Art, Science and Humanities – Public Talk at Georgetown University

Come and explore the results of a project that brings together modern science, the medieval past, and creative arts. The public talk will take a tour through the fascinating world of one of the most dynamic thinkers from the Middle Ages. While Robert Grosseteste may be unfamiliar nowadays, he was in thirteenth-century England an important religious leader and pastor, involved in shaping the currents of political life after Magna Carta, and a dazzling intellect. It is to his discussion of natural phenomena that the Ordered Universe project is dedicated. Bringing together a wide range of international scholars from different disciplines, including Philosophy, Physics, Arabic Studies, Psychology, History, English Studies and Engineering, the radical interdisciplinarity of the project allows the complexity of Grosseteste’s thought to be approached in new and exciting ways.

The talk will feature four speakers, representing different fields of study, and opening up different aspects of Grosseteste’s scientific vision. So, we begin with a philosopher, Neil Lewis from Georgetown, who are hosting the talk and its accompanying conference. Then the reactions of a physicist, Tom McLeish, to Grosseteste’s amazing treatise On Light, which describes the universe beginning with a single point of light, expanding instantaeneously to form a sphere. Eerie echoes of the Big Bang? Well, in some ways. Tom will share how the research group explored the implications of Grosseteste’s treatise on its own terms, and brought it to life in the form of a computer-generated model. Giles Gasper, a historian, will fill in some of the details of Grosseteste’s life, patchy though these are, and his significance in the intellectual changes of his day. These involve, crucially, the absorption of the treasure stores of knowledge from ancient Greek and medieval Islamic science, via translation into Latin, mostly in Spain, and disseminated across western Europe. Tom then moves to the most recent work of the Ordered Universe, examining Grosseteste’s On the Generation of Sounds – from sound to human vocal production, ancient learning  to modern interpretative tools, and from philology to phonetics. Finally, we showcase with Projection Artist Ross Ashton the startling potential for our interdisciplinary research as an inspiration for modern art. In this case sound and light shows, very appropriately, for Festivals in the UK and Europe, bringing research into dialogue with artists and the publics who participate in their production. The talk ends with an evocation of medieval and modern conceptions of the cosmos, as projected onto one of the glories of Romanesque architecture – Durham Cathedral. What Grosseteste would have thought, we can only wonder. His his own wonder at the universe, its beauty, mystery and explicability, continue to inspire.

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