A. Mark Smith

A. Mark Smith
Emeritus Curators' Distinguished Professor
Research Area
Medieval, History of Science

B.A. St. John's College, Maryland, 1967
M.A. University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1972
Ph.D. (joint in History and History of Science), 1976, University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Professor Smith teaches a variety of courses in medieval history as well as the history of science from antiquity to the late Enlightenment. Broadly speaking, his interests lie in the field of intellectual history from the pre-Socratics to the Enlightenment, his scholarly focus being on the evolution of pre-Newtonian theories of visual perception.

He has published articles in The American Historical ReviewArabic Sciences and PhilosophyArchive for History of Exact Sciences,Revue d’histoire des sciences, and Isis. He has twice been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (1979 and 1986), and has been awarded not only an individual research grant (1986) and a sponsored project-grant (1989) from the National Endowment for the Humanities but also four sponsored project-grants from the National Science Foundation (2008, 2005, 2000, and 1999).  A Guggenheim fellow (2007), he is also a Lifetime Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge, and a Membre Effectif of the Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences.

Recent Publications

From Sight to Light:  The Long Passage from Ancient to Modern Optics.  Forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press

Alhacen on Refraction.  Philadelphia:  American Philosophical Society, 2010

Alhacen on Image-Formation and Image-Distortion in Mirrors.  Philadelphia:  American Philosophical Society, 2008

Alhacen on the Principles of Reflection.  Philadelphia:  American Philosophical Society, 2006

Alhacen's Theory of Visual Perception. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001.

“Alhacen and Kepler and the origins of modern lens-theory,” in Huib Zuidervaart, ed., Origins of the Telescope (Amsterdam:  Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2010), pp. 147-165.

“Bringing the Scientific Revolution into Focus:  The Case for Optics,” in Michel Hochmann and Danielle Jacquart, eds., Lumière et vision dans les arts(Geneva:  Droz, 2010), pp. 163-186.

“Petrus Hispanus’ Treatise on the Eyes,” in A. Mark Smith and Arnaldo Pinto Cardoso, The Treatise on the Eyes by Pedro Hispano (Lisbon:  Alêtheia Press, 2009).

“Alhacen's Approach to "Alhazen's Problem", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, 10 (2008): 143-163.

“Le De aspectibus d’Alhacen:  révolutionnaire ou réformiste?” Revue d’histoire des sciences, 60 (2007): 65-81.


  • National Science Foundation, Program of Science and Technology Studies, 2009
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2007-8.
  • National Science Foundation, Program of Science and Technology Studies, 2005.
  • National Science Foundation, Program of Science and Technology Studies, 2000.
  • Senior Research Fellowship, Dibner Institute for the History of Science, MIT, 2000 (declined)
  • National Science Foundation, Program of Science and Technology Studies, 1999.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Major Projects Grant, 1991-93.
  • Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1986-87.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities, Research Fellowship, 1986-87.
  • Research Associate, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, 1980-81.
  • Member, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, 1979-80 (NEH sponsorship).

Book Prizes

The 2001 and 2010 John Frederick Lewis Award of the American Philosophical Society, awarded for Alhacen’s Theory of Visual Perception and Alhacen on Refraction, respectively.