Transmitting ancient thought: an act of creation

It is well known that the texts of the classical period were passed on to us through the work of thousands of thinkers, translators and copyists during the Middle Ages. Nonetheless, we have a tendency to see this work as a simple act of transmission, omitting its creative aspect.

The Groupe de recherche sur la transmission, la traduction et la transformation des cultures médiévales (Research Group on Transmission, Translation and Transformation in Medieval Cultures), directed by Robert Wisnovsky from Université McGill, brings together researchers in the fields of the history of science and medicine, philosophy, literature, art history, religious studies, Islamic studies and Jewish studies. Together, they are exploring the processes by which medieval Jewish, Christian and Islamic writings transformed the cultural legacy of classical Greece/Rome and the Ancient Near East.

Thus far, the group's research has shown the importance of the accessibility of ancient cultures in understanding medieval texts (transmission and translation) and the necessity of not reducing these texts to simple vehicles of ancient thought, recognizing that receiving ideas from an ancient culture is a creative, rather than passive, cultural act. This has provided a new look at medieval culture, with an emphasis on the active role of the scholarly communities of the time. The research also highlights the creativity of Muslim thinkers, who did not simply transmit ancient ideas to Renaissance Europe, but transformed them in the process, notably through interaction with medieval Christianity and Judaism.

In 2007, the group organized a workshop entitled "Vehicles of Transmission, Translation and Transformation", whose proceedings will be published in the collection Cursor Mundi from UCLA (Brepolis, 2011). They repeated the experience in 2010 with a second workshop, "Agents of Transmission, Translation and Transformation".


Groupe de recherche sur la transmission, la traduction et la transformation des cultures médiévales


Robert Wisnovsky, Université McGill

Regular members

  • Carlos Fraenkel, Université McGill 
  • Jamie Fumo, Université McGill 
  • Cecily Hilsdale, Université McGill 
  • Faiz Jamil Ragep, Université McGill 
  • Sebastian Sobecki, Université McGill 
  • Faith Wallis, Université McGill