Things aren’t always black and white

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.

The Past is History

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.

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. 

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.

Cambridge e-Luminate Festival: Master of Colour

Friday 9th February sees the opening of the 2018 Cambridge e-Luminate Festival, and the Ordered Universe project is delighted to be taking part once again. In tandem with Ross Ashton and Karen Monid of The Projection Studio and their installation ‘I see’ on Senate Continue reading

Through a Glass Darkly – More and more things to do with glass!

Work continues apace for the October 2017 launch of the National Glass Centre exhibition by Cate and Colin based on research from the Ordered Universe and the scientific world of Robert Grosseteste. The official launch date is 20th October and the exhibition will run until March 2018. A visit with Giles Gasper, Alexandra Carr, photographer Rosie Reed Gold (whose photographs are used here), and OxNet Southmoor Academy co-ordinator Katarzyna Kosior, revealed the riches in store. Continue reading

PhD Position for Grosseteste Studies

Some exciting news to pass on. Bishop Grosseteste University is funding a PhD studentship for studies on Grosseteste and the Science of Learning. The Ordered Universe project is delighted to advertise this – please circulate it to any and all who would be interested and qualified. Enquiries about the position should go, as the advert below indicates, to Jack Cunningham. There is a good amount of time for applications and this represents a wonderful opportunity.

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Annual Edward Delaval Lecture in Physics – University of Lincoln

Tom McLeish wil deliver the Annual Edward Deleval Lecture in Physics at the University of Lincoln on November 16th. Tom will be talking on: Medieval Science and the Ordered Universe Project. The lecture is open to the public and takes place at 6 pm in the EMMTEC Lecture Theatre, Brayford Pool Campus, University of Lincoln. We have a short interview with Tom Continue reading

Astronomy Domine: The Ordered Universe set the controls for the heart of Rome

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The spheres as imagined by Goussin de Metz in the later 13th century

Just as celestial bodies, according to medieval astronomy, would be brought to convergence by the motion of the firmament, so many members of the Ordered Universe project will converge in Rome in the first full week of April, drawn there by the gravitational pull of our workshop schedule. The focus this time will be on Grosseteste’s astronomical models and the mathematical tools at his disposal to calculate and measure celestial motions. Continue reading