Mark J. Schiefsky

Mark J. Schiefsky is a historian of philosophy and science in the ancient world.  Much of his work is concerned with the ways in which philosophy interacted with science in Greco-Roman antiquity: how philosophical theories shaped and were shaped by scientific inquiry in various domains, including medicine, mechanics, mathematics, and astronomy.  His 2005 book studies these themes in the case of one of the most important and influential texts of the Hippocratic Corpus, On Ancient Medicine. This book also reflects his longstanding interest in the concept of techne, “art” or “expertise”, which informs and motivates much of his work on philosophical and scientific texts. He is interested both in what philosophers like Plato and Aristotle said techne is and in what practitioners of the various disciplines took it to be. 

In recent years Schiefsky has been working on the reception of ancient Greek philosophy and science, particularly in the Arabic-speaking world but also in the Renaissance. Ancient treatises on mechanics were the subject of extensive commentaries in the sixteenth and seventeenth century CE, which can shed significant light on their interpretation (see his paper “Art and Nature in Ancient Mechanics”).  Similarly, the Graeco-Arabic translation movement of the eighth to tenth centuries CE, as well as being crucial for the transmission of ancient Greek texts, is a highly significant phase in the reception of Greek culture that can reveal a great deal about the meaning of a text such as Aristotle’s Poetics

A third area in which Schiefsky works is digital humanities, where he has focused both on creating structured digital corpora and on developing software to apply techniques from natural language processing to the study of texts in a variety of languages.  He pursued these efforts in the context of two major sponsored research projects: the Archimedes Project from 2001-4, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and concerned with the history of mechanics; and a separate project funded by the Mellon Foundation in 2010-13, which resulted in the creation of a digital corpus of Greek and Arabic texts connected with the translation movement. In the course of these projects, and with the collaboration of many others at various institutions, Schiefsky contributed to the creation of Arboreal, a software application that enables the extraction and visualization of semantic networks from textual corpora in a variety of languages (see his 2015 paper “Beyond Archimedes”). He continues to work on extending and developing these resources, with the aim of creating a rigorous, multilingual approach to studying conceptual developments in the history of science and philosophy.