OxNet North East: The History Of History

The OxNet-Ordered Universe 2019 seminar programme concluded earlier this week with the 2019 cohort of school students aged 16-17 (Lower Sixth Form, Year 12) from the North-East. Students from Southmoor Academy, St Anthony’s, St Robert of Newminster, and Park View Academy, met earlier this week for the final part of their six-week seminar course, led by Ordered Universe team members, on their expert topics: Richard Bower (Durham) on Cosmology, Brian Tanner (Durham) on Physics, Joshua Harvey (Oxford) on Psychology, Nicola Polloni (Humboldt Berlin) on Philosophy and Translation, Colin Rennie (Sunderland) on Creativity and Giles Gasper (Durham) on History and Religious Studies. These take place in the entirely appropriate setting of St Peter’s Church, Sunderland, rich in its legacy for history of science as one of the home monasteries for Bede.

Claire Ungley, the OxNet North-East co-ordinator had the following thoughts on the final seminar session, which was led by Giles Gasper from Durham University’s Department of History:

This week’s seminar was led by Giles Gasper from Durham University. The students questioned what ‘History’ actually is, and more specifically how we really know things happened in the past. For example, how do we know that the Crusades really happened? Students discussed how fragile sources can be, and how evidence often comes from specific groups of people e.g. the Church or Men in particular. They looked at a charter written by the Bishop of Hereford, and saw how one legal document can teach us about medieval life, including how disputes were settled, what people traded, and who had enough importance in society to be included in such matters. Students also questioned the definition of ‘medieval’, and whether the time period is as clear-cut as being 1066-1485 or something more complex and not Anglo-centric. They agreed that the light bulb was an important invention which marked a ‘new age’, but this still doesn’t mark a clear shift. By the end of the session, students discussed what ‘science’ meant in medieval times – whether it was about knowledge, understanding the world, or proving God’s creation through nature.

The past six weeks of seminars have been a voyage of wonder and discovery, and the Ordered Universe team would like to say thank you to Richard Bower (Durham), Brian Tanner (Durham), Joshua Harvey (Oxford), Nicola Polloni (Humboldt Berlin), Colin Rennie (Sunderland), and Giles Gasper (Durham). From OxNet we would like to thank Peter Claus and in particular Claire Ungley who has put so much meticulous work into ensuring that the seminars ran smoothly. In a few weeks time the students will be in Durham for the OxNet Easter School, and we can’t wait to take them even further on their medieval and modern scientific adventures!


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