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
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.
News that this year’s Bishop Grosseteste Lecture, at Bishop Grosseteste University, will be delivered by Bishop David Thomson, a long-serving Ordered Universe member. David Continue reading
Our new publication from the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, ‘A thirteenth-century theory of speech‘, introduced by its principal author, Joshua Harvey…
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 Elements, On 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!
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
A quick update on Ordered Universe and related publications: we were delighted to see the Compotus by Grosseteste, edited and translated by Philipp Nothaft and Alfred Lohr make its appliance earlier this year. To this we will be able to the first volume of our series on the other scientific works. Knowing and Speaking Continue reading
It has been a busy summer season already for the Ordered Universe project. July began with the International Medieval Congress at Leeds. An annual gathering for medievalists, and one of the largest, busiest, and most dynamic in the field, the congress took as its 2019 theme ‘Materialities’. Which suited the project very well. A series of four sessions and a round-table were proposed and accepted – all on Tuesday 2nd July. Tom McLeish, Nicola Polloni, and Francesca Galli led off on Grosseteste and light, from considerations of his view on matter, to light and preaching manuals, and the treatises On Light and On the Six Differentiae. The second session featured Hannah Smithson and Giles Gasper on different aspects of sight and optics, covering the treatises On Colour, On the Rainbow, On the Liberal Arts, On Lines and Angles and On the Nature of Places, as well as some of Grosseteste’s Dicta.
After lunch our third session involved Brian Tanner, Philipp Nothaft, and Anne Mathers on comets, Grosseteste’s Compotus, and weather prediction. The new edition of the Compotus is out and available from OUP, and other booksellers! Anne also has a new book on medieval meteorology out with CUP soon. The fourth and final session focused on Grosseteste and sound, with Joshua Harvey and Sigbjørn Sønnesyn, exploring the experimental and source critical aspects to On the Generation of Sounds. So, we covered quite a lot of Grosseteste’s scientific corpus!
Our final presentation was a round-table, chaired by Tom McLeish, and involving representatives of the wide range of disciplines that compose the project: Laura Cleaver (Art History), Brian Tanner (Physics), Cate Watkinson (Glass Art), Clive Siviour (Engineering), and Giles Gasper (History). A wide-ranging discussion of the implications of inter- or multi-disciplinarity, the evolution of the project, outputs and experience, and the delight that we all share in learning more about each other’s work and insights, the past, and the world around us. Thank you very much to all of the participants, the audiences for talks and round-tables, and the IMC for selecting our proposals! More to come soon…
Watch Tom McLeish talking through Grosseteste on Colour and the Rainbow at the Royal College of Art, for a conference on Colour through Time: Enjoy!