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.
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.
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.
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?
For those planning to come to York for the final days of The Projection Studio’s Northern Lights (final showings are 31st October), and for those unable to come along, Karen Monid gives a wonderful Continue reading
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 […]
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! https://bpdt.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/bgu-grosseteste-lecture-final-2.pdf https://bpdt.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/bgu-grosseteste-lecture-slides-with-copyright-notices.pptx
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.
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.
The most recent Ordered Universe Syposium took place amid a riot of colour as summer turned to autumn at Pembroke College Oxford in late September. Continue reading