those of ancient Egypt, Athens, Rome, Hellenistic Alexandria, Byzantium, the Golden Age of Islam and Renaissance Florence through analysis of economic, religious, political, technological, linguistic, mathematical, scientific, philosophical, artistic and culinary cultural expressions. Through blogs and various media, students will create curricula for public and independent school curricula. The results will be integrated with curricula developed from previous trips having studied al-Andalus, Athens and Florence. The intent of the final product is twofold: first, to nurture understanding of a period of time from the ancients through the Renaissance in the Mediterranean world when there evolved a dynamic of culture, trade, faith and knowledge; and second, to disseminate the global cultural Ross School Spiral Curriculum.

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