Earlier this year in May, Ordered Universe team members participated in a extremely interesting conference organised at the University of Southern Denmark, in Odense. The theme of ‘Travelling Wisdom: Medieval Science in the North c.1000-1500’, proved irresistible, especially when the Ordered Universe team, led by Brian Tanner, was invited to make the opening keynote presentation by Christian Etheridge, the conference organiser. Christian joined the Ordered Universe workshop in Porto, July 2013, as part of the AHRC Network on Grosseteste’s lost legacies, already an expert in Old Norse computus studies. He is currently undertaking doctoral studies in Odense, as part of the Centre for Medieval Literature, a Danish Centre of Excellence, which is itself based in the the University of Southern Denmark and the University of York in the UK.
Taking place over two days, the conference included papers focused on the transmission of scientific knowledge within the Nordic world and Scandinavian region, and within the medieval north more generally. The first day took the wider approach with papers and discussion on the transmission of Arabic learning with Michele Campopiano (York and Amsterdam) on Bacon’s Secretum Secretorum, Philip Nothaft (Warburg) on Walcher of Malvern’s lunar observations in the early 12th century, Shazia Jagot (Southern Denmark) on the use of al-Hytahm’s optical thought in Chaucer, and Brad Kirkland (York) on the science and economy of English armourers in the later Middle Ages. Together with the Ordered Universe presentation of Grosseteste, his complex use of source material and his report of experiments a rich picture of England and northern France in the 12th-15th centuries emerged.
Suitably refreshed by the generous hospitality of the hosts, the following day saw papers concentrating on the Nordic regions. Jens Eike Schnall (Bergen) on cartographic priorities, Dale Kedwards (Birmingham) on the reception of Albumasar on tides in Old Norse literature and Patrick Dalché (Sorbonne, EPHE) on traces of Chartrian influence in 12th century Norwegian Latin writing. Science and learning in saga material were themes explored further by Florian Schreck (Bergen) and Marteinn Helgi Sigurðsson (Íslenzk fornrit). Rudy Simek (Bonn) on medicine and the notion of adaptabilities of cultures, Christian himself on the scientific literature of later medieval Sweden, and Johnny Jakobsen on the Dominicans and their role in importing and exporting scientific knowledge to and from northern Europe, closed the proceedings.
The themes of the conference were thought-provoking and provided another interesting context in which to hold Grosseteste’s thinking. How ideas moved within medieval Europe is a complex issue, but one central to how intellectual life developed, and how it is conceived in modern scholarship. The issue applies, for example, to Grosseteste’s experiments – or experiences – and their record within his works. Whether or not all of these were records of his actual practice (and they could well have been), how classical experiments were picked up and passed on by different authors, and why they were deemed important, are important questions in our assessment of Grosseteste’s conceptual and practical world. The transmission of Grosseteste’s learning to subsequent generations, in different languages, is something that the Ordered Universe will explore further. On-going work in the reception of the De generatione sonorum and the De liberalibus artibus in mid-15th century Middle English grammatical texts is a good example. At a broader level, how, in our project, science and humanities use their own knowledge-bases to deepen the investigation of Grosseteste’s scientific works, show the continuity of questions of the transmission of learning, and their different, particular, expression.