We are very pleased to announce that the Ordered Universe Easter School for the OxNet Access to University scheme, North-East section, will be taking place this week. Originally planned for the school Easter holidays, we have, in the current circumstances, moved the school to an online format, with a mixture on online exhibitions, pre-recorded films, booklets and handbooks, interactive model, as well as live sessions on Zoom. Continue reading
These are strange times in which we find ourselves with disruption and disorder around us, and important concerns that dominate. In the midst of this it is important as well that we continue with our work and look to what we can do to sustain our collective endeavours. Looking back at the past is one way in which to gain some measure of comport in the current situation, both in terms of examples of resilience within communities to disease and disaster, natural and man-made, and in terms of the wonder at the world expressed by previous generations. To be under lockdown does not mean that we can’t travel, and with an incredible array of guides.
Ordered Universe has, then, been quite busy in the last few months. We have new publications to let you know about, a new phase for the project, and new plans for working in different ways with all sorts of communities. We will put up separate posts on all of these activities – some taking place in the very near future. For the moment, we have to report that the major AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK) came to a close in March 2020, having started in October 2015, so a good long run. We have been able to do so much with the funding, with 11 full-scale collaborative reading symposia; over 60 public talks, workshops, and event, from Festivals to Cathedral leaning days, from Italy to Canada, the USA, and around the UK; numerous conferences and invited talks, from Odense and Brussels to Boston and Berkeley, and across a wider range of disciplines, from the International Medieval Congresses at Leeds and Kalamazoo to the British Society of Philosophy, and the Global Aspiring Medics Conference in Hong Kong; two exhibitions, with the National Glass Centre, there and at Pembroke College, Oxford, working with artists including Colin Rennie and Cate Watkinson, chronicled by filmmaker Alan Fentiman; an artistic residency with Alexandra Carr, involving two exhibitions, a sculpture of the nested spheres of the medieval cosmos, temporary installations, light painting, collaboration with photographer Rosie Reed Gold, and line drawings; over 7 sound and light shows with Ross Ashton and Karen Monid of The Projection Studio, from World Machine at Durham Lumiere to Horizon at the Napa Lighted Art Festival, via the Berlin Light Festival, Cambridge e-Luminate and many others; and three years of work in a scheme to raise aspirations for university applications amongst sixth-formers from non-traditional backgrounds. We’ve also published over 24 academic works: journal articles, book chapters, edited volumes, and, to date, the first in our six-volume series of Grosseteste’s scientific oeuvre with Oxford University Press.
An intense phase of work then, with a lot of people, with widely differing experience and perspectives, from undergraduates to emeritii, all contributing to elucidation of a remarkable thinker from the 13th century, and exploring the implications of his engagement with natural phemonena, in his own context, and in terms of how we understand these phenomena today. The three investigators Giles Gasper, Hannah Smithson, and Tom McLeish, have been helped and supported by the considerable efforts of the research team – Cecilia Panti, Neil Lewis, Brian Tanner, Clive Siviour, Faith Wallis, Jack Cunningham, Peter Claus, Nader El-Bizri, David Thomson, Luigi Campi, Nicola Polloni, Seb Falk, Laura Cleaver and Sarah Griffin (amongst many others). Though it is invidious to single out individuals, our particular thanks are to the three administrators for the programme, Rachael Matthews, Roz Green, and Sarah Gilbert. And, especially to our three post-doctoral researchers, brilliant, hard-working, and the engine-room of the project: Joshua Harvey, Rebekah White, and Sigbjørn Sønnesyn. So much would not have been possible without them.
Ordered Universe continues – the next series of symposia are in planning, whether virtually or in person, and there are many activities and lines of research that are on-going. So, this is by way of a phase transition (a term introduced to the humanities part of the team by the scientists [Brian Tanner in particular] in our discussion of De luce – On Light); and there is a lot of work still to be done! We hope that the world becomes more ordered, and look forward to letting you know about what we’re up to.
Seminar Four of the OxNet North East programme introduced students to the psychology of colour. They began by discussing ‘The Dress’, and whether it was white and gold, black and blue, or something else. Using an article written by David Brainard and Anya Hurlbert, students applied the concept of colour context to this phenomenon, to understand how colour can differ based on its surrounding context.
Students then went back in time to look at Grosseteste’s concept of colour. They briefly explored his treatise ‘De Colore’, and were surprised to find that he explicitly introduced the idea of a three-dimensional colour theory, as opposed to Aristotle’s linear arrangement of colours ranging from white to black. They discussed why studying Grosseteste is not simply the main of historians, but that scientists are also interested in its works due to its focus on ‘experience’ (or what we would now call an ‘experiment’).
The seminar ended with an introduction to collaborative reading of Grosseteste’s treatise on the rainbow. Again, students challenged themselves by taking a cross-curricular look at rainbows, thinking about it not only from a scientific perspective in terms of its formation, but also its role in culture. For example, a rainbow is mentioned in Genesis following the great flood, and Bifrost is the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard and Midgard.
OxNet North East students explored the notion of History with Professor Giles Gasper, Durham University, in this year’s third OxNet Seminar. They started by discussing the question ‘Why study History?’ to which they replied – to learn from the past, because it’s interesting, and perhaps to make predictions about the future. They then explored the notion of what ‘History’ really is – is it inherently linked to people and experiences, or can we classify learning about the earth or the cosmos as ‘History’? Is it a standalone subject, or does it link to other disciplines like Politics and Sociology? The seminar certainly started with more questions than it answered, which challenged students to be inquisitive and feel comfortable with not always having an answer.
The seminar then moved onto the course reader, where students read and discussed an extract by John Arnold, entitled ‘Framing the Middle Ages’. Arnold argues that we shouldn’t ignore parts of history that don’t match up with the modern day, such as the Middle Ages. Students began by sharing common preconceptions about the Middle Ages, using words like ‘savage’, ‘violent’, ‘ignorant’, ‘superstitious’ and ‘religious’. They grappled with the difficulty of truly defining the Middle Ages, due to its complexity and broad chronological span, but concluded that the lightbulb saw the shift into the ‘modern’ day.
Students finished off by discussing how to actually find history, and all agreed that a historian needed evidence – be it writing, buildings, artefacts, or the physical landscape. They conducted close textual analysis of medieval contracts concerning groups of monks and the Bishop of Hereford, and were surprised to see the self-conscious nature of these documents – it was explicitly stated that the contracts were put into writing to preserve the information for future generations.
Delighted to announce that Durham University will be supporting and funding the elements of our outreach and access programme based in the North East, and part of the wider OxNet family of hub schools, supported from the University of Oxford. The Ordered Universe OxNet North East Easter School, will be funded by Durham, where the activities are based for the next two years, allowing us to develop and diversify our programme. Continue reading
Earlier this month Giles Gasper recorded a podcast interview with Artemis Irvine (third-year history undergraduate at Durham University) for the second season of Travels Through Time. The series asks what year the interviewee would like to go back to, and in this case, it was 1215, the year of the Fourth Lateran Council, Magna Carta, and, possibly, the year that a certain Robert Grosseteste was putting together his treatise On the Sphere. This wonderful and intriguing work is the subject of the second Ordered Universe volume currently in preparation: Mapping the Universe. So, if you’re wondering what happened in 1215 (which some of you may be), then this may be for you. Many thanks indeed to Artemis and the Travels in Time team!
Seminar 2 saw students exploring Physics with Brian Tanner, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Durham University. Brian introduced the students to the notion of collaborative reading, looking through Robert Grosseteste’s treatise ‘On the Rainbow’. They read about his various experiments, including looking at light refracting through a urine flask, which they replicated using a vase and a mobile phone torch.
Two students then volunteered to take part in an image-formation experiment. They carefully observed a coin’s supposed change of position as water was poured into a vessel, demonstrating refraction at water-air interface. Students used these experiments to evaluate the extent to which Grosseteste was accurate in his theories about the laws of refraction, and were surprised to know how close he was to modern scientific understanding, along with key thinkers like Roger Bacon.
The seminar ended on a discussion about spectacles – when were they invented? Who invented them? Was it Roger Bacon’s experiment on slicing a sphere which created a lens? Or the Arab invention of a ‘reading stone’? Despite numerous paintings of scholars wearing spectacles, the evidence is still inconclusive, as artists may have superimposed them onto the figures to make them look scholarly.
A wonderful day at Hereford today exploring the life and times of Robert Grosseteste, particularly the years he spent in the city, and his thought on natural phenomena, with excellent questions and involvement from the audience. Brian Tanner, Giles Gasper (from Durham), and David Thomson (now a Herefordian), presented the workshop, which formed part of the Hereford Cathedral Life and Learning programme. In the elegant surroundings of College Hall we showed our Medieval Cosmos film as an introduction to the rather different ways in which the Continue reading