And so to Poole

Ordered Universe research featured as part of this year’s Light Up Poole Festival, the 3rd year for the Festival, and a treat to be back again after last year, which saw Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper presenting Grosseteste on Tides, and the European premiere of two Continue reading

Let’s Get Physical

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. 

How (theoretical) physics was born in Hereford…

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

Music of the Spheres

Students launched into the seminar series by exploring the cosmos with Richard Bower, and comparing medieval and modern views on the universe. They considered questions of how it was created – was it designed by a ‘craftsman’ or did it always exist – and compared the theories of thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, and how Robert Grosseteste’s theory of celestial bodies fit in. Students were surprised to learn that Grosseteste actually theorised about the building of a telescope, which wasn’t put into practice for several centuries! 

Taking a cross-curricular stance, students explored cosmology through archaeology – they learned about rocks that have been found in Northumbria, thought to be from around 4000BC, which depict cup and ring marks that are thought to represent star charts. 

Students then explored cosmology in the modern day – how we understand the world around us using mathematical formulae, and are able to model the universe using super computers. They watched virtual simulations of the big bang, creations of galaxies, and formation of stars, and wondered if this is all that the universe is made of… 

Some very insightful questions were asked at the end, as students calculated the probability of finding a planet able to sustain life. The answer was that such a planet could be as close as 100 light years away, leading to discussions around why ‘aliens’ haven’t contacted us before…

OxNet Study Day

This year’s successful OxNet applicants joined a scholarly community by attending their first Study Day at Ushaw College in Durham, along with Dr Peter Claus and Professor Giles Gasper.

We welcomed students from 8 Sixth Forms and Colleges, 4 of whom are new to OxNet this year – Benfield School, Park View Academy, Prior Pursglove, Southmoor Academy, St Robert’s of Newminster, Stockton Sixth Form, Sunderland College and Byron Sixth Form.

Students threw away the boundaries of A-level study, and became undergraduates for the first time. They learned how to analyse gobbets of texts, debated the meaning of a ‘discipline’, and considered the criteria of what truly makes a science or a humanity. For example, is there really such a big difference between Physics and History? Students split into groups to present their findings, and were given one key piece of guidance – “you have not only the right, but the duty, to disagree”. Discussions were punctuated with tours of Ushaw College, including its chapel with a secret tunnel under the floor, and a library filled with over 30,000 books.

The day finished with a guide on university admissions from Richard Petty of Trinity College, Oxford, along with a student’s perspective on being a Northerner in Oxford from Tom Clennett, ex-student of Dyke House College in Hartlepool and current student of Chemistry at Brasenose College, Oxford.

Students came away with the notion that learning is like doing a jigsaw –  although the pieces may seem unclear at times, they eventually connect to create a coherent and exciting whole.

Light, the Universe, and Everything

Next week sees the tenth, and final, Ordered Universe symposium in the current series, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK. It is fantastic that we should be holding this symposium at the University of York, home institution of Tom McLeish, one Continue reading

Knowing and Speaking – Launched

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

Knowing and Speaking – Launch

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.

July Catch-up 2: On the Sphere – Workshop at the University of York

As part of the preparations for the second volume in our series, various members of the Ordered Universe team gathered towards the end of July at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York, hosted by Tom McLeish. This was a different sort of meeting for the group from our collaborative reading and translating symposia. This time we met to share progress on chapter and section writing for the  new volume, and to plan in more detail how sections might knit together, be juxtaposed, and how different interpretations and analyses of the same text might best sit together. Continue reading