Colour, Rainbows, Crombie and the Ordered Universe

The University Church of St Mary the Virgin, from which the University of Oxford developed, and with whose surroundings Grosseteste would have been familiar.

Hannah and I enjoyed the hospitality of the Society for the History of Medieval Technology and Science at the weekend, in Oxford and very much enjoyed presenting the Ordered Universe project to their members and other attendees. It was lovely to meet Geoffrey Hindley, involved with the Society from its inception, and all the more interesting to learn that A. C. Crombie had been the inaugural President (Jean Gimpel was another founding figure). It seemed appropriate, if not a little daunting, to present our collaborative research in this context, and I was reminded of James McEvoy’s comment, that Crombie saw his subject as one in which ‘the interests of historians, philosophers and scientists should meet and cross-fertilise’. Well, we hope we honoured some of that commentary in our talk. 



After convening at the Royal Oak, we crossed the road and made our presentation at the Radcliffe Humanities building, formerly the Radcliffe Infirmary (thelast time I had been in the building was for an x-ray!). We outlined the complexities of the chronology of Grosseteste’s works, the place of the ‘scientific’ treatises within his corpus as a whole, and some of the implications of his interests in Aristotle and his later commentators. The intricate ways in which authorities are adduced, and individual observations and alternative frameworks introduced, made the segue to the intricacy of the De colore and the De iride from a scientific perspective, and the recent research on mapping the two treatises together. An interesting set of questions, which were thought-provoking and wide-ranging brought the formal session to a close. It was a privilege to make the presentation. I was struck again, by the power of Grosseteste’s logic, and the capacity of his imagination, as well as the familiar feeling of only really being able to scratch the surface of understanding. A wonderful way to end what has been a most stimulating year, with more to come in 2014!

As you will have seen the blog address has moved to, although the original will re-direct here, so no need to worry on that score. The Ordered Universe encompasses the breadth of our subjects, and emphasises one of the principal points of contact between medieval and modern science, namely, the fundamental rationality of creation, however the precise nature of that rationality is portrayed. While the medieval period espouses a divinely-created order, and modern science does not have to, rational explanation of phenomena lie at the heart of both older and contemporary investigative frames. We have a number of upcoming events, which will be posted shortly, in the meantime, thank you for reading.


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