The View from Kalamazoo

May is the season for the Annual International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo. This year, the 53rd congress, saw the Ordered Universe present two panel sessions on Structures of Order in Medieval Science. The first, Experience and Authorities featured Nicola Polloni (Durham but imminently the Humboldt University, Berlin) on questions of matter from Grosseteste and his Arabic sources and Giles Gasper (Durham) on Grosseteste’s Letter 127 in which science finds an expository role in the theology of pastoral care. A lively discussion followed, chaired by Laura Cleaver (Trinity College, Dublin) exploring a wide range of questions on the role and understanding of medieval science historically, and historiographically, and the possible, probable or plausible audiences for this information.

The second session Visualisation and Diagrammatic Expression featured Laura Cleaver on astronomical diagrams from the mid-twelfth to mid-thirteenth centuries, Sarah Griffin (Oxford) on the diagrams of Opicino de Canistris (1296-c.1353), and Karl Kinsella (York, UK) on Richard of St Victor’s diagrams connected to his exegesis of Ezekiel. The very well attended session then discussed in detail the implications of intention, purpose and production of diagrams with respect to medieval science and processes of visualisation. How geometry was put to use, how devotional material overlapped with scientific presentation, and the complex relation between diagrams and the phenomena they represent provided the major themes for debate. Whether medieval copyists had seen the phenomena they visualised, or the extent to which drawing of, for example, comets had a standard and long-standing pattern was a particularly fascinating question.  The project was very well represented in these sessions which open up further areas for collaboration and multi-disciplinary thinking. We’re extremely grateful to Sarah, Karl, Laura and Nicola for giving their time and talent so generously, and to the audience for the fantastic questions.




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