Boston College – Knowing and Speaking

Yesterday, Sigbjørn and Giles were hosted by the Theology and Philosophy Departments at Boston College, for a seminar on Ordered Universe, its methods, principal findings and ethos. We outlined the historical issues in encountering Grosseteste, the difficulties in tracing his steps, which affect in turn the context that can be given, or is assumed, for his earlier works. After that we ran through On the Liberal ArtsOn the Generation of SoundsOn the Sphere, On the Six DifferentiaeOn Comets, On Light and On the Rainbow, to give a full conspectus of Ordered Universe activities. At each step we evoked the conclusions of the research group, emphasising our collaborative reading, individual and group writing, and the processes involved in bringing together our very different disciplinary perspectives and experiences. And some of the surprising results: the sheer range of Grosseteste’s textual familiarity, how natural rainbows are modelled in human colour vision space, how a 3D model of a medieval text such as On the Sphere can have transformative effects for its accessibility and understanding, and how a medieval thinker can provoke modern scientific thought as well as philosophical, philological and historical. In a lovely relaxed atmosphere we took questions throughout the talk, making it much more a dialogue, which worked extremely well. We’re very grateful to those who attended for the excellent discussion afterwards – how unusual was Grosseteste, the bigger questions of thirteenth century history and thought to which he contributes, and how humanities experts get to meet, let alone work with, scientists (and vice versa). Grosseteste is fascinating: it is not often that you can follow a past thinker through their works written from their 20s to their old age (he was probably about 83-5 when he died). The continuities and changes in his thinking are as fascinating as the huge and varied efforts it takes to bring these to life some eight centuries later.

A huge thank you to Eileen Sweeney and Boyd Coolman for making the seminar happen, and to all who attended. From Boston we move a little further south to Providence – on which more anon!


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