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

The Ordered Universe Project and the Being Human Festival 2017: Oxford Edition

Joshua Harvey, a DPhil Candidate in the departments of Engineering Science and Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford brings us a report on his time as a ‘Lost Late’ exhibitor at the Oxford strand of the Being Human Festival 2017.

Oxford Being Human 2017 1

Last Friday saw 1,500 people of all ages congregating under a fabulous mix of lights, music, research, and dinosaurs. The event, ‘Lost Late’, formed part of the national Being Human festival, hosted by both the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museums in Oxford. From 7pm until late into the evening, visitors could stroll through the two connected museums, which had been utterly transformed into a realm of discovery, from mazes to archaeological dig sites. Continue reading

OxNet North East Launch Party at the National Glass Centre, Sunderland

The Ordered Universe Project and OxNet have teamed up for the 2017–2018 academic year to offer an academic course for sixth form students in the north-east of England. The launch will be hosted by The National Glass Centre in Sunderland on Wednesday 22nd November, and local schools, students, and teachers have been invited to join us and learn more about the scheme and what we are planning for 2018.

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Inspiring Young Minds with Old Thinking

A blog from Thomas Henderson, Durham University, History undergraduate, and recipient of a Laidlaw Scholarship, attached to the project for the next two years.

Last week, the Ordered Universe enjoyed a prominent role in OxNet Access Week summer school at Pembroke College, Oxford. Run under the aegis of Dr Peter Claus, the programme is designed to introduce sixth-formers to the realities of university life, study and research (about which more can be read in the previous post). The week’s programme took its title – ‘The World Machine’ – from the project, and placed particular emphasis on the demands of interdisciplinarity. In introducing the summer school as a whole, Giles Gasper urged the 16- and 17-year-olds to ignore the boundaries they were used to, and to shed the fear of appearing stupid or wrong – skills necessary both for interdisciplinary research and the transition from further to higher education.

As such, the separate streams of Humanities, Science and Theology, though operating in parallel, were regularly combined in shared lectures given by members of the Ordered Universe project: Hannah Smithson lecturing on colour perception, Tom McLeish on the role of inspiration in scientific research, Richard Bower on Cosmology, medieval and modern, and Giles Gasper on the Grosseteste’s life, times and scientific output. Working in the college’s chapel, Alexandra Carr produced an arresting light-based multimedia sculpture; an impressive achievement considering her short time frame. This, along with her talks given with Giles Gasper encouraged the students to think about their subjects in more creative, original ways.

In addition to this broad interdisciplinary approach, the Ordered Universe had its own teaching strand. This centred on collaborative reading of Robert Grosseteste’s De luce and De colore, along with lectures, and a successful seminar on sound given by Joshua Harvey. More intensive tutorials were run by Ordered Universe contributors Joshua Harvey and Tim Farrant, with Tom Henderson and Alexandra Haigh together tutoring a third group. Though the work was undoubtedly challenging, the sixth-formers rose magnificently to meet it, making insightful contributions. It was immensely gratifying for tutors to watch as the students grew in confidence over the course of the week, taking to heart Giles Gasper’s assurance that “there are no stupid questions”.

Students’ feedback showed that, while they found the work more difficult than they were used to, their experience of the Ordered Universe project had been immensely rewarding. It was clear that they had internalised the projects principles, looking beyond narrow conceptions of individual disciplines to be more curious and adventurous in their thinking.

Opening a new chapter for Ordered Universe

Next week marks a new line of activity for the Ordered Universe project, and one that has been some time in planning and design. In a nutshell, the project will form part of an award-winning scheme to encourage access to university from school pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged and non-traditional University application backgrounds. The approach of the OxNet scheme  is to use an academically intensive, subject driven programme to inspire, and to stretch and challenge those who take part: which Ordered Universe fits into very nicely. All pupils who participate in the scheme are encouraged to think about and engage with subjects they may not have considered studying, and to raise their academic attainment by taking part in sustained intellectually challenging programmes.

The OxNet scheme which began in Pembroke College, University of Oxford, under the guidance and inspiration of Dr Peter Claus, runs through hub schools – currently in, for example, Hackney, Manchester and Chester. These host a series of activities for a group of students from surrounding schools in their lower sixth year, in connection with the main organisation in Oxford and other universities (including Durham and Manchester). The normal pattern for a strand is a 6 week seminar series (2 hour seminars), a weekend Easter School and a week-long Summer School. Other activities organised by the hubs spin off around this, with subject centres, for example in Theology and Classics, and wider community engagement.

Ordered Universe will feature in the OxNet Summer School next week, with its own strand, designed around the treatises On Colour and On Light. Regular contributors to the project, Giles Gasper, Josh Harvey, Tim Farrant, Hannah Smithson, Tom McLeish and Peter Claus will be running the collaborative reading sessions, lectures and talks on aspects of the project, and smaller group assignments. We will be joined by Thomas Henderson, an undergraduate historian from Durham and recipient of a Laidlaw Research Scholarship and David Shacklette of Pembroke College. In addition to this line-up, Alexandra Carr, one the creative partners of Ordered Universe, and Artist in Residence under a Leverhulme Trust scheme (Sculpting with Light), will be resident throughout the summer school. She will be working with the students and members of the team, and creating a temporary art installation in college.

It is a great privilege to take part in the OxNet scheme. Research-led strands are a new venture, and the Ordered Universe is the principal partner for a new hub school for the North East: Southmoor Academy in Sunderland. The newly appointed co-ordinator Dr Kataryzna Kosior, an expert on Renaissance Poland, will be participating in the summer school, and we look forward, very much, to working with her, Matthew Garragan and Peter Claus, and all of the students who will be taking the Ordered Universe strands over the next three years. As we know, collaboration is both rewarding and time-consuming; the core research from the project will influence directly the content of the OxNet-Ordered Universe programme. Paradigms are there to be shifted, challenges to be met and mastered, and fresh, dynamic insight to be taken from Grosseteste’s writings and our modern analyses.

PhD Position for Grosseteste Studies

Some exciting news to pass on. Bishop Grosseteste University is funding a PhD studentship for studies on Grosseteste and the Science of Learning. The Ordered Universe project is delighted to advertise this – please circulate it to any and all who would be interested and qualified. Enquiries about the position should go, as the advert below indicates, to Jack Cunningham. There is a good amount of time for applications and this represents a wonderful opportunity.

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The Ordered Universe of UBC, Vancouver

Friday last saw the Ordered Universe project hosted at a very civilised Dinner-and-Lecture evening at St. Johns College, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. medbigbangvancouver

Tom McLeish, Co-investigator of the project had been in the Vancouver area all week on a lecture tour organised by the Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation (CSCA). After four events based around his book Faith and Wisdom in Science, as well as several science seminars (in Simon Fraser University and UBC itself), this last event, as all others organised by long-suffering and ever-kind host Gordon Carkner, focussed in on the unique collaboration of humanities scholars and scientists digging deeply together into the natural philosophy of Robert Grosseteste.

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St John’s Graduate College, UBC

A Medieval Big-Bang Theory: An Interdisciplinary Tale, began with a personal story about Tom’s first encounter with Grosseteste, from Jim Ginther’s regular HPS seminars at Leeds in the 1990s, then his astonished reading of the treatise on light, the De luce, the summer before his move to Durham in 2008, where he met up with medieval historian and theologian (now project PI) Giles Gasper.  The seminar then covered the technical content of Grosseteste’s light-expanded cosmos, and the corollary of his material physics of light – the theory of colour in the De colore and the De iride (on the rainbow).  The invited audience of students, faculty and members of CSCA had enthusiastically reserved 2 hours for the  event (!), so it was possible to go into some detail on the delicate interplay of scientific analysis, textual and philosophical work.

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Grosseteste’s rainbow co-ordinates mapped onto perceptual colour plane by H. Smithson

 

As ever, the participants were surprised and delighted to hear about the new science that the project has produced, as well as its insights and scientific commentary on 13th century treatises.  Tom managed to fit in both the three-dimensional mathematical structure of the colour space Grosseteste constructs in the De colore, and the new ‘rainbow mapping’ of colour space that this, accompanied by work on his De iride inspired, later published in the Journal of the Optical Society of America.

FaWis_450Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the context of this event, however, was the invitation from the hosts to situate the project findings in the twin theological contexts of Grosseteste’s day and ours. Our medieval polymath tends to stick to science in his science texts, but from other important works such as the Hexameron, and the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, we know that he has a developed theological purpose for studying nature to the end of understanding it.  He sees the process of induction from our sense data and intellect as a long and slow process of reawakening that insight and close relationship with nature that humankind was created to have in the first place, but lost through the turning away from its Creator in the Fall.  At this point the medieval science work dovetails into the thesis Tom has been developing in Faith and Wisdom in Science (click though for book and blog) for a healthier modern narrative for science.  The idea of science as the means to a healed relationship with nature strikes important late modern chords, as well as resonating with the philosophy of earlier ages.  It’s an old story of purpose that we have forgotten and need to remember.

Questions were very rich and varied – including one that the questioner would have liked to pose to Grosseteste himself: ‘Why did God allow the perfection of the spheres to stop at the Moon, and not complete all the way through the cosmos?‘ Our Oxford Master was fond of alternative histories – he tackled the question of whether there would have been an incarnation without a Fall, after all.  But what would he have made of a universe of crystalline spheres ‘all the way down’ (which is precisely what one of Prof. Richard Bower’s early simulations of his cosmogenesis physics in the De luce produced!). To be discussed…[Giles says: ‘Perfectness can’t re-create perfectness, otherwise it wouldn’t be perfect…’]

“Education is all about changing your mind.”

This is a quotation from Kathy Bader, one of the PhD students involved in the Ordered Universe Project. It sums up an almost self-evident truth, and nonetheless it’s something one can sometimes forget when it comes to thinking about choosing between courses or jobs or generally between things to which one could devote one’s time and effort. Continue reading