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! 

OxNet North East Launch Party at the National Glass Centre, Sunderland

The Ordered Universe Project and OxNet have teamed up for the 2017–2018 academic year to offer an academic course for sixth form students in the north-east of England. The launch will be hosted by The National Glass Centre in Sunderland on Wednesday 22nd November, and local schools, students, and teachers have been invited to join us and learn more about the scheme and what we are planning for 2018.

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Oxnet Access Scheme Summer School 2017 – What the students said…

From the Ordered Universe themed summer school for the Oxnet Access to University scheme, a short film with some of the very talented student participants. A reminder of the  quality of their questions, and keenness to contribute and engage, and of an uplifting week in Pembroke College under the inspired leadership of Dr Peter Claus. The Oxnet programme is coming to the North-East of England this year, with the launch of a hub based at Southmoor Academy. We can’t wait!

Many thanks to David Shacklette for conducting the interviews.

Inspiring Young Minds with Old Thinking

A blog from Thomas Henderson, Durham University, History undergraduate, and recipient of a Laidlaw Scholarship, attached to the project for the next two years.

Last week, the Ordered Universe enjoyed a prominent role in OxNet Access Week summer school at Pembroke College, Oxford. Run under the aegis of Dr Peter Claus, the programme is designed to introduce sixth-formers to the realities of university life, study and research (about which more can be read in the previous post). The week’s programme took its title – ‘The World Machine’ – from the project, and placed particular emphasis on the demands of interdisciplinarity. In introducing the summer school as a whole, Giles Gasper urged the 16- and 17-year-olds to ignore the boundaries they were used to, and to shed the fear of appearing stupid or wrong – skills necessary both for interdisciplinary research and the transition from further to higher education.

As such, the separate streams of Humanities, Science and Theology, though operating in parallel, were regularly combined in shared lectures given by members of the Ordered Universe project: Hannah Smithson lecturing on colour perception, Tom McLeish on the role of inspiration in scientific research, Richard Bower on Cosmology, medieval and modern, and Giles Gasper on the Grosseteste’s life, times and scientific output. Working in the college’s chapel, Alexandra Carr produced an arresting light-based multimedia sculpture; an impressive achievement considering her short time frame. This, along with her talks given with Giles Gasper encouraged the students to think about their subjects in more creative, original ways.

In addition to this broad interdisciplinary approach, the Ordered Universe had its own teaching strand. This centred on collaborative reading of Robert Grosseteste’s De luce and De colore, along with lectures, and a successful seminar on sound given by Joshua Harvey. More intensive tutorials were run by Ordered Universe contributors Joshua Harvey and Tim Farrant, with Tom Henderson and Alexandra Haigh together tutoring a third group. Though the work was undoubtedly challenging, the sixth-formers rose magnificently to meet it, making insightful contributions. It was immensely gratifying for tutors to watch as the students grew in confidence over the course of the week, taking to heart Giles Gasper’s assurance that “there are no stupid questions”.

Students’ feedback showed that, while they found the work more difficult than they were used to, their experience of the Ordered Universe project had been immensely rewarding. It was clear that they had internalised the projects principles, looking beyond narrow conceptions of individual disciplines to be more curious and adventurous in their thinking.

Opening a new chapter for Ordered Universe

Next week marks a new line of activity for the Ordered Universe project, and one that has been some time in planning and design. In a nutshell, the project will form part of an award-winning scheme to encourage access to university from school pupils, particularly those from disadvantaged and non-traditional University application backgrounds. The approach of the OxNet scheme  is to use an academically intensive, subject driven programme to inspire, and to stretch and challenge those who take part: which Ordered Universe fits into very nicely. All pupils who participate in the scheme are encouraged to think about and engage with subjects they may not have considered studying, and to raise their academic attainment by taking part in sustained intellectually challenging programmes.

The OxNet scheme which began in Pembroke College, University of Oxford, under the guidance and inspiration of Dr Peter Claus, runs through hub schools – currently in, for example, Hackney, Manchester and Chester. These host a series of activities for a group of students from surrounding schools in their lower sixth year, in connection with the main organisation in Oxford and other universities (including Durham and Manchester). The normal pattern for a strand is a 6 week seminar series (2 hour seminars), a weekend Easter School and a week-long Summer School. Other activities organised by the hubs spin off around this, with subject centres, for example in Theology and Classics, and wider community engagement.

Ordered Universe will feature in the OxNet Summer School next week, with its own strand, designed around the treatises On Colour and On Light. Regular contributors to the project, Giles Gasper, Josh Harvey, Tim Farrant, Hannah Smithson, Tom McLeish and Peter Claus will be running the collaborative reading sessions, lectures and talks on aspects of the project, and smaller group assignments. We will be joined by Thomas Henderson, an undergraduate historian from Durham and recipient of a Laidlaw Research Scholarship and David Shacklette of Pembroke College. In addition to this line-up, Alexandra Carr, one the creative partners of Ordered Universe, and Artist in Residence under a Leverhulme Trust scheme (Sculpting with Light), will be resident throughout the summer school. She will be working with the students and members of the team, and creating a temporary art installation in college.

It is a great privilege to take part in the OxNet scheme. Research-led strands are a new venture, and the Ordered Universe is the principal partner for a new hub school for the North East: Southmoor Academy in Sunderland. The newly appointed co-ordinator Dr Kataryzna Kosior, an expert on Renaissance Poland, will be participating in the summer school, and we look forward, very much, to working with her, Matthew Garragan and Peter Claus, and all of the students who will be taking the Ordered Universe strands over the next three years. As we know, collaboration is both rewarding and time-consuming; the core research from the project will influence directly the content of the OxNet-Ordered Universe programme. Paradigms are there to be shifted, challenges to be met and mastered, and fresh, dynamic insight to be taken from Grosseteste’s writings and our modern analyses.