The Ordered Universe goes to Harvard

Ordered Universe Co-I for the University of York, Tom McLeish, is lucky enough to chair the Harvard-UK Knox Fellowship Committee, which awards 2-year postgraduate fellowships to Harvard across all subjects. Once a year he gets to visit the new (and not so new) fellows at Harvard in rather more relaxed settings than their London interview.

Harvard Yard was looking rather gorgeous in its fall colours:


While in town, Tom also went to see some astronomers: the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics lab holds a Thursday lunchtime bag lunch seminar where four people give short talks. The seminars are well-attended by about 100 astronomers from all over Boston.

The Harvard-Smithsonian lunchtime seminar in full swing with a talk on 21st century astrophysics, following Tom’s talk on 13th century cosmology. Note that the scientists are still there.

On this occasion one was on a rather old (c. 1224) theory of a Big Bang origin of the cosmos, contained in Robert Grosseteste’s treatise De luce (On light). For a lecture by a real cosmologist on this topic see Durham astronomer Richard Bower’s talk here. Grosseteste does an extraordinary thing in the De luce, using Aristotelian physics to counter Aristotle’s belief that the universe could have no temporal beginning. Instead, Grosseteste supposes that a point of light expands into a giant sphere, ‘the size of the world machine’, taking matter with it, until it can be rarefied no further. Following that the light, in new guise, propagates inward, forming the nested planetary spheres as it goes. It is a marvellously mathematical theory of how a medieval geocentric cosmos might have come into being, and as an example of the scientific imagination, is hard to better.

The Harvard cosmologists were fascinated to hear about some of the medieval history of their subject, and had interesting questions about the scientific community then, and the way that written records were disseminated.

Prof Owen Gingerich with Flamsteed’s star catalogue

Later that afternoon Tom had the immense privilege of visiting the one-man Harvard institution that is Professor Owen Gingerich. He owns a personal collection of early modern astronomical texts, and some earlier manuscripts as well. Here is Owen with a prized member of his collection – one of the few surviving copies of first Astronomer Royal John Flamsteed’s star catalog, edited by Edmond Halley, but most copies destroyed by Flamsteed. This, surviving, copy is heavily redacted in Flamsteed’s hand (can you make out the falsum est on the bottom corner?) !

The final astronomical joy was a meeting with leaders of the Harvard Black Hole Project, partially funded through the John Templeton Foundation, of which Tom is currently a trustee. Philosopher and historian of science Peter Galison gave Tom a signed copy of the ground-breaking short-waveradio image from the Event Horizon Telescope – capturing the monster black hole at the heart of active galaxy M87 (below).


What would Robert Grosseteste have thought about the notion of a Black Hole?

Northern Lights returns!

dsc03702In a few days Giles Gasper, Sigbjørn Sønnesyn and Sarah Gilbert will be setting off for York Minster to join long-time project collaborators Ross Ashton and Karen Monid (better known as the Projection Studio) for the 2019 performance of Northern Lights.

Continue reading

Bishop Grosseteste University Associate Award series — International Robert Grosseteste Society


All are welcome to attend this talk in the BGU Associate Award series. Programme Leader for Theology Dr Jack Cunningham will be talking about Robert Grosseteste and the ‘Soul of the World’. Dr Jack Cunningham Wednesday 23rd October, 2019, 1.00-2.00pm Hardy Teaching Room 1 Robert Grosseteste and the Anima Mundi In a tract called De sphaera Grosseteste make a […]

via Bishop Grosseteste University Associate Award series — International Robert Grosseteste Society

What’s it all for? Grosseteste on the Liberal Arts and Education, then and now. — A Bishop’s Blog

It was a great privilege and great fun too to be able to give this year’s Robert Grosseteste Lecture at Bishop Grosseteste University in Lincoln on Grosseteste’s Feast day itself. If the technology works you should find links to the text of the lecture and the slide-show that accompanied it below!

via What’s it all for? Grosseteste on the Liberal Arts and Education, then and now. — A Bishop’s Blog

Grosseteste on the liberal arts and education — International Robert Grosseteste Society

On Wednesday 9th October 2019, Bishop David Thomson gave a lecture addressing one of Robert Grosseteste’s earliest treatises. On the Liberal Arts sets Grosseteste’s thoughts on the arts subjects and emphasises moral concerns about the purpose of learning. You can find the video here. Here’s some photos from the event.

via Grosseteste on the liberal arts and education — International Robert Grosseteste Society

Congratulations to Southmoor Academy

Warmest congratulations to the staff and students at Southmoor Academy, the hub school for OxNet in the north-east, with whom Ordered Universe collaborates for the access to university scheme. The school are the winners in the Best School/College category for the UK Social Mobility Awards. This is a fantastic achievement and testament to the vision of the school and the model that it offers for broadening horizons and genuinely raising aspirations. Claire Ungley, the Raising Aspirations co-ordinator, and OxNet North-East administrator was in London, with other members of the school team to collect the award. It’s a particular privilege to work Southmoor and Sammy Wright the Vice-Principal, and to contribute to a now nationally recognised programme for innovative social mobility.

Sight Rays, Light Rays, and Bubbles

Next week sees the penultimate Ordered Universe symposium in the current series, and we are back in the wonderful surroundings of Pembroke College, University of Oxford. Our meeting will cover collaborative readings of the treatises On LinesOn the Nature of Places (these two really two halves of a single treatise), On the Rainbow, newly edited and translated, On Colour, and a revisit to On the Impressions of the Elements. We’re delighted to welcome new participants, in particular Sophie Abrahams and Joseph Hurd from the University of York, and Jack Ford from University College London. We have made the programme available on Issuu (below) and in PDF form:

Screenshot 2019-09-15 at 17.45.19

Enormous thanks, as ever, to all of those involved in the organising, especially to Rebekah White and the Oxford team, and to Sarah Gilbert.