The Geometrical Principles of Movement and Place: Lincoln Symposium

Next week, Grosseteste scholars from a wide radius will make straight lines for Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University, converging to concentrate our efforts on unpicking Grosseteste’s understanding of movement and change in supercelestial and sublunary bodies, and the geometric principles governing how the former influence the latter. We will read four treatises together: On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies, On Lines, Angles, and Shapes, and On the Nature of Places, all edited by Cecilia Panti, and On Bodily Movement and On Light, edited by Neil Lewis.



These treatises approach a complex set of questions from different angles: at the heart of all of them is the search for order in the universe, that is, for the principles that can make an ever-changing world intelligible. On the Movement of Supercelestial Bodies draws heavily on Averroes to explain and account for the unchanging circular movement of the heavenly spheres, and how this movement can be caused by an unmoving ultimate mover. On Bodily Movement and On Light seeks a unifying factor of all bodily movement, and finds it in light. In this way, the rectilinear and changing movements of sublunary bodies can be linked to the unchanging movements of the luminous bodies of the heavens. On Lines, Angles, and Shapes provides an account of the geometric principles according to which heavenly bodies exert causal influence on the world below, while its companion treatise On the Nature of Places applies these principles to explain how the causal influence of the heavens has different effects in different places on earth. Reading these treatises together will allow us to penetrate more deeply into the ways Grosseteste understood the order that governed and connected the supercelestial and sublunary realms.

The team are deeply grateful to Cecilia and Neil for preparing new and improved editions of these texts, and to Jack Cunningham and BGU for hosting us us in a place of such a congenial nature. We are greatly looking forward to intense and fruitful days of reading, discussion, and companionship.

OxNet NorthEast 2018 Programme Launch, and Other Ordered Universe Updates

Next Monday the OxNet – Ordered Universe programme for 2018-19 launches in the North-East. Organised through the hub school at Southmoor Academy in Sunderland, the programme involves and is open to schools from across the regions. We’ll be holding a taster evening at St Peter’s Church in Sunderland, rich in its connections to the medieval heritage of the region and to the history of science – the church was once home to Bede. Join us for a tour of the church, sessions on Comets – medieval and modern, or Cultural Cosmology, with Brian Tanner, Sarah Gilbert, Jamie Irvine and Giles Gasper, from Durham University (Physics and History Departments), and, for parents a session on student life and myth-busting led by Peter Claus (University of Oxford) and Lee Worden (Durham). The sessions will give an insight into the sorts of activities we’ll run from January to July – evening seminars at St Peter’s on a wide variety of topics and subjects, a residential Easter School at Durham, and the longer residential school at Pembroke College, Oxford. Moving between science and humanities, and medieval and modern thinking, we’ll show the students what it is that we can do at university, the joys and challenges of collaboration, how to ask questions and think more deeply about the world around us. The evening will wrap up with talks from Peter Claus on the OxNet programme and its philosophy, Sammy Wright from Southmoor Academy, Claire Ungley our OxNet North East co-ordinator, two students who attended the course last year, and finally Giles Gasper introducing Ordered Universe. 

And in other news we can report a number of talks delivered by Ordered Universe members in recent weeks. Neil Lewis was at the Medieval Studies Institute at Indiana University on October 17, and gave a presentation on ‘Robert Grosseteste and the Ordered Universe:  The value of interdisciplinary study for solving textual and interpretative problems’, Giles Gasper gave a paper to the Durham University Centre for Catholic Studies Seminar on the Hexaemeron and Scientific Literacy in the Middle Ages, with a focus on Grosseteste on November 8th, and Nader El-Bizri gave two talks, on Monday 12th November at the Arab School of Astrophysics at American University of Beirut on Ibn al-Haytham, Selenography and Optical Studies on the Light of the Moon, with Ordered Universe as a model. Nader is also to be found tomorrow at the UNESCO sponsor event, ‘Une nuit de la philosophie‘ in Paris, tonight! 

Dublin Symposium – Light, Motion, Bodies, and Comets

Last week Ordered Universe members gathered in Dublin, hosted by Laura Cleaver and Karl Kinsella at Trinity College and Marsh’s Library. With our usual range of disciplines represented (philosophy, history, psychology, engineering, physics, creative arts, history of art), and with colleagues from Europe and the USA, we set to work on the four treatises for collaborative reading. Two days in Trinity, at the Long Room Hub, saw the group read through the middle third of Grosseteste’s treatise On the Supercelestial Motions. This challenging treatise deals with the question how the planets move, whether by external force, their nature, and what the effects of their movements are. We also read through, for the second time, On Bodily Motion and Light. Another complex piece of writing, the treatise focuses again on how bodies move, with a more consistent parallel with animal bodies, and exploration of medical material. This treatise ends with a startling passage on light as prime form; highly reminiscent of the treatise On LightContinue reading

Moving objects, and heavenly bodies: Ordered Universe at McGill, Montreal

Last week the Ordered Universe team met at McGill University, Montreal. Some 18 members of the core group, from Durham, York, Oxford, Lincoln, Beirut, Siena, Berlin, Washington DC, Toronto, and the home team from Montreal, gathered together in the Continue reading

Montreal – McGill – and the Guidance of the Stars

Ordered Universe is off on its travels. Fresh from our project conference, Easter School and participation in other conferences and colloquia, the next  symposium takes place in Canada, at McGill University, Montreal. We are delighted to be hosted by Professor Faith Wallis, a core team member, and are very much looking forward to four days of collaborative reading in such a stimulating environment. Three texts are on the menu, a re-reading of Grosseteste’s On the Six Differences edited and translated by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn on notions of the horizon and up/down/left/right/back/front, and two new ones. The first is On the Supercelestial Motions, edited by Cecilia Panti, and newly translated by Neil Lewis, the second On Corporeal Motion and Light, edited and translated by Neil. These are the tenth and eleventh of Grosseteste’s scientific opuscula to be tackled by the team, thirteen in total.  As we work through the texts, the sense of the intricacy and intensity of Grosseteste’s thought comes to the fore time and again. In the texts to be considered roots of characteristic aspects of his later thought emerge, for example the identification of nature with the first form, namely light. More than shades of On Light

The symposium will also feature a public lecture to be delivered in the Redpath Museum, by Tom McLeish, Giles Gasper and Jack Cunningham, with details to follow. The symposium will be followed by a graduate conference at McGill, and then by members of the team making their way steadily westwards to Kalamazoo and the International Medieval Congress. We are very grateful to Faith and to Shameem Mooradun for expert organisation, and for helping to shape our twentieth collaborative reading meeting. And they get better every time!

Grosseteste Manuscripts

A new resource for Grosseteste, and wider medieval, manuscript research, is now available on the Ordered Universe website.  It comprises a list of all known manuscripts  of Grosseteste’s scientific, theological and philosophical opuscula. Compiled by Professor Neil Lewis (Georgetown University), the list is designed to be iterative: if you come across Continue reading

Georgetown on my mind (and heart)

Throughout his career, Robert Grosseteste emphasised the unity of the human person, the impossibility of separating mind from heart except conceptually. Our capacities to see the truth of things as they are, our aspectus, and for loving things for what they are, which Robert called our affectus, must both be developed and perfected, Robert said; and the one cannot be developed in isolation from the other. This fundamental strand of Robert’s thinking was recently the theme of a conference organised under the august auspices of Georgetown University by Neil Lewis, a member of the Ordered Universe core team, and Sandra Strachan-Vieira. The participants comprised a good mix of Ordered Universe stalwarts and new acquaintances (for most of us), ranging from grad students to established professors, and the papers offered detailed analyses of Grosseteste’s thought as well as studies of comparable sources written both before and after Grosseteste’s time.

A rain-drenched Georgetown may have failed to offer its visitors its finest aspect, but we did not let that affect us; the welcoming surroundings and gracious and generous hosts more than made up for the weather. Brett Smith set the tone for the conference as a whole with his clear and clarifying presentation of the role of aspectus and affectus, the perception of truth and the love of the good, in central works by Grosseteste. Giles Gasper then added depth and breadth to this fundamental picture by showing with great nuance and eloquence how the same dichotomy played an equally central role in the monastic theology of Anselm of Cantebury. Yours truly added to the monastic backdrop by trying to bring out the richness of the same conceptual scheme in the writings of Isaac of Stella.

After the main focus of the conference and the background for the conceptual scheme had been presented, a series of papers ensued that subtly brought out the intricacies and precision of philosophical language and argument both in Grosseteste and his contemporaries. Nicola Poloni showed with great skill the development in Grosseteste’s metaphysics of matter and causation, and Neil Lewis situated Grosseteste’s views on aspectus and affectus within its contemporary context by demonstrating and explaining how these concepts were used by Richard Rufus and Richard Fishacre. Tim Farrant then showed how these concepts allowed Alexander Neckam to connect his natural and zoological studies to a fundamental moral preoccupation animating his works. Kathy Bader brought this part of the conference to a close with a fascinating run-through of the astronomers of the Severn Valley in the early twelfth century, and in particular how the translations of Arabic astronomical texts into Latin influenced and enriched the study of the stars and the computation of time. The day was brought to a close with a public lecture on Grosseteste, the Ordered Universe project, and how the artistic collaborations to which this project has given rise. The lecture was given jointly by Giles Gasper and Tom Mcleish, two of the three Principal Investigators of the project, and Ross Ashton, a projection artist who together with sound artist Karen Monid has created wonderful displays of light and sound partly inspired by Grosseteste’s writings.

While the papers of the first day in the main focused on philosophical and theological concerns, the second day continued with a stronger emphasis on the scientific study of nature. It started Nader El-Bizri’s deeply engrossing account of Alhazen’s theory of human perception, emphasising the deep connection between vision of truth and embodied experience in a way that offers an illuminating parallel to Grosseteste’s view. Tom McLeish then used the pairing of aspectus and affectus to discuss the creative processes undergirding modern scientific research, providing a fascinating and engaging glimpse of how human beings do science. Hannah Smithson then presented her dizzyingly complex and penetrating analysis of Grosseteste’s theory of colour vision, using her experience from cutting-edge psychology of perception to bring out the complexities and sophistication of Grosseteste’s thinking. Joshua Harvey gave an equally inspiring account of Grosseteste’s thinking on sound perception, using the technology of Schlieren imaging to visualise Grosseteste’s account and show its intellectual power and its limitations. Luke Fidler then rounded off the presentation of papers with a glorious discussion of the aspectus/affectus pairing in material culture and the visual arts, and in particular the apperception of sculpture in the high middle ages.

The final afternoon of the conference was devoted to a group reading of Grosseteste’s treatise on the generation of sounds. We were deeply privileged to number among the participants not only Ordered Universe core member Cecilia Panti, but also Joe Goering and Frank Mantello into the group. Our discussions of the text greatly deepened our understanding both of its philological and its philosophical and scientific aspects; and it was impossible to remain unaffected by the presence of no less than four of the world authorities on Grosseteste’s writings in Panti, Lewis, Goering and Mantello. It was a fitting and profoundly inspiring end to a wonderful conference.

We are deeply grateful to Neil and Sandra for their hard work in making this conference a great experience for all participants. And there is an argument to be made that the combination of scholarship and companionship that a successful conference brings confirms Grosseteste’s central point about the interdependence of aspectus and affectus. The challenges of the mind are more easily tackled in the company of good colleagues and friends; in the end we left seeing things more clearly because we all put our heart in it.

Washington DC – Ordered Universe

So, the advance party for the Ordered Universe conference at Georgetown, Washington D.C. has arrived, and caught some of the amazing cherry-tree blossom. The conference proper starts tomorrow, and takes place over two days. Tomorrow afternoon 16.30-18.30 is the public talk featuring Neil, Tom, Giles and Projection Artist Ross Ashton, on the project in light of medieval studies, modern science and artistic creation. If you are in the Georgetown area, and there have been inquiries on twitter, please come along – the event is free and it would be great to see you. The conference itself will look at one of the central features of Grosseteste’s intellectual framework, and one that develops a central and standard model from antiquity, the early church and most of the medieval period, namely aspect and affect. Attempts to explain these terms and their meaning are fascinating and complex, and go to the heart of medieval notions of experience of, and interaction with, the world, understanding and action, and, we will find out, have sharp and powerful resonance with some modern notions of the same. We’re really looking forward to hearing all of the papers, learning a lot, and enjoying the stimulating, challenging and supportive environment of the project. And, wonderful to be in the US again, the last time Ordered Universe presented across the Atlantic was the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress, last year, and the New York CUNY public lecture in 2013. We’ll keep you posted on how things go!

Grosseteste on Space and Place


The latest in the series of Ordered Universe symposia took place last week, between 1st and 3rd September. We gathered in Durham once more, in the hospitable surroundings of St John’s College, to examine two of Grosseteste’s treatises, and review progress on those now in the publication roster (on which more soon). The meeting was, formally, for the 17th collaborative reading symposium of the project. The experience from those meetings showed in the way that the team were able to move between texts, editions, translations Continue reading

Tor Vergata News – Time and Time Reckoning

From the Ordered Universe’s last symposium in Rome, April 2016, a short news report from Tor Vergata on the conference we held there. This was the first activity in a collaboration between Durham and Tor Vergata as well as being an occasions to hear four excellent papers on the subject of time. With our next symposium coming up in Durham at the end of the month this is a timely reminder of the range of our activities! Continue reading