Welcome to the Ordered Universe Project, dedicated to fresh and original examinations of medieval science using interdisciplinary readings of the scientific works of the remarkable English thinker Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253), and to present these findings to diverse audiences. The project is supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), research grant 2015-2019, and is based at Durham and Oxford Universities, UK, with other partners across the UK and internationally.
Bringing together a unique configuration of natural scientists, social scientists and arts and humanities scholars, the project integrates the conceptual tools of modern science with the textual methods of the humanities to explore the richness of Grosseteste’s thought. Our translations, many for the first time, and which incorporate the groundbreaking concept of translation into mathematics, enable wider access to this wonderful mind, compelling us to make new assessments of his perceptive and inventive imagination. See the team at work here at the 2014 Festival of Humanities, ‘Being Human’. We presented our work, from manuscript to 3D visualisation, via collaborative reading, and scientific experiments, to a diverse public at Durham Cathedral:
Each team member, from whatever discipline, contributes to editions, translations, analyses and presentations. In so doing, we are pioneering new ways of working across and between our disciplines. Trusting one another, and learning to learn from the past have presented creative demands. We have challenged academic and public preconceptions regarding the value of past science as ‘irrelevant’. To the contrary: the team has published new science (on rainbows, colour and cosmology) inspired by engaging with another thinker from eight centuries ago.
Flowing from the translation work, colleagues in Computing Engineering are developing a 3D film, which translates Grosseteste’s treatises into 3D representations of the natural phenomena he investigates. A third strand has introduced Grosseteste and his world into schools, presenting the scientific questions he raises, within the curriculum. This strand emphasises the value of collaboration, inter-disciplinarity and the longer history of science: skills with clear social benefit in a modern knowledge economy.
Funding for the project has been provided by Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK, and the Mahfouz Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research, Pembroke College, Oxford. The project was nominated for the Times Higher Education Awards for Research Project of the Year, 2014.
The centre and heart of the project are our collaborative reading workshops: we all sit down together, and, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, grapple with and unlock the amazing world which Grosseteste opens up. Our other activities include public lectures and outreach of many and varied sorts as well as conference presentations and publications. If you’d like to know more: engage!