A huge thank you to all who came to the launch for the first volume of The Scientific Works of Robert Grosseteste yesterday afternoon in Pembroke College, University of Oxford. It was wonderful to be hosted by the SCR, and in the company of the Master and Continue reading
A lovely moment for the Ordered Universe project. The first volume in our Oxford University Press series on The Scientific Works of Robert Grosseteste was published 11 days ago, on November 6th. In a resplendent red dust-jacket (the beginning of a rainbow as the other volumes appear), the volume presents Grosseteste’s treatises On the Liberal Arts and On the Generation of Sounds with an intriguing Middle English re-imagining of both texts The Seven Liberal Arts. Nineteen co-authors, from the wide range of disciplines that characterise the project contributed variously to the tasks of editing, translating, elucidating, and analysing the treatises, and Grosseteste’s remarkable thought processes.
So, we have discussion of the evolution of the liberal arts as a conceptual and educational schema, discussion of Grosseteste’s location and circumstances – from the southern Welsh borders to (possibly) Paris of the first decade of the thirteenth century. We have analysis of his interest in music, of his mastery of Aristotle’s natural philosophy – notably the traditions of interpretation around On the Soul and the Physics, and his familiarity with Islamiate authors such as Abu Ma’shar. And, we have analysis of the sonativum, the sounding object and its physical properties and behaviour, alongside discussion of human vocal production and perception of phonemes. These are integral to the interpretation of Grosseteste’s intentions in his first two treatises, and their re-working in Middle English. The volume moves from the ancient world to the end of the medieval period, and to our own; Islamicate thinkers, Christian authorities, Ancient authors, and contemporary scholars, are check by jowl with the natural phenomena discussed, and the moral framework that Grosseteste sets up for learning.
The two treatises show Grosseteste at the beginning of an enterprise that would occupy him for thirty years or so, exploring new learning from the Ancient World, and medieval Islamicate, dedicated to the understanding of natural philosophy. The later treatises focus on astronomy and geography, comets, meteorology, colour, light, the properties of matter, and the rainbow, amongst many other subjects. It is unusual to be able to follow the development of a past thinker from youth to old age; it is the case for the study of Grosseteste’s world. And this is a journey that we make in his company, and in his footsteps.
This then, is a special moment for the team and the project. We have brought together individual scholarship on Grosseteste into a creative dynamic focused on his scientific works. The project’s radically interdisciplinary ethos fuels its emphasis on learning without frontiers, from youth to experience, and from the university classroom to city-streets with projection art, galleries, schools, shopping centres, festivals, public talks in conference centres, cathedrals, societies, and pubs. There are so many people and institutions involved, and so many to thank for their generosity of funding, time, expertise, and insight. Now in its eleventh year, and fifth of major funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Ordered Universe has developed a distinctive modus operandi, and a distinctive reach into sciences, humanities, and wider communities of learning and interest. As Grosseteste might note scale is not the key here, but intensity: all contributions, no matter how seemingly small, are vital to the outworking of what we do. And this volume, in this sense, represents so much more than the nineteen authors; and proudly so.
This afternoon we are very fortunate to be able to hold a reception for the first official launch of Knowing and Speaking at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, a few hundred metres or so from where Grosseteste would have taught in the early 1230s at the house of the Franciscans, Greyfriars. We are extremely grateful to the college for facilitating this gathering, especially the Master Dame Lynne Brindley. There will be further book launches and discussion of the volume and its implications will take place in January 2020 at the University of York, and March 2020 at Durham University.
A quick update on Ordered Universe and related publications: we were delighted to see the Compotus by Grosseteste, edited and translated by Philipp Nothaft and Alfred Lohr make its appliance earlier this year. To this we will be able to the first volume of our series on the other scientific works. Knowing and Speaking Continue reading
News on the first volume of six from the Ordered Universe presenting the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste. The first volume is avialable for pre-order from both the Oxford University Press website and at Amazon (UK and others). The first volume has a shipping weight of 739 grams and is 640 pages in total, and features 19 co-authors (it is not an edited volume but a co-authored monograph, under the aegis of Ordered Continue reading
A new publication from Ordered Universe science colleagues Josh Harvey, Hannah Smithson and Rebekah White, inspired, in its first stages, by the collaborative reading of Grosseteste’s On the Generation of Sounds, and its emphases on different types of motion, and the relation of written letters to the shape of the vocal tract in voicing the letter. ‘Hand-Foot Coupling: An Advantage for Crossed Legs‘ is published in Perception, and makes fascinating reading.
It is a particular pleasure to be able to report on progress on Ordered Universe publications. The main news is that our first volume in the seven-volume series with Oxford University Press is completed and is accepted for publication. Knowing and Speaking presents the first two of Grosseteste’s treatises On the Liberal Arts and On the Generation of Sounds, alongside the Middle English re-imagining of both texts as part of the longer The Seven Liberal Arts. Continue reading
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!
A post by Joshua Harvey, D.Phil. student, Department of Engineering Science and Pembroke College, University of Oxford, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as part of ‘The Mental and Material Laboratories of Medieval Science’ project, under the aegis of the Ordered Universe.
The latest research article from the Ordered Universe project: “Bow-shaped caustics from conical prisms: a 13th Century account of rainbow formation from Robert Grosseteste’s De iride” is available to read now, open access at the Optical Society of America’s journal Applied Optics. Grosseteste’s treatise De iride [On Rainbows], which may be familiar to long-term followers of the Ordered Universe project, explores theoretical optics, colour theory, and meteorology to give one of the most comprehensive pre-renaissance scientific writings on the rainbow. With this most recent article, we explore his pioneering model of rainbow formation – the first to use refraction (and not just reflection) in medieval Europe. Through an interdisciplinary combination of historical review, geometric optics, and both practical and simulated experiment, we give a thorough overview of the historical significance of the De iride, and look at what lessons we can learn from it today.
This fruitful exploration has not been done before. Although Grosseteste provides a detailed description of what he believes are the geometric underpinnings of a rainbow, he has previously been disregarded in this area. David Lindberg even went so far as to say that ‘his theory of the rainbow could not account for even the most basic phenomena and has remained largely unintelligible to the modern day.’ Well, we thought there might have been more to Grosseteste’s thought than that, being familiar with his mathematical mind and keen curiosity about the natural world. As a research team with a diverse expertise, we together arrived at an interpretation of Grosseteste’s optical mechanism that was intelligible, elegant and, most excitingly, perfectly testable. To our surprise, the caustics – patterns of gathered light – produced by a transparent cone are just as Grosseteste describes.
Remarkably, we have already been contacted by researchers investigating atmospheric optics, who have found some striking correspondences between their own work and our interpretation of Grosseteste’s De iride. Markus and Sarah Selmke’s recent paper, “Artificial circumzenithal and circumhorizontal arcs” published in American Journal of Physics, explores to great depths the kinds of refractive optical interactions between transparent cones, as modelled by glassware filled with water, and incident light. The authors have shown that Parry arcs, a type of halo, are analogous to the caustics produced by shining light through a wine glass of water. Although not as frequently observed as rainbows, Parry arcs are similarly beautiful displays of dispersive colour seen in the heavens, providing certain atmospheric conditions are met. The paper features a combination of practical and mathematical experimentation, similar to our own approach in the Applied Optics paper, and states that “light entering through the top air-water interface and leaving through the lateral cone surface results in an analogy to Parry’s halo”. This is identical to Grosseteste’s geometric scheme, as we interpreted it. Although, to his detractors, his likening of a rainbow to that of light going through a transparent cone might sound crude, or even ridiculous, it appears this simple model does indeed capture the optical principles behind a dispersive atmospheric phenomenon.
Grosseteste was wrong about rainbows. Not long after him, rainbows were correctly understood to be produced by light interacting with near-spherical raindrops, by both Kamal al-Din al-Farisi and Theodoric of Freiburg in the fourteenth century. But Grosseteste was not wrong about the optical qualities of transparent cones, and although the optical scene he describes in De iride does not relate to rainbows, it is analogous to another kind of dispersive optical event seen in the heavens.
Of course, it would be incorrect to claim that Grosseteste had solved the mystery of Parry’s arc back in the thirteenth century. He had probably never seen or heard of one, as they are rare outside the Arctic circles, and it wasn’t until 1820 that William Parry observed and drew one. Was this mere coincidence, could Grosseteste have happened upon an atmospheric optical mechanism by chance? Perhaps. But it is worth bearing in mind that his theory was likely grounded in observation, and formulated to be as parsimonious as possible. I think that rather than chance, it is instead even clearer we are reading the work of someone with a scientific mind, curiosity about nature, and a belief in a profoundly ordered universe.
The Ordered Universe project is pleased to announce its latest publication, for the Applied Optics journal, Vol. 56 (2017), G197-G204, and fully open access. The experiments and writing of the paper were led and marshalled by expertly Joshua Harvey (Mellon Foundation funded graduate student at Oxford University, Dept of Engineering Science and Pembroke college), with assistance from other members of the team, from the sciences and humanities. The paper focuses on the middle part of Grosseteste’s treatise On the Rainbow (De iride) and the shape that the rainbow forms in the sky. This precedes discussion of the colours of the rainbow, covered in other Ordered Universe papers. The current paper offers an historical context for the treatise before moving to the main discussion, testing Grosseteste’s optical thought with physical experiment and physics-based simulation. The results are available below, and show, again, the benefits of collaborative working to unlock problems posed by thinkers of the past.
A new resource for Grosseteste, and wider medieval, manuscript research, is now available on the Ordered Universe website. It comprises a list of all known manuscripts of Grosseteste’s scientific, theological and philosophical opuscula. Compiled by Professor Neil Lewis (Georgetown University), the list is designed to be iterative: if you come across Continue reading