Office of Undergraduate Research

Han Yang '23

OUR Featured Researcher: Han Yang '23

Portrait of Han Yang.
Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones

Han Yang (he/him) is a Classics, German and East European Studies major conducting mentored research under Professors Ben Lee, Francis Newton and Eliza Glaze. His project is titled “Oberlin Isagoge Project". 

Please describe your project: 

A fellow classics student, Emma, and I worked last summer with Professor Lee, Newton and Glaze on reading, transcribing and commenting upon three medieval medical manuscripts from Southern Italy. They were some of the earliest versions of the Isagoge in Latin, originally an Arabic translation of a Syriac introduction by Hunain ibn Ishaq to Galen’s Art of Medicine in Greek. They were produced in or near the Monte Cassino, written in the beautiful script of Beneventan minuscule, during the abbacy of Desiderius (Pope Victor III). The translator of the Arabic text into Latin was a monk called Constantine, who hailed from Tunisia and came to Monte Cassino after studying medicine all over the Islamic world. Constantine (or his associates) is personally involved in the production of at least one of the three manuscripts. The Isagoge later was developed into the first text in the first medical curriculum in medieval Europe, and was employed as a school text for a few hundred years.

Why is your research important?

This is the start of the Medieval university curriculum in medicine, but remains understudied for a long time. Therefore, the production of the transcription was able to enable scholars access these important documents much more easily than before. It will aid our understanding of this important epoch in the history of medicine and education, as well as improve our appreciation about the transmission of scientific knowledge across cultural and linguistic boundaries (Imperial/Pagan Greek > Nestorian Syriac > Islamic Arabic > Catholic Latin).

What does the process of doing your research look like? 

We were able to cope with the covid-situation with the help of Zoom and the photocopy versions of the manuscripts available online. We took turns in reading the text and transcribing it down to a shared Google doc, followed by long discussions of paleographical peculiarities, medical backgrounds, and philosophical implications.

What knowledge has your research contributed to your field? 

It has made available editions of some of the most important medical manuscripts. They can present a more holistic picture of the development of the training in medical faculties of the medieval Europe.

In what ways have you showcased your research?

The text and findings are scheduled to be published in an edited volume.

How did you get involved in research? 

Professor Lee has organized this amazing research opportunity. As a classics student it is intellectually thrilling for me to be able to work with manuscripts written in Latin. Moreover, as a former resident in North Africa, it is personally exciting to discover how it has contacted with the rest of the world throughout its long history.

What is your favorite aspect of the research process?    

My favorite part of the project was when we (the students) talked with the professors and shared our thoughts and findings with them. It is quite an experience to work with scholars in their fields of expertise, and learn from them, both academically and personally.

How has working with your mentor impacted the development of your research project?

It was influential in getting the good references to read, learning from hand-on research
with them, as well as their encouragements which enabled me to keep motivated.

How has it impacted you as a researcher? 

From doing research itself, I learned how fun and challenging research can be in
the humanities. More decisively, I learned from the mentors how to strive to be a
knowledgeable, responsible, humble and curious researcher from their personal
exempla.

How has the research you’ve conducted contributed to your professional or academic development?   

I was able to learn more of the fields of classics and medieval studies. I am now planning on going to a graduate program in either of these two amazing fields after graduation.

What advice would you give to a younger student wanting to get involved in research in your field?      

It is important to focus when doing the project because too many tangents might lead to a slow progress. But it is also very fun and recommended to read broadly from books not so much related with the project itself. It is also always a good idea to reach out to professors or fellow students for help – all I have communicated with are quite friendly, encouraging, as well as helpful.