Sound Medieval and Sound Modern: Acoustics and How to Use and Astrolabe

IMG_2834IMG_2833The final day of the workshop saw the team complete the read-through of the treatise, and the substantial progress on the question of the seven, and five motions. David Howard led off the day with a discussion of acoustic theory, including models of the human vocal tract, and the intriguing vocal tract organ – finally making the vox humana stop on an organ make sense and sound nice! A combination of palaeographical, historical and mathematical insights and observations enabled us to get through the most challenging part of the text, and with the sense of ‘Ah-hah’ to which Ulrike and Tom referred, and which we have almost come to expect. Nader el-Bisri and John Coleman were key to getting us started, but the final sections were a real vindication of the collaborative reading process.

After these exertions we took a trip to the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, and were guided around its fabulous collection of early scientific instruments by the Assistant Keeper Stephen Johnston. The high point was the physical demonstration of the astrolabe: a window onto the ability of medieval scholars to read the stars, and a reminder of the transmission of ideas and technologies across cultural and religious frontiers.

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Stephen setting the astrolabe
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A 17th century amilliary – related to the astrolabe, but in circular rather than flat form
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Astrolabe plates
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An Astrolabe from Grosseteste’s lifetime

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