Tours of the Cosmos: From Dante to Dark Matter

The Ordered Universe team tend to find themselves contemplating a dark sky rather than a dark forest and thinking about how the straight paths through the universe were found, rather than the paths through heaven and hell, but this week Ordered Universe team members Giles Gasper and Tom McLeish were Virgil to the audience’s Dante as they led a lunchtime lecture in Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study.

Continue reading

Ordered Universe in The Conversation: Colour and Glass

A new piece in The Conversation from the Ordered Universe team, in the persons of Cate Watkinson, Tom McLeish and Giles Gasper, on our creative collaborations over the last two years, and the on-going exhibition at the National Glass Centre, Illuminating Colour. Continue reading

Conference Previews redux: Science, Imagination and Wonder…

More previews from the papers for the Ordered Universe conference April 3-6. We’re delighted with the response to the call for papers, and to be in partnership with the International Robert Grosseteste Society (Science, Imagination and Wonder will also include  meeting for the society). Amongst the papers accepted we have a theme on interdisciplinarity, marshalled by our own Tom McLeish, a series of papers on Grosseteste’s models and antecedents, and his involvement with the English Franciscans.

  • Tom McLeish (York) on ‘Beyond Interdisciplinarity to the Unity of Knowledge: Why we need both Medieval and Modern Minds’
  • Nicola Polloni (Durham) on ‘Sources of Light: Remarks on the Grosseteste/Avicebron Connection’
  • Michael Robson (St Edmund’s College, Cambridge) on ‘Robert Grosseteste and the Franciscan school at Oxford (1224-53)’
  • Angelo Silvestri (Cardiff) on ‘Hugh of Avalon’s Ethical, Political, Artistic and Religious thoughts: a Robert Grosseteste Ante Litteram?’

We are pleased to reveal the conference poster, designed by Alexandra Carr (with an image of the medieval cosmos derived from a light-painting evening in County Durham in late September 2017). Please circulate…

OU Conference Poster

Ordered Universe in Early 2018: Events Update

2018 is set fair to be another busy year for the Ordered Universe team. In addition to submitting our first volume presenting the treatises On the Liberal Arts and On the Generation of Sounds, and the Middle English Seven Liberal Arts, to press, we have a wide range of other events organised. This is just a reminder of those coming up in the first quarter of the year.

The two exhibitions featuring work inspired by the project run over this period. Illuminating Colour, a major exhibition of new work from Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie at the National Glass Centre, University of Sunderland, drawing on Grosseteste’s treatises On Colour and On the Rainbow runs until March 10th. This is a world-class exhibition – do come and see it in situ. And, if you find yourself in the North-East come along to the Dante Exhibition at Palace Green Library in Durham and see, amongst the other treasures, Alexandra Carr’s sculpture of the nested spheres of the medieval universe, and a film installation as well. Alexandra’s work was produced as part of her Leverhulme  Trust funded Artistic Residency at Durham University and Ushaw College focusing on medieval and modern cosmology.

January sees the fifth symposium of the current series, at Pembroke College, University of Oxford. In addition the OxNet course at Southmoor Academy recruits and commences its 6 week seminar series, to be taught to schoolchildren from across the North-East at the National Glass Centre. This involves Richard Bower – on Cosmology, Brian Tanner – on Physics, Joshua Harvey – on Psychology, Nicola Polloni and Kasia Kosior – on Translation, Cate Watkinson and Colin Rennie – on Creativity, and Giles Gasper and Tim Farrant on History and Religion. All co-ordinated by Kasia Kosior and the wonderful OxNet team.

February features a number of different activities. Tom McLeish and Giles Gasper are speaking on 7th February, on the modern and medieval cosmos, as part of the Dante Lecture series organised by Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS). Friday 9th February will see the Ordered Universe at the Cambridge e-Luminate Festival of Light for the second year in a row. We’ll be running a series of talks and then show and tell activities over the afternoon and early evening in the Guildhall in Cambridge. And this alongside Ross Ashton and Karen Monid’s new sound and light show. Keeping up the pace, on the 13th February IMEMS is running a day-long workshop on the Scientific Study of Manuscripts, Brian Tanner and Giles Gasper will be talking on Ordered Universe experience of interpreting medieval thought using science and humanities methodologies and approaches. Finally, Jack Cunningham will deliver a lecture in the Ushaw College series in Durham on his discovery of an 18th century life of Grosseteste. ‘ ‘Saving Robert Grosseteste – Fr Philip Perry’s Lost Biography’ takes place on 22nd February, 18.00-19.15

We wrap up the OxNet seminar course in March, and put all focus on the Ordered Universe conference in April – more on that soon, and look forward to the Ordered Universe/OxNet Easter School in Durham – focused on medieval manuscripts, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science conference, and then into the early summer and our Montreal visit, the Kalamazoo International Medieval Congress….and we’re already half way through the year!

De Luce

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.

New Ordered Universe Publication

The Ordered Universe project is pleased to announce its latest publication, for the Applied Optics journal, Vol. 56 (2017), G197-G204, and fully open access. The experiments and writing of the paper were led and marshalled by expertly  Joshua Harvey (Mellon Foundation funded graduate student at Oxford University, Dept of Engineering Science and Pembroke college), with assistance from other members of the team, from the sciences and humanities. The paper focuses on the middle part of Grosseteste’s treatise On the Rainbow (De iride) and the shape that the rainbow forms in the sky. This precedes discussion of the colours of the rainbow, covered in other Ordered Universe papers. The current paper offers an historical context for the treatise before moving to the main discussion, testing Grosseteste’s optical thought with physical experiment and physics-based simulation. The results are available below, and show, again, the benefits of collaborative working to unlock problems posed by thinkers of the past.

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 18.06.45

Science Stories – Podcast

And here it is, the wonderful show from Philip Ball’s Science Stories, on Radio 4. An evocative opening, and then a treat with Tom talking about Grosseteste, the De luce and the interdisciplinary work of the Ordered Universe, and a final consideration of multiverses with Mary Jane Rubenstein. Thought-provoking, meditative and stimulating by turns! Just shows how well the story of Grosseteste’s world, how it inspires scholarship and creativity today, and the intrinsic interest in the phenomena studies, works on radio. Do listen – it’s well worth it.

Medieval ‘Big Bang Theory’…

One not to miss! Tom McLeish is featured at 21.00 on Wednesday this week, talking with Philip Ball, on Science Stories, Radio 4: The Medieval Bishop’s Big Bang Theory. Tom and Philip explore the scientific world of Robert Grosseteste, rainbows, colour and light streaming through Cathedral windows, and the birth of the cosmos described in his treatise ‘On Light’ with its eerie resonance of modern thinking. Listen in, or to the podcast afterwards!

New Podcast: Tom McLeish at University College Dublin’s Institute for Discovery

Tom McLeish talking to Dr Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain from University College Dublin, about interdisciplinary, Ordered Universe, and wider themes concerning science, faith and creativity.

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!