Beyond the Horizon

As we come to the end of the OxNet Access Summer School the students on Ordered Universe strand have been working very hard across the week with the three treatises by Grosseteste that we read through collaboratively. On the Impressions of the ElementsOn the Six Differentiae, and On the Rainbow find Grosseteste at his most intriguing, and in some sense difficult. Approaching these texts is a complex exercise; the complexity itself is a significant part of why the Ordered Universe methodology works through bringing lots of disciplinary perspectives together. The historical context has to be borne in mind – who was Grosseteste, where was he, who was he writing for; the source-base for which he was working and his access to particular works – when, for example, did he encounter Ibn Rushd/Averroes? when did he extended journey through Aristotle’s natural philosophy begin?; what are the phenomena he studies, and why?. How Grosseteste made his investigations took place is another area with a whole series of questions implied, what, for instance did optics mean for Grosseteste? why is astrology in his period sometimes approved of, sometimes condemned?, why does his universe have the shape and structure that he does? And to that we can add both the nature and understanding of the phenomena that he studies – what is a rainbow? colour? sound? a comet?

And the Access students, very much as part of the project, have taken a collaborative approach, and offered their own interpretations, analyses, and insights – some of which were entirely new to the team members teaching this week. As an example of what university research can be (amongst its may and varied and exciting forms) the project is well suited to capture the imagination. What has been so much more encouraging is the way that the students have responded – taking the past on its own terms, seeking out its different values, but at the same time using all of their prior experience, and skills, asking different questions, and trying to answer them, to see the research exercise as a whole. It is an enriching environment, and one that we hope will inspire future directions and choices – and horizon broadening!

Elemental! Hot Glass, Volcanoes and Bubbles

 

 

Just over a week ago Ordered Universe (28th June) members joined colleagues from the National Glass Centre, most of whom are part of the project, but it was brilliant to meet new colleagues as well including Joanne Mitchell. And we were joined by other colleagues from Durham University’s Department of Earth Sciences, Drs Ed Lllewellin and Fabian Wadsworth, specialists in volcanology. The meeting opened with a collaborative reading of Grosseteste’s beautiful treatise On the Impressions of the Elements, in which the question of heat and the nature of bubbles are investigated. These were all pertinent themes and phenomena for the gathering, and a lively conversation took place, showing again how stimulating these gem-like treatises from the early thirteenth century are, 900 years later.

 

 

We then enjoyed our first introduction to the hot glass studio, with a fabulous rendition of Grosseteste’s treatise in glass by Colin Rennie. Bubbles blown, and attached, and the piece came together before our eyes, in all the wonderful shimmering, changing colours of the glass as it cooled. And we had our own try and drizzling molten glass onto damped paper to create a variety of effects…abstract, pungent, a lot of fun, and a very interesting experience in learning to manipulate the medium (which you have to do fast!).

 

Lunchtime, a different location, and a different sequence of talks – catching up on the various lines of shred interest and the legacy of previous work and exhibitions, a paper by Josh Harvey on his work on material perception with material from medieval Norwegian polychrome sculpture provided by Kaja Kollandsrud, and then a demonstration by Fabian and Ed of volcanoes in action. Not with lava but with syrup and a cherry favoured carbonated drink. Glass and its properties, naturally in volcanoes and as worked in the studio, hot or cold, provoked a long discussion: the similarities and differences in the scientific and artistic approach to the medium were striking, and a lovely example of knowledge exchange.

 

 

Then came our time in the hot shop again, to make paper-weights. This time, we had the experience of holding the glass, shaping it and learning to hold the equipment in the right place (because metal conducts heat…easy to forget in, well, the heat of the moment), The feeling of the heat coming off the ball of viscous, moving, radiating material which we were attempting to mould was extraordinary. And it made Cate and Colin’s skill all the more awe-inspiring. The results were kiln-cooled, and look very passable – all credit to our teachers and guides. We then watched Colin make a first draft of a piece of glassware inspired by medieval models…more on that to come.

 

A super day, one to treasure, and full of possibilities for future collaboration. We’re very grateful indeed to Claire Todd for organising, and to Cate, Colin and all at the National Glass Centre for sharing their experience and time. And can’t wait to see Grosseteste in glass, again.

Glass Gathering – Creative Experimentation with Hot Glass

Glass Gathering Poster

Experimenting with hot glass is probably best to be tried in the company, and with the guidance, of experts. That being the case, it would be difficult to find more expert guides for this particular activity than those at the National Glass Centre. So it is the best of all possible worlds in which the NGC and Hot Glass Studio, University of Sunderland, have organised a research and experience day, in which Ordered Universe members will be taking part. We’ll be reading one of more recent editions and translations, that of the treatise On the Impressions of the Elements, which is all about bubble formation in water and the action of heat. Quite appropriate, then, for a day devoted to hot glass experiments.

That done we’ll move to experimenting with and experiencing what it is to work with hot glass (a step-up from our last knowledge exchange session which involved sand-casting). Learning not only how glass works, but how those experienced at manipulating it explain their craft and  process, is essential to the effort of reconstructing how things were done, or conceived in the past. And, there are also scientific dimensions – we’re going to be joined by vulcanologists from Durham University’s Earth Sciences Department, and thinking about the ways in which glass-blowing and natural glass production in lava might mutually inform.

We’ll be having a catch-up as well on the various projects going forward with our colleagues at the NGC; publications, new collaborative working, and potentially, a range of wine-glasses. You never quite know what to expect at these meetings, and that’s all part of the fun! We’re enormously grateful to Cate Watkinson, Colin Rennie, and Claire Todd for organising, hosting and supervising (!) the day, and will report on what emerges (conceptually and in glass).

 

Note: Image of the 1954 Kilauea eruption from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Space, Place and Elements: Ordered Universe Symposium

Tomorrow sees the fifth Ordered Universe symposium in the current series, as funded by the AHRC (and the twentieth in the all-time rankings) get underway. We’ll be focusing on three texts, all from the mid-years of Grosseteste’s scientific writing career: On the Six DifferencesOn Comets and On the Impressions of the Elements. All are beautiful, intricate and more complex than they look at first reading, and reveal Grosseteste marshalling more sources, working with greater familiarity with Aristotelian natural philosophy and his Arabic-language commentators. Dating from the second decade of the thirteenth century to the first half of the third, Grosseteste’s location at the time of composition is as uncertain, as the political and social turbulence of these years is assured. For what purpose and for whom the treatises were composed remains unclear, whether for teaching or for private reflection. The texts themselves however, are as precise and dauntingly specific as ever.

We are very happy indeed to be back in the elegant surroundings of Pembroke College, Oxford University, and huge thanks to Rebekah White, Clive Siviour, Josh Harvey and Nuala Darnell for organisation. Sarah Gilbert, the Ordered Universe administrator has been the lynchpin in this capacity as well. The programme is available here as PDF and in on Issuu below. Future symposia will be taking place in Montreal (McGill University), Dublin (Trinity College), Lincoln (Bishop Grosseteste University) and Durham, with workshops in between at the University of York. The collaborative reading remains the centre-piece of Ordered Universe activities: a nice reminder of how complex Grosseteste’s ideas were, how hard the process of elucidation is, and the meeting of minds, present and past. We’ll let you know the results and what we’re up to this year!

Below the Moon: Comets, Heat and Water

The next Ordered Universe symposium takes place in the week to come, May 17-19, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. It will be great to be back at Pembroke, one of the original homes of the project, and to be broaching two new treatises for collaborative reading. These comprise the De cometis – On Comets and the De impressionibus elementorum; the latter connected to argument on the genesis, nature and activity of comets, the latter a discussion of meteorological phenomena, mostly watery (dew, hail, snow and rain). The reading sessions will be using the edition of the De cometis by Cecilia Panti, with translations of the two works, and a draft edition of the De impressionibus by Sigbjørn Sønnesyn. We will be welcoming some new participants to the group, as well as Ross Ashton and Karen Monid from the Projection Studio. The treatises under scrutiny reveal Grosseteste more at home with Aristotelian methodology, and articulating a more scientific approach to physical problems. Key aspects of his thought on sublimation, on light and on grounds for verification and falsification make their appearance, as do a range of different sources alongside Aristotle. The symposium organisation is  principally by the Oxford team, under Hannah Smithson, and the project is extremely grateful to the efforts of Joshua Harvey, Tim Farrant and Clive Siviour, as well as the College conference staff. Set course for Oxford and we’re off! Look out for reports on the progress of the meeting – a copy of the programme is appended here in PDF and also available at Issuu.