Astronomy across the Medieval World

An extremely interesting conference organised by the Centre for the History and Philosophy of Physics, based at St Cross College, University of Oxford, ‘Astronomy across the Medieval World‘ introduced Chinese, Indian, Islamic, European and Mayan and Aztec  astronomy to a wide and diverse audience. The first session of the conference was chaired by Professor Charles Burnett (London), and opened by Dr Giles Gasper (Durham), with an outline of European astronomy, its inheritances, exploring in particular Robert Grosseteste’s treatises On the Sphere, On Comets, On Light and On the Liberal Arts. Professor Christopher Cullen (Cambridge) followed with China and its astronomical systems, meridian measurements, state-sponsored observatories, and belief in a spherical heaven, but flat earth. The links between Chinese and Islamic  (or Islamicate) astronomy were also fascinting. Dr Josep Casulleras (Barcelona) completed the morning with a fuller treatment of Islamic astronomy, its inheritances, especially Ptolemy, particular developments and influences. The importance of medieval Islamic astronomy to the scientific revolution was stressed especially.

The afternoon featured two papers, chaired by Professor Silke Ackerman, the first of which, given by Professor Ivan Šprajc (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) opened up the subject of pre-Hispanic Mezzo-America. Mayan and Aztec astronomy, its calendar of 365 and 260 days, and the place of star-lore within mezzo-American society were explored in detail, and offered a very interesting parallel with the Eurasian examples from the morning. The final paper of the day came from Dr Benno van Dalen (Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities), who took the case of Ptolemy, tracing the his influence across the Islamic tradition, the European, and the Indian, ending at the court of the Mughal Jai Singh in the early eighteenth century. The proceedings of the day were summarised expertly by Professor Emilie Savage-Smith (Oxford) who emphasised the similarities as well as the differences between the societies presented and their cultures of astronomy. The similarities across the medieval period, the presence of networks of scholar and diffusion of texts across cultural and linguistic boundaries were perhaps the most striking elements of the day.

Organised by Dr Joanna Ashbourn, and taking place in the Department of Physics, the conference attracted some 150 people, with lively question sessions after each talk. All of which made for a stimulating and challenging day, and a very successful one.

Heaven’s Above! An Interactive Exhibition

Well, it has been about three weeks since the Being Human, National Festival of Humanities activities took place in Durham. Philipp Nothaft’s magnificent lecture on the dating of Easter (just before Advent, appropriately) on the 18th November, which attracted an audience of over 80 and is available in video form, began events. The lecture took place Continue reading

Heaven’s Above Features….

Today is the launch of Being Human! Ordered Universe Events start tomorrow, with the public talk by Philipp Nothaft  (pictured above). Philipp is a graduate of the University of Munich, has been associated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, University College London, and the Warburg Institute. He was appointed as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at All Soul’s College, University of Oxford, in 2015. We’re delighted that Philipp is able to give this talk – it forms his major research area. He explores Time, Astronomy/Astrology and Calendars in both medieval and early modern Europe, and across a fascinating and wide-ranging series of  texts. Continue reading

Updates on recent events: Montreal

It has been a busy month or so for the Ordered Universe, as we come to the end of October, and, almost a full year since the award of major AHRC funding for the project. Work is proceeding apace on the first volume from the project which will comprise the edition, translation and analysis of the De artibus liberalibus, the De generatione sonorum and the Middle English treatise On the Seven Liberal Arts. In addition a more scientific analysis of aspects from the De generatione sonorum is nearing completion – news and updates in due course. In the meantime, Giles Gasper gave two lecture in late September and early Continue reading

‘To Loose the Bonds of Arcturus’: Ordered Universe in Montreal

On the 28th September, Giles will give a public lecture to the McGill Medievalists, supported by the Mellon Foundation. The subject will be the place of Astronomy in twelfth century schemes for Liberal Arts. Grosseteste’s De artibus liberalibus features strongly; the lecture will explore what Grosseteste sets as his task in the treatise and contextualise some of its more particular and idiosyncratic elements. Alchemy, Medicine, the impact of Continue reading