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.

Imaging Fast Phenomena and Chladni Plates – Public Forum

The Ordered Universe symposium on Space and Place, focusing on Grosseteste’s treatises on De sphera and the De sex differentiis, included a public lecture and forum. The lecture, delivered by Clive Siviour, explored his research into high speed photography and material deformation. The film of the lecture will be added to the website shortly. Given in the Williams Library at St Chad’s College, Durham University, the lecture was a very stimulating introduction for non-experts, but full of research insights and details for Continue reading

Grosseteste on Space and Place


The latest in the series of Ordered Universe symposia took place last week, between 1st and 3rd September. We gathered in Durham once more, in the hospitable surroundings of St John’s College, to examine two of Grosseteste’s treatises, and review progress on those now in the publication roster (on which more soon). The meeting was, formally, for the 17th collaborative reading symposium of the project. The experience from those meetings showed in the way that the team were able to move between texts, editions, translations Continue reading

Space and Place: Ordered Universe Symposium

The next Ordered Universe symposium takes place at the beginning of September. From 1-3 various members of the research team will meet at Durham University, at St John’s College, to continue the programme of collaborative reading. The symposium will see the second reading of the treatise De sphera – On the Sphere, the first of the next text in our roster, the De diferentiis localibus – On Local Differences, and revision of earlier work with the treatise De liberalibus artibus – On the Liberal Arts and its Middle English translation. A full programme – complete with a public lecture by Professor Clive Siviour, Department of Engineering and Pembroke College, University of Oxford on his research into High-Speed Photography, and Grossetestes’s treatise De generatione sonorum – On the Generation of Sounds. This takes place in the Cassidy Atrium at St Chad’s College, from 5.30 and is followed by an opportunity to meet the research team, to explore some of the resources of the project, and to participate in some medieval and modern experiments.


Image of walking around the world, from Goussouin de Metz, L’image du monde, with permission from the BN, France, Fr. 1548, used with permission.

From Difference to Understanding: Responses to Interdisciplinary Research

At the last Ordered Universe public lecture in Rome, ‘Wonders of the Universe‘ we conducted a brief survey of those attending. Of particular interest was a question about the interdisciplinary research. What, we asked before the lecture did people understand by interdisciplinary research? The answers, some 25 in total, provided an intriguing set of responses: in many senses what was expected, but expressed in a definite manner.  Responses were lexically dense (63.3%), and 11.6 on the Gunning-Fox readability matrix (where 6 is easy and 20 hard). Turned into a Wordle word cloud, the notion of ‘different disciplines’ came out most strongly, with ‘working together’ and ‘knowledge and understanding’ as subsidiary concepts.  Continue reading

Back to the roots

During the most recent of the Ordered Universe Symposia, medieval specialists and modern scientists applied their minds to Robert Grosseteste’s De sphera (On the sphere). In this early treatise of his, Grosseteste describes the movements of the heavenly bodies in the firmament according to the observer’s position on earth. The astronomical knowledge available during the supposedly so dark Middle Ages is of impressive accuracy Continue reading

‘Writing is thinking.’

Collaborative reading sessions very much form the backbone of Ordered Universe Symposia. The members of the interdisciplinary working group sit around a large table and go through the draft translations provided by Sigbjorn Sonnesyn, and they often find themselves discussing how to best render individual Latin terms in English. The ideal translation conveys what Grosseteste had in mind in a way that’s faithful to the Latin, yet understandable to modern-day readers, and avoidant of terms loaded with modern-day concepts that diverge from the medieval connotations. Continue reading

Wonders of the Universe

The Ordered Universe Rome symposium concluded with two public lectures, grouped together as an exploration of medieval and modern knowledge of the cosmos: Wonders of the Universe captures centuries of speculation, measurement, observation and struggle over the universe in which we live, and the solar system in particular. Delivered by Cecilia Panti and Tom McLeish, the lectures took place in the Notre Dame Global Gateway, Continue reading

Time and Time Reckoning: Ordered Universe at Tor Vergata

As part of the Ordered Universe symposium in Rome, Cecilia Panti organised a half-day conference on Time and Time Reckoning in Medieval and Contemporary Scientific Perspectives. The occasion also marked the first event in a new collaboration between the Dipartimento di Studi Letterari, Filosofici e di Storia dell’Arte  at Tor Vergata and the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and Department of History, at Durham. Alongside the Ordered Universe team were colleagues from Tor Vergata. We were able to record some of the proceedings, and have included them here.

The four speakers are all regular Ordered Universe participants, and began with Anne Lawrence Mathers from the University of Reading, on Spheres, Rays and Sublunary Airs. Medieval weather, its prediction, connections to what might be termed magic, and the equally strong connections to the scientific endeavours of Grosseteste were among the subjects Anne raised: all highly relevant to the earlier deliberations on climes and astronomical observation.

Neil Lewis followed, with a full and detailed account of Grosseteste’s theory of time, as expressed in the Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics. Moving through Augustine and Aristotle, the nuanced position that Grosseteste came to about the present, in particular, was fascinating to have unfolded before us.

After a short break the final two papers. Philipp Nothaft gave us an in-depth account of the vexed issues of precession and trepidation in astronomical terms. This was the key point at issue for Grosseteste between Ptolemy and Aristotle, to which the solution appeared to lie in Thebit. Philipp showed why these issues were so problematic in the 13th century in particular.

Our final paper took the issue of time to the modern universe, and our contemporary understanding of its origins and its future. Richard Bower opened up the latest research from his galaxy modelling project, and the work of the Durham Institute of Computational Cosmology. The models are so accurate they can hoodwink observational astronomers.

A very stimulating afternoon, which both supported the symposium readings, and introduced the research of colleagues to each other and to the staff and students at Tor Vergata. More news on the Durham-Tor Vergata activities soon, but a great event to being with!