Space, Place and Elements: Ordered Universe Symposium

Tomorrow sees the fifth Ordered Universe symposium in the current series, as funded by the AHRC (and the twentieth in the all-time rankings) get underway. We’ll be focusing on three texts, all from the mid-years of Grosseteste’s scientific writing career: On the Six DifferencesOn Comets and On the Impressions of the Elements. All are beautiful, intricate and more complex than they look at first reading, and reveal Grosseteste marshalling more sources, working with greater familiarity with Aristotelian natural philosophy and his Arabic-language commentators. Dating from the second decade of the thirteenth century to the first half of the third, Grosseteste’s location at the time of composition is as uncertain, as the political and social turbulence of these years is assured. For what purpose and for whom the treatises were composed remains unclear, whether for teaching or for private reflection. The texts themselves however, are as precise and dauntingly specific as ever.

We are very happy indeed to be back in the elegant surroundings of Pembroke College, Oxford University, and huge thanks to Rebekah White, Clive Siviour, Josh Harvey and Nuala Darnell for organisation. Sarah Gilbert, the Ordered Universe administrator has been the lynchpin in this capacity as well. The programme is available here as PDF and in on Issuu below. Future symposia will be taking place in Montreal (McGill University), Dublin (Trinity College), Lincoln (Bishop Grosseteste University) and Durham, with workshops in between at the University of York. The collaborative reading remains the centre-piece of Ordered Universe activities: a nice reminder of how complex Grosseteste’s ideas were, how hard the process of elucidation is, and the meeting of minds, present and past. We’ll let you know the results and what we’re up to this year!

New Year? New Symposium!


The Ordered Universe team are throwing themselves into 2018 with another symposium that will focus on preparing our collaborative editions and translations of the shorter scientific works of Robert Grosseteste.

The symposium will be held Jan 7th–10th 2018 at Pembroke College, Oxford, and this time around the team will be reading Robert Grosseteste’s De cometis, De sex differentiis and De impressionibus elementorum.

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Astronomy across the Medieval World

An extremely interesting conference organised by the Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics, based at St Cross College, University of Oxford, ‘Astronomy across the Medieval World‘ introduced Chinese, Indian, Islamic, European and Mayan and Aztec  astronomy to a wide and diverse audience. The first session of the conference was chaired by Professor Charles Burnett (London), and opened by Dr Giles Gasper (Durham), with an outline of European astronomy, its inheritances, exploring in particular Robert Grosseteste’s treatises On the Sphere, On Comets, On Light and On the Liberal Arts. Professor Christopher Cullen (Cambridge) followed with China and its astronomical systems, meridian measurements, state-sponsored observatories, and belief in a spherical heaven, but flat earth. The links between Chinese and Islamic  (or Islamicate) astronomy were also fascinting. Dr Josep Casulleras (Barcelona) completed the morning with a fuller treatment of Islamic astronomy, its inheritances, especially Ptolemy, particular developments and influences. The importance of medieval Islamic astronomy to the scientific revolution was stressed especially.

The afternoon featured two papers, chaired by Professor Silke Ackerman, the first of which, given by Professor Ivan Šprajc (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) opened up the subject of pre-Hispanic Mezzo-America. Mayan and Aztec astronomy, its calendar of 365 and 260 days, and the place of star-lore within mezzo-American society were explored in detail, and offered a very interesting parallel with the Eurasian examples from the morning. The final paper of the day came from Dr Benno van Dalen (Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities), who took the case of Ptolemy, tracing the his influence across the Islamic tradition, the European, and the Indian, ending at the court of the Mughal Jai Singh in the early eighteenth century. The proceedings of the day were summarised expertly by Professor Emilie Savage-Smith (Oxford) who emphasised the similarities as well as the differences between the societies presented and their cultures of astronomy. The similarities across the medieval period, the presence of networks of scholar and diffusion of texts across cultural and linguistic boundaries were perhaps the most striking elements of the day.

Organised by Dr Joanna Ashbourn, and taking place in the Department of Physics, the conference attracted some 150 people, with lively question sessions after each talk. All of which made for a stimulating and challenging day, and a very successful one.

Heat, Comets, and Collaboration: a post by Dr Seb Falk

The 18th Ordered Universe symposium – and the fourth held under the sponsorship of the Arts and Humanities Research Council – took place in Oxford, at Pembroke College,  on 17-19 May. We were wonderfully hosted by the College, with lunches and dinners held in its magnificent Victorian Gothic hall; the symposium organisation Continue reading

Below the Moon: Comets, Heat and Water

The next Ordered Universe symposium takes place in the week to come, May 17-19, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. It will be great to be back at Pembroke, one of the original homes of the project, and to be broaching two new treatises for collaborative reading. These comprise the De cometis – On Comets and the De impressionibus elementorum; the latter connected to argument on the genesis, nature and activity of comets, the latter a discussion of meteorological phenomena, mostly watery (dew, hail, snow and rain). The reading sessions will be using the edition of the De cometis by Cecilia Panti, with translations of the two works, and a draft edition of the De impressionibus by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn. We will be welcoming some new participants to the group, as well as Ross Ashton and Karen Monid from the Projection Studio. The treatises under scrutiny reveal Grosseteste more at home with Aristotelian methodology, and articulating a more scientific approach to physical problems. Key aspects of his thought on sublimation, on light and on grounds for verification and falsification make their appearance, as do a range of different sources alongside Aristotle. The symposium organisation is  principally by the Oxford team, under Hannah Smithson, and the project is extremely grateful to the efforts of Joshua Harvey, Tim Farrant and Clive Siviour, as well as the College conference staff. Set course for Oxford and we’re off! Look out for reports on the progress of the meeting – a copy of the programme is appended here in PDF and also available at Issuu.