Saturday 14th saw the first two of four events organised at Durham as part of the Being Human, National Festival of Humanities 2015. Now in its second year, the Festival takes place up and down the country with a cornucopia of events for the public. Big questions, big debates and opportunities to engage with academic research of all sorts and interests. 2015, as well as being for those of a medieval bent a year of octocentenaries for Magna Carta and the 4th Lateran Council, is the UNESCO designated International Year of Light. To celebrate this, and the bigger questions the nature of light raises, Tom McLeish curated a public workshop and concert, which took place at Trevelyan College on the Saturday afternoon. Teaming up with the Institute of Physics, the Durham Singers, and supported by the RVW Trust, the two events presented a multi-faceted tour of light at Trevelyan College in Durham.
The workshop introduced marvels from the Durham Physics department and the Oxford Department of Experimental Psychology: a blow-up Planetarium, a Torchophone which allows sound to activate light, ‘Bend it like Einstein’ on gravitational lensing and dark matter, ‘Controlling Light with Water’ – light beams, optical fibres and telecommunications, ‘Colour Vision’ on how human colour vision works, light , colour and polarisation in the ‘Hands on Zone’ and ‘Can you see Haigider’s Brush’ displays, and ‘Light in the Shadows’ on the discovery of brightness in the shadows and the wave theory of light. Ordered Universe team members played an active part too, with Brian Tanner leading optical experiments derived from Grosseteste, and the Thirteenth-Century Science project students, Tim Farrant and Joshua Harvey manned stations on the ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Colour in Medieval Manuscripts’. Various members of the Ordered Universe team put together a poster exhibition on Grosseteste’s career and the treatises on light, colour, and the Liberal Arts in particular, with poster from Giles, Cecilia and Neil, Sigbjørn, Tim, Joshua and Hannah.
All in all a delightful and rich series of offerings for the public participants, medieval and modern views of light, and an important statement on the importance of science and humanities to each other.
The workshop was followed by a musical journey from the Renaissance to the modern-day, performed by the Durham Singers, under the direction of Julian Wright. Moving from Vcitoria, to Byrd, to Rachmaninov Brahms, Harris and Bach, Pärt, Tallis and McDowell, the concert explored the complex and multiple themes of light in music. It featured a piece ‘The Light’ by local composer Janet Graham, a setting of a poem by Gordon Hodgeon. Beginning with Handel’s Eternal Source of Light, with Marnie Blair and Nick McLeish taking the alto and trumpet solos, the concert ended with Bach’s sublime ‘O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht’. Given the events in the city of light the day before, the concert provided a space for reflection that was at once moving and poignant, and a reminder of the power of stillness and calm, but also affirming of the wonder and amazement of the world, and our human need to explore and seek out its mysteries.
We were all very proud to be associated with the Being Human Festival, and to show the research that goes on in our respective offices, laboratories and libraries, how we collaborate, how we are inspired to ask more of the material we study, and re-visit older questions and the work that they brought forth. The science in culture approach taken by the Ordered Universe operates with values of shared knowledge and a willingness to open our conceptual frameworks to others for scrutiny and investigation. The whole day emphasised yet again the intertwined nature of research; and the mutual need of humanities and science. Thanks and gratitude goes to all of the participants, organisers and administrators at Durham who made the event possible, Trevelyan College, and the Being Human team; and especially to Tom McLeish whose conception the workshop and concert were.