16th century illustration of a celestial sphere from a Turkish work on astronomy

Teaching about cultural exchanges as a discrete topic of study is relatively new in the classroom, since most historical studies in survey courses used to focus on individual societies or civilizations, their descriptions and accomplishments. The lessons and resources described on this page demonstrate how artifacts, travelers such as merchants and scholars, places, institutions and other categories can be used to study exchanges among societies and make them tangible for students. Particular focus is on the exchanges from Muslim societies to European societies that led to the so-called 12th century Renaissance, the 14th century Renaissance, the Age of Exploration, and the Scientific Revolution. A new resource on the Indian Ocean traces the much earlier origins of many of those exchanges between Islam and the West in the late medieval period.

  • Beyond A Thousand and One Nights: A Literature Sampler from Muslim Civilization, by S. Douglass (Council on Islamic Education, 1999), a wire-bound set of reproducible excerpts from writing in science, philosophy, politics, history, law, poetry, essays, stories, travel accounts, and more, with background information on each author and work, and study questions for each excerpt. Available for purchase as well as sample pages to download.
  • Emergence of Renaissance: Cultural Interactions Between Europeans and Muslims, S. Douglass and Karima Alavi (Council on Islamic Education, 2000), a collection of teaching resources that links to the wealth of recent scholarship and historical thinking on hemispheric connections in trade, the history of science, artistic influences, literature and architecture, and religious expression that contributed to this formative period in Western and world history.contains dozens of illustrated texts, activities, literature and primary source readings. Covering learning standards related to medieval and Renaissance world history from virtually every state and national curriculum document, this flexible teaching tool contains material at multiple reading levels from 6-14. Available for purchase as well as sample pages to download.
  • The Transfer of Classical Knowledge Before the Renaissance is a self-contained, complete lesson based on material found in The Emergence of Renaissance (Council on Islamic Education, 1999), a resource collection comprised of readings, activities, projects and critical thinking exercises designed to enrich students’ understanding of interactions between medieval Muslim and European civilizations, and the intellectual and cultural roots of the European Renaissance. It can be downloaded as a pdf file from the link by scrolling down to the pdf icon.
  • Era 5 Landscape 2: Consolidation of the Trans-Hemispheric Networks at contains lesson materials on the transfer of paper-making technology, Arabic numerals, transfers of agricultural crops, food items and customs before the Columbian Exchange, as well as technological and stylistic exchanges in ceramics, metalwork, glassware and hydraulics.

Cities of Light, the Unity Productions Foundation documentary film on Islamic Spain, or al-Andalus,  features both online resources on the topic of exchanges and transfer of knowledge such as the 12th century translation effort that began after the Fall of Toledo  The Material Culture of Al-Andalus “magic squares” interactive on 25 areas of scientific and cultural exchange, a fun feature called Islamic Spain: What’s for Breakfast? and an extensive lesson packet for teachers, among many other online and downloadable resources at

An abridged version of the Cities of Light film, at 47:15 minutes can be viewed online at . The full-length film, along with all of the other UPF documentaries, can be viewed online at

The British exhibit 1001 Inventions is available in an online, interactive version that highlights transfers of knowledge, technologies and material culture from Muslim and European society. It includes scientific knowledge, inventions, foods, beverages and other common things we take for granted, arranged in a series of categories based on social institutions and spaces from the home to the universe.

  • 1001 Inventions includes a 12-minute video of high quality 1001 Inventions and the Library of Secrets featuring famous actor Sir Ben Kingsley. The video has nice special effects and integrates well with the other features of the exhibit and reading material on this website. Another link to the film is here, and there are many more links to the video that you can find by searching the title.

The Indian Ocean in World History traces the movement of people, goods, ideas and technologies from earliest human migrations through the eras from 90,000 B.P. to the present, through the Ancient, Classical, Medieval, First Global, Industrial and Imperial, and Twentieth Century/Globalization Eras. Students have the opportunity to engage with primary sources through text, image and historical inquiry skills.

The University of Maryland Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies “Crossing Borders, Breaking Boundaries” Summer Teacher Institutes differ from most institutes in three ways (1) they involve multi-disciplinary teams of teachers from Maryland and regional middle and high schools, (2) they involve the arts in the full range of the word, and (3) there is extensive follow-up during the next year, with teachers coming back to critique and hone the lessons they developed before they are posted on a permanent lesson plan database.

See links in other menu tabs for descriptions of lessons and links under “Islam, Arts and Sciences” and  “Teaching with the Arts”

See also links to Saudi Aramco World Magazine articles on cultural exchange, knowledge, science and can be accessed from the archive index going back decades.