Ordered Universe in Early 2018: Events Update

2018 is set fair to be another busy year for the Ordered Universe team. In addition to submitting our first volume presenting the treatises On the Liberal Arts and On the Generation of Sounds, and the Middle English Seven Liberal Arts, to press, we have a wide range of other events organised. This is just a reminder of those coming up in the first quarter of the year.

The two exhibitions featuring work inspired by the project run over this period. Illuminating Colour, a major exhibition of new work from Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland, drawing on Grosseteste’s treatises On Colour and On the Rainbow runs until March 10th. This is a world-class exhibition – do come and see it in situ. And, if you find yourself in the North-East come along to the Dante Exhibition at Palace Green Library in Durham and see, amongst the other treasures, Alexandra Carr’s sculpture of the nested spheres of the medieval universe, and a film installation as well. Alexandra’s work was produced as part of her Leverhulme  Trust funded Artistic Residency at Durham University and Ushaw College focusing on medieval and modern cosmology.

January sees the fifth symposium of the current series, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. In addition the OxNet course at Southmoor Academy recruits and commences its 6 week seminar series, to be taught to schoolchildren from across the North-East at the National Glass Centre. This involves Richard Bower – on Cosmology, Brian Tanner – on Physics, Joshua Harvey – on Psychology, Nicola Polloni and Kasia Kosior – on Translation, Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie – on Creativity, and Giles Gasper and Tim Farrant on History and Religion. All co-ordinated by Kasia Kosior and the wonderful OxNet team.

February features a number of different activities. Tom McLeish and Giles Gasper are speaking on 7th February, on the modern and medieval cosmos, as part of the Dante Lecture series organised by Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS). Friday 9th February will see the Ordered Universe at the Cambridge e-Luminate Festival of Light for the second year in a row. We’ll be running a series of talks and then show and tell activities over the afternoon and early evening in the Guildhall in Cambridge. And this alongside Ross Ashton and Karen Monid’s new sound and light show. Keeping up the pace, on the 13th February IMEMS is running a day-long workshop on the Scientific Study of Manuscripts, Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper will be talking on Ordered Universe experience of interpreting medieval thought using science and humanities methodologies and approaches. Finally, Jack Cunningham will deliver a lecture in the Ushaw College series in Durham on his discovery of an 18th century life of Grosseteste. ‘ ‘Saving Robert Grosseteste – Fr Philip Perry’s Lost Biography’ takes place on 22nd February, 18.00-19.15

We wrap up the OxNet seminar course in March, and put all focus on the Ordered Universe conference in April – more on that soon, and look forward to the Ordered Universe/OxNet Easter School in Durham – focused on medieval manuscripts, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science conference, and then into the early summer and our Montreal visit, the Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress….and we’re already half way through the year!

De Luce

Swansea: Rainbows and Colour

Last week, Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th November, Ordered Universe members were made very welcome at the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Research, and the Department of History at Swansea University.  Continue reading

Kalamazoo 2018 – buckle up!


The Ordered Universe will be represented at the 2018 International Congress on Medieval Studies, the 53rd meeting, with two sessions on medieval thinking about, well, order. Continue reading

Keynote Speakers: Science, Imagination and Wonder – Oxford Conference April 2018

Delighted to announce our three keynote speakers for the Ordered Universe conference in April 2018 (3rd-5th), Science, Imagination and Wonder – The Legacy of Robert Grosseteste.  Continue reading

Science, Imagination and Wonder: Call for Papers and Posters

The Ordered Universe, in association with the International Robert Grosseteste Society, is organising a conference, 3-5 April 2018, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. The call for Papers and Posters is available now. Please circulate and put in an application! Science, Imagination and Wonder: Robert Grosseteste and His Legacy…

CfP Oxford1


Experiments in Space, Time and the Body

Thursday and Friday last week, 19th and 20th of April, saw the latest colloquium in the Ordered Universe programme. This time the focus was on the medieval science of time-reckoing – Compotus. To this science Grosseteste made a notable, and highly original contribution, in the 1220s. The colloquium took the theme of compotus, using the beautiful, tiny, and beguiling Durham Cathedral Library Manuscript Hunter 100, as a fulcrum, on which to balance thoughts about the inheritance and legacy of scientific learning as related to time-reckoning from the late tenth century to Grosseteste. In this way too we explored the context for and background too Grosseteste’s compotus, as well as the context for Hunter 100, and the wider dimensions of what medieval science meant, and how it related to the wider experiences of life in the period. Ordered Universe regulars Faith Wallis, Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, Giles Gasper, Philipp Nothaft and Sarah Gilbert were joined by a range of other experts, from graduate students to established scholars, Ana Dias, Eric Ramírez Weaver, Helen Foxhall Forbes, Charlie Rozier, Alfred Lohr and Jonathon Turnock. In the wonderful surroundings of All Souls College, and the Hovenden Room, two extremely stimulating days flashed past.

The first day began with Helen Foxhall Forbes on scientific learning from the late tenth century to the early twelfth, looking in particular at a group of manuscripts – science compilations include compotistical material, and scribes in the south-west of England, in the Kingdom of Wessex. The array of networks demonstrated between religious houses and centres of learning, between England and Francia, and between generations, as well as the reasons why collections were made, used and re-used, raised themes which continued throughout the colloquium. Charlie Rozier took on the question of historical learning and scientific albums, and experiments with chronology, at Durham, and elsewhere in the early twelfth century. The Star Catalogue of Hunter 100, lavishly and beautifully illustrated (the more striking in so small a book), gave Eric Ramírez Weaver a fantastic platform to think about the Carolingian or later Antique models from which the illustrations may have been drawn, and how those models were moulded and transformed in a local setting. A wider reflection on the exuberance and fun on display in the manuscript raised the question of experimentation with form and content again. Visual evidence was explored in a different dimension by Jonathan Turnock, with a consideration of the sculptural schemes of Durham Cathedral Priory and its environs created at about the same time as Hunter 100. The relation between media and motifs between illustration and carving was fascinating to consider. Ana Dias returned to the detail of the manuscript illustrations themselves, developing a methodology to identify those who drew the figures, and their possible employment in other Durham manuscripts. Sarah Gilbert drew the day to a close with an in-depth palaeographical analysis of the manuscript, piecing together the number of scribes that contributed to its production – by the evidence a true community effort!

Our second day moved to wider contexts for the consideration of Hunter 100 and twelfth and thirteenth century compotus. Faith Wallis discussed how scientific albums such as Hunter 100 were designed to be read, with a scheme as meditative as it was instructive, moving the reader from earth to the heavens and back to the human body. How different collections deal with similar questions, and the question why Hunter 100 was produced provoked a lively debate. Philipp Nothaft gave depth and detail to the question of networks and experiments with chronology, with a treatment of the reception of the chronicle of Marianus Scottus (d. 1087), and its abbreviation by Robert of Hereford, and the status of the version of the abbreviation in Hunter 100. How these texts moved around is a key debate. Giles Gasper took the theme of correction from the later eleventh century to Grosseteste, a theme essential to compotus, to think through some of the implications of how time-reckoning and correction of the calendar, fitted into and held to forge, some of the dominant questions of the period, in their social as well as their intellectual setting. Sigbjørn Sønnesyn drew attention back to the practice of monastic reading, the framework of divine reading (lectio divina), with the Cistercian monk Isaac of Stella, and Grosseteste as models. To consider scientific albums as part of this process of slow and guided reading, with stress on experience and meditation, reinforced Faith’s points earlier in the day. Finally, with Alfred Lohr’s magisterial presentation we considered the compotus of Grosseteste, and how different it was to its twelfth century precursors. Similairities remain but Grosseteste’s focus on the mathematical was singled out. Alfred and Philipp reported on the progress of their critical edition – and its relation to the scientific opuscula, which form the emphasis of the Ordered Universe project.

A wonderful few days, in highly stimulating surroundings and company! Thanks go especially to Philipp and the All Souls staff for impeccable hosting, to Rosalind Green for organisational matters, and to all of the contributors. Experiment, dialogue, exchange and collaboration make everything possible.

Compotus, Correction and Regulation

Fresh from the recent conference at Georgetown University, on the dynamic coupling of aspectus and affectus, the next Ordered Universe colloquium takes another theme close to Grosseteste’s heart: calendrical reform and its related subjects, time, astronomy, medicine, as well as the dating of Easter. The colloquium takes place next week on the 19th and 20th April, at All Souls College, University of Oxford. We will be taking a longer view of compotus in England, and the background to Grosseteste’s own characteristic contribution to the area, the Compotus correctorius. Principally the scholars gathering in Oxford will examine Durham Cathedral Manuscript Hunter 100, a computistical album from the early twelfth century. Investigating the antecedents, and the details of the compendium, allows different light to be shed onto the culture of medieval scientific investigation. Exploring both the texts and images, as well as the communities in and for which the manuscript was produced, the colloquium will provide an in-depth analysis. Other papers will broaden the scope, thinking about the implications of compotus texts from theological and societal perspectives, before ending with a full treatment and discussion of Grosseteste’s place in compotus studies, and the importance of the Compotus correctorius in his scientific canon. With experts including Faith Wallis, Eric Ramírez Weaver, Alfed Lohr and Philipp Nothaft, as well as Ordered Universe regulars, the programme looks exciting!

Hunter 100 Poster 1

We are extremely grateful to All Souls College, and especially to Dr Philipp Nothaft for supporting the colloquium, financially and organisationally as to Durham University and Dr Rosalind Green in the same capacity.

Georgetown on my mind (and heart)

Throughout his career, Robert Grosseteste emphasised the unity of the human person, the impossibility of separating mind from heart except conceptually. Our capacities to see the truth of things as they are, our aspectus, and for loving things for what they are, which Robert called our affectus, must both be developed and perfected, Robert said; and the one cannot be developed in isolation from the other. This fundamental strand of Robert’s thinking was recently the theme of a conference organised under the august auspices of Georgetown University by Neil Lewis, a member of the Ordered Universe core team, and Sandra Strachan-Vieira. The participants comprised a good mix of Ordered Universe stalwarts and new acquaintances (for most of us), ranging from grad students to established professors, and the papers offered detailed analyses of Grosseteste’s thought as well as studies of comparable sources written both before and after Grosseteste’s time.

A rain-drenched Georgetown may have failed to offer its visitors its finest aspect, but we did not let that affect us; the welcoming surroundings and gracious and generous hosts more than made up for the weather. Brett Smith set the tone for the conference as a whole with his clear and clarifying presentation of the role of aspectus and affectus, the perception of truth and the love of the good, in central works by Grosseteste. Giles Gasper then added depth and breadth to this fundamental picture by showing with great nuance and eloquence how the same dichotomy played an equally central role in the monastic theology of Anselm of Cantebury. Yours truly added to the monastic backdrop by trying to bring out the richness of the same conceptual scheme in the writings of Isaac of Stella.

After the main focus of the conference and the background for the conceptual scheme had been presented, a series of papers ensued that subtly brought out the intricacies and precision of philosophical language and argument both in Grosseteste and his contemporaries. Nicola Poloni showed with great skill the development in Grosseteste’s metaphysics of matter and causation, and Neil Lewis situated Grosseteste’s views on aspectus and affectus within its contemporary context by demonstrating and explaining how these concepts were used by Richard Rufus and Richard Fishacre. Tim Farrant then showed how these concepts allowed Alexander Neckam to connect his natural and zoological studies to a fundamental moral preoccupation animating his works. Kathy Bader brought this part of the conference to a close with a fascinating run-through of the astronomers of the Severn Valley in the early twelfth century, and in particular how the translations of Arabic astronomical texts into Latin influenced and enriched the study of the stars and the computation of time. The day was brought to a close with a public lecture on Grosseteste, the Ordered Universe project, and how the artistic collaborations to which this project has given rise. The lecture was given jointly by Giles Gasper and Tom Mcleish, two of the three Principal Investigators of the project, and Ross Ashton, a projection artist who together with sound artist Karen Monid has created wonderful displays of light and sound partly inspired by Grosseteste’s writings.

While the papers of the first day in the main focused on philosophical and theological concerns, the second day continued with a stronger emphasis on the scientific study of nature. It started Nader El-Bizri’s deeply engrossing account of Alhazen’s theory of human perception, emphasising the deep connection between vision of truth and embodied experience in a way that offers an illuminating parallel to Grosseteste’s view. Tom McLeish then used the pairing of aspectus and affectus to discuss the creative processes undergirding modern scientific research, providing a fascinating and engaging glimpse of how human beings do science. Hannah Smithson then presented her dizzyingly complex and penetrating analysis of Grosseteste’s theory of colour vision, using her experience from cutting-edge psychology of perception to bring out the complexities and sophistication of Grosseteste’s thinking. Joshua Harvey gave an equally inspiring account of Grosseteste’s thinking on sound perception, using the technology of Schlieren imaging to visualise Grosseteste’s account and show its intellectual power and its limitations. Luke Fidler then rounded off the presentation of papers with a glorious discussion of the aspectus/affectus pairing in material culture and the visual arts, and in particular the apperception of sculpture in the high middle ages.

The final afternoon of the conference was devoted to a group reading of Grosseteste’s treatise on the generation of sounds. We were deeply privileged to number among the participants not only Ordered Universe core member Cecilia Panti, but also Joe Goering and Frank Mantello into the group. Our discussions of the text greatly deepened our understanding both of its philological and its philosophical and scientific aspects; and it was impossible to remain unaffected by the presence of no less than four of the world authorities on Grosseteste’s writings in Panti, Lewis, Goering and Mantello. It was a fitting and profoundly inspiring end to a wonderful conference.

We are deeply grateful to Neil and Sandra for their hard work in making this conference a great experience for all participants. And there is an argument to be made that the combination of scholarship and companionship that a successful conference brings confirms Grosseteste’s central point about the interdependence of aspectus and affectus. The challenges of the mind are more easily tackled in the company of good colleagues and friends; in the end we left seeing things more clearly because we all put our heart in it.

Washington DC – Ordered Universe

So, the advance party for the Ordered Universe conference at Georgetown, Washington D.C. has arrived, and caught some of the amazing cherry-tree blossom. The conference proper starts tomorrow, and takes place over two days. Tomorrow afternoon 16.30-18.30 is the public talk featuring Neil, Tom, Giles and Projection Artist Ross Ashton, on the project in light of medieval studies, modern science and artistic creation. If you are in the Georgetown area, and there have been inquiries on twitter, please come along – the event is free and it would be great to see you. The conference itself will look at one of the central features of Grosseteste’s intellectual framework, and one that develops a central and standard model from antiquity, the early church and most of the medieval period, namely aspect and affect. Attempts to explain these terms and their meaning are fascinating and complex, and go to the heart of medieval notions of experience of, and interaction with, the world, understanding and action, and, we will find out, have sharp and powerful resonance with some modern notions of the same. We’re really looking forward to hearing all of the papers, learning a lot, and enjoying the stimulating, challenging and supportive environment of the project. And, wonderful to be in the US again, the last time Ordered Universe presented across the Atlantic was the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress, last year, and the New York CUNY public lecture in 2013. We’ll keep you posted on how things go!