Those readers, who have been around for a number of years, will know that from time to time the Renaissance Mathematicus has hosted guest posts. One thing that we are very proud of is the very high standard of the authors, who have delivered up, at our invitation, those literary #histSTM highpoints. We only host the best! Todays guest post continues this tradition with a real star of the world of science, science writing and #histSTM, Tom McLeish FRS. Tom was Professor of Physics at Durham University, where he was one of the initiators and chief investigators of the on going Ordered Universe international research project: InterdisciplinaryReadings of Medieval Science: Robert Grosseteste (c.1170–1253).
!4th Century portrait of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln Source: Wikimedia Commons
On Thursday 18 April, a large proportion of the CMS MA cohort, along with some Medieval Literature and Language and Medieval History MAs, and one PhD student, headed out into the Yorkshire countryside to enjoy a day of medieval architecture, brilliant sunshine, and glorious wall paintings.
We started the day at Rievaulx Abbey, accompanied by Professor Christopher Norton and Dr Stuart Harrison. Turns out, getting there for opening was a great idea, as the site soon got busy with walkers and families enjoying the good weather (and the Easter Holiday). Stuart and Christopher took us around the main church building of the Abbey, paying particular attention to the structure of the building.
This was a great opportunity to discuss recent events at Notre Dame de Paris, and we heard all about the importance of stone vaults, and the effect of fires on ecclesiastical buildings around the world (not least York Minster).
After our mini-lecture, the students explored the site for themselves, marveling especially at the grand Refectory.
Our second stop of the day was at Helmsley Castle, where we heard about the different phases of the site.
The later medieval range was specifically highlighted by Christopher and Stuart as having structural and interior similarities to our own Huntingdon Room at the King’s Manor.
The keep of the castle would have had a distinct D-shape – sadly the curved wall has since been destroyed.
We spent some time in Helmsley to satisfy any hunger cravings, as it was by now most definitely lunch time. The weather continued to oblige, and it felt like summer being able to sit outside to eat.
After lunch we headed to Pickering, and met Dr Kate Giles at the church of Sts Peter and Paul. Those who hadn’t visited the church before gasped in awe on entering the church – and even when you have visited before, the wall paintings are enough to leave you humbled once again.
Kate treated us to a talk on the history of the paintings, their various coverings and restoration attempts over the centuries, and really brought the church alive for us.
The final stop of the day was Stonegrave Minster, village church of Robert Thornton, a fifteenth-century lay scribe responsible for the production of two anthology manuscripts (Lincoln, Cathedral Library MS 91 and British Library MS Additional 31042). Robert’s parents have a memorial monument at Stonegrave Minster, and the Thornton residence at East Newton Hall lies fairly close by the church.
At Stonegrave we had the benefit of hearing from Drs Nicola McDonald and Dav Smith. Nicola is currently researching the life and works of Robert Thornton, while Dav wrote part of his PhD thesis on the church itself.
The students, and us here in the office, had a fabulous day, and would like to extend our thanks to Christopher, Stuart, Kate, Nicola, and Dav for coming along and imparting their expertise on a new generation of medieval scholars!
The Poetry and Music of Science. Comparing Creativity in Science and Art, by Prof. Tom McLeish (CMS, Physics) was published by published by Oxford University Press last month. You can read all about The Poetry and Music of Science, and Prof. McLeish’s 2016 book Faith and Wisdom in Science on the OUP website.
We would like to congratulate Prof. McLeish on this publication – here’s to many more in the future!
If you want to know more about Prof. McLeish, and especially his involvement with The Ordered Universe project dedicated to the scientific works of Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253), visit the website here.
We’ve got a fabulous line-up of conferences and other events for this summer. It might seem a bit early to be getting excited for all of this, but we just couldn’t wait to share!
May starts well, with Prof Daniel Wakelin (Oxford) delivering our Annual Riddy Lecture on 2 May (details here), and then keeps getting better and better, with a York Medieval Lecture by Professor Laura Ashe (Oxford) on the “strange medieval romance” of The Squire of Low Degree on 21 May (see here).
Professor Laura Ashe
The York Medieval Lecture is swiftly followed by one of our highlights of the summer: Scribal Cultures in Late Medieval England: A Conference in honour of Linne R. Mooney, a one-day symposium and exhibition with a fantastic line-up of speakers gathered both to honour Professor Mooney’s contribution to scholarship, and contribute themselves to the field of manuscript studies. This is an opportunity to see some of the biggest names in manuscript studies that (in our humble opinion) should not be missed.
You can see the programme here, and details of how to register if this sounds like your kind of day! There will also be a special display of manuscript fragments donated to the University by Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya.
June also sees us hold our annual postgraduate conference (27 June), at which we encourage current MA and PhD students to present their research, sometimes for the first time, at this friendly one-day conference.
The postgraduate conference is followed by the crowning glory of our summer programme, Belonging in Late Medieval Cities, a two-day conference (28-29 June) on belonging and identity in later medieval urban centres, which is also held in conjunction with two public lectures. You can see the programme and details on how to registerhere.
On Thursday 23 May, the CMS welcomes a gathering of leading scholars to honour Linne Mooney’s contribution to the study of medieval English manuscripts.
The one-day symposium will take place in our fabulous Huntingdon Room (once the meeting room of the Council of the North), and include keynotes from Professors Derek Pearsall and Simon Horobin, as well as papers from Margaret Connolly, Daryl Green, Helen Killick, Nicola McDonald, Andrew Prescott, Wendy Scase, Sebastian Sobecki, and Deborah Thorpe.
Both the Head of the Department of English and Related Literature here at York, Prof. Helen Smith, and the Director of the CMS, Prof. Sarah Rees Jones will give talks opening and closing proceedings; and we have been fortunate enough to secure a special display of manuscript fragments donated to the University by Professor Toshiyuki Takamiya that will be available to view on the day.
Registration costs: £22, or £16.50 for full-time registered students. To register, please visit the University of York online store.
The symposium has been generously supported by the Centre for Medieval Studies, the Department of English & Related Literature, and Boydell & Brewer, in recognition of Linne Mooney’s contributions over her career.
On Friday 22nd March, the Lords of Misrule musicians did something rather unusual in our group’s recent history – we did a gig that wasn’t part of a Lords production or a CMS event! We were invited by the organisers of Rúnagaderung – a weekend-long celebration of music inspired by the history and mythology of early northern Europe, put on as part of the annual Jorvik Viking Festival – to play a selection of medieval pieces as part of the line-up at the Fulford Arms venue.
We didn’t actually have that much Norse material in our repertoire (aside from ‘Drømde mik en drøm i nat’, a beautiful 14th-century Norse song), so our set-list was mostly a hodgepodge of Latin, French and English pieces from the 14th-16th centuries chosen by our musical director Alana Bennett. The playlist included two songs from the Red Book of Montserrat (‘Cuncti simus concanentes’ and ‘Stella splendens’), ‘Agincourt Carol’, a song about drinking and making merry called ‘Tourdion’, and ‘Pastime with Good Company’, an original composition by King Henry VIII.
The audience didn’t seem to mind the historical anachronism too much though! The Fulford Arms was packed to the rafters for our set, and the crowd went particularly wild for our final piece ‘Montarde Bransle’ (if you’ve ever been to a Lords performance, this is the tune we play during the bows). In all my time as a musician, I’ve done performances in schools, medieval churches, concert halls – but this is the first one I’ve been to where people dressed as Scandinavian raiders have been moshing to a clarinet solo. It was a wonderful new experience, and I hope that it will be the first of many future Lords gigs.
You can find out more about the Lords of Misrule on their Facebook page, and their Twitter.
I don’t know why it took so long to dawn on me – after 20 years of a scientific career – that what we call the “scientific method” really only refers the second half of any scientific story. It describes how we test and refine the ideas and hypotheses we have about nature through the engagement of experiment or observation and theoretical ideas and models.
But something must happen before this. All of this process rests upon the vital, essential, precious ability to conceive of those ideas in the first place. And, sadly, we talk very little about this creative core of science: the imagining of what the unseen structures in the world might be like.
We need to be more open about it. I have been repeatedly saddened by hearing from school students that they were put off science “because there seemed no room there for my own creativity”. What on earth have we done to leave this formulaic impression of how science works?
Science and poetry
The 20th century biologist Peter Medawar was one of the few recent writers to discuss the role of creativity in science at all. He claimed that we are quietly embarrassed about it, because the imaginative phase of science possesses no “method” at all. In his 1982 book Pluto’s Republic he points out:
The weakness of the hypothetico-deductive system, in so far as it might profess to cover a complete account of the scientific process, lies in its disclaiming any power to explain how hypotheses come into being.
Medawar is equally critical of glib comparisons of scientific creativity to the sources of artistic inspiration. Because whereas the sources of artistic inspiration are often communicated – they “travel” – scientific creativity is very much private. Scientists, he claims, unlike artists, do not share their tentative imaginings or inspired moments, but only the polished results of complete investigations.
The romantic poet William Wordsworth, on the other hand, two centuries ago, foresaw a future in which:
The remotest discoveries of the Chemist, the Botanist, or Mineralogist, will be as proper objects of the Poet’s art as any upon which it can be employed, if the time should ever come when these things shall be familiar to us.
Here is the need for ideas to “travel” again – which, if Medawar is correct, they have still failed to do. By and large poets still don’t write about science (with some notable exceptions such as R S Thomas). Nor is science “an object of contemplation”, as the historian Jacques Barzun put it. Yet the few scientists who have vocalised their experience of formulating new ideas are in no doubt about its contemplative and creative essence. Einstein, in his book with the physicist Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics, wrote:
I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
You don’t need to be a great scientist to know this. In my own experience I have seen mathematical solutions in dreams (one dream of a mathematical solution even coming to me and independently and identically to a collaborator on the same night), and imagined a specific structure of protein dynamics while sitting on a hillside.
There is a large literature on “creativity” in science, but I have found nothing that really speaks to the lack of discussion of scientific inspiration today or to the pain of lingering experiences in education that set sciences and the arts and humanities in conflicting and opposed camps.
Stories of creativity
So I set off to ask scientists I knew to narrate, not just their research findings, but the pathways by which they got there. As a sort of “control experiment”, I did the same with poets, composers and artists.
I read past accounts of creation in mathematics (Poincaré is very good), novel-writing (Henry James wrote a book about it), art (from Picasso to my Yorkshire friend, the artist late Graeme Willson), and participated in a two day workshop in Cambridge on creativity with physicists and cosmologists. Philosophy, from medieval to 20th century phenomenology, has quite a lot to add.
From all these tales emerged a different way to think about what science achieves and where it lies in our long human story – as not only a route to knowledge, but also as a contemplative practice that meets a human need, in ways complementary to art or music. Above all I could not deny the extraordinary way that personal stories of creating the new mapped closely onto each other, whether these sprung from an attempt to create a series of mixed-media artworks reflecting the sufferings of war, or the desire to know what astronomical event had unleashed unprecedented X-ray and radio signals.
A common narrative contour of a glimpsed and desired end, a struggle to achieve it, the experience of constraint and dead-end, and even the mysterious “aha” moments that speak of hidden and sub-conscious processes of thought choosing their moments to communicate into our consciousness – all this is a story shared among scientists and artists alike.
In my resulting book – The Poetry and Music of Science – I try to make sense of why science’s imaginative and creative core is so hidden, and how to bring it into the light. It’s not the book I first imagined – it just wouldn’t permit a structure of separate accounts of scientific and artistic creativity. Their entanglements run too deep for that.
Instead there emerged three “modes” of imagination that both science and art engage: the visual, the textual and the abstract. We think in pictures, in words, and in the abstract forms that we call mathematics and music. It has become increasingly obvious to me that the “two cultures” division between the humanities and sciences is an artificial invention of the late 19th century. Perhaps the best way to address this is simply to ignore it, and start talking to one another more.
The York Medieval Lecture 2019, Tuesday, 29th February, 6pm in the Bowland Auditorium
This week we held our Spring Term York Medieval Lecture, which was delivered by Dr Craig Taylor.
Craig Taylor is a Reader in Medieval History at the University of York and was director of the Centre for Medieval Studies from 2010-11 and 2014-17. A renowned expert on late medieval France and England, Craig’s research focuses upon three main areas: late medieval political literature, chivalry and the life of Joan of Arc. Where his first publications concentrated upon the French Salic Law, Craig has published a pivotal study on chivalric culture, Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France during the Hundred Years War, (Cambridge University Press, 2013) and more recently a translation of The Chivalric Biography of Boucicaut, Jean II le Meingre with Jane Taylor (Boydell and Brewer, 2016). Craig has taught extensively on the topics of chivalry, the Hundred Years War and Joan of Arc, and it is for his final year Special Subject module on the latter that he has published an invaluable sourcebook, Joan of Arc: La Pucelle (Manchester University Press, 2006).
Craig’s lecture this term, addressed to a full house, introduced the theme of his upcoming research which seeks to problematize understandings of the witness statements employed in 1456 to nullify the heresy trial which had culminated in Joan of Arc’s execution twenty-five years earlier, on 30 May 1431. The 124 witnesses who contributed evidence to this nullification trial ranged from peasants living in Joan’s home village of Domrémy to some of those nobles who had fought alongside her (most notably Jean II, duke of Alençon), and included clerics and theologians from the University of Paris who had even participated in her condemnation trial. As Craig highlighted, scholars and biographers of Joan of Arc have frequently taken these statements at face-value in their interpretations of her childhood or military capabilities, without inquiring into the circumstances of their recording.
Through a careful analysis of three testimonies provided by individuals of varying social backgrounds, Craig demonstrated the limits of the evidence they provided at a time when the mythical elements of Joan of Arc’s life were becoming entrenched in the French psyche. Craig cautions that these statements not only indicate the emergence of national narratives, but the responses were conditioned by the difficulties inherent in remembering events which had taken place decades ago. Moreover, the replies can appear formulaic, controlled by the narrow focus of the 1456 procedure and conditioned by contemporary political circumstances. In fact, Craig revealed that we learn little about controversial issues such as Joan’s mystical experiences, the voices that she heard, her reasons for wearing male clothing or the nature of her mission.
In this novel approach to the nullification trial testimony, Craig indicates the other questions that his re-examination of the witness testimonies may shed light upon. What do they tell us of popular religion as experienced by the peasants of Domrémy? How did emotion characterise the statements, and how does this relate to Joan’s own experience on trial? Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what do they reveal about the importance of reputation and rumour in fifteenth-century French culture?
Blog written by Luke Giraudet (CMS PhD).
If you would like more details about our past and upcoming events, please check out our website.
A nun who faked her own death, an archbishop who went into battle with an army of clergymen, and why being a priest was the most dangerous job of the Middle Ages: these are just some of the stories beginning to emerge from fourteenth-century records held in the University of York’s archives.
Joan of Leeds was fed up of her life in a medieval nunnery. By 1318, her urge to escape the vows she had pledged to poverty, chastity and obedience had grown so strong that she resorted to faking her own death.
After tricking her fellow sisters into burying a dummy they believed to be her body, Joan fled. But alas, her freedom was short lived as she was soon discovered and ordered to return to the convent by the Archbishop of York.
Archivists from the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York have uncovered Joan’s story as they begin to explore registers recording the business of the archbishops of York between 1304 and 1405.
Ink, skilfully scrawled onto parchment by medieval scribes, preserves the secrets of people – from nobles to peasants and bishops to curates – who lived during periods of disease, war, famine, political strife and religious reformation in the King’s City in the North and surrounding province.
Before coming into the University’s care, the 16 heavy volumes had endured a perilous existence and have not been extensively studied. In the Middle Ages they were carried by the Archbishop’s officials on his travels; after the English Civil War they found their way to storage in London, only being restored to the Diocesan Registry in York Minster in the late eighteenth century. Parts of some registers have been published, but often untranslated from the original Latin.
Now, with an injection of just under £1m of funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, a research team of medieval historians and archivists from the University and The National Archives (UK) are taking on the painstaking task of translating the volumes and indexing them to make their contents digitally available to all for free.
“Archbishops of York in the fourteenth century had incredibly varied roles,” explains Professor Sarah Rees Jones, medieval historian at the University of York and Principal Investigator on the project.
“On the one hand they carried out diplomatic work in Europe and Rome and rubbed shoulders with the VIPs of the Middle Ages. However, they were also on the ground resolving disputes between ordinary people, inspecting priories and monasteries and correcting wayward monks and nuns.
“That’s why these Registers provide such a rich account of people from all walks of fourteenth-century life during a fascinating and extremely turbulent period.”
Over the course of their research, the team is hoping to find out more about some of history’s most extraordinary archbishops – characters such as William Melton, who led an army of priests and citizens into battle to defend the City of York against the Scots in 1319.
“In the Middles Ages, York was an extremely important northern city on the frontline of the Scottish wars of independence,” says Professor Rees Jones. “But unfortunately the fight didn’t go well for Melton and his army of clergy. Their lack of military training resulted in a reported 4,000 men dying on the battlefield and a further 1,000 are believed to have drowned in the River Swale trying to escape.”
Not all archbishops of York documented by the registers were such loyal subjects to their kings. Archbishop Richard le Scrope was executed in 1405 for his participation in the Northern Rising against Henry IV – an act immortalised in the eponymous Shakespeare play. “The records may well provide more information on this episode and offer some fresh insights into Scrope’s motivations for getting involved,” Professor Rees Jones adds.
The registers also chronicle the Black Death which swept through Europe from 1347 to 1351 and wiped out 60% of the British population. “The equivalent would be if 40 million people died in Britain today within the space of around four years” says Professor Rees Jones. “There were empty monasteries and entire villages were decimated.”
“Being a priest was one of the most dangerous jobs in Europe during that time as they visited the sick and administered last rites at death beds.”
However, the Black Death did bring about important change in the church. “Because so many priests had died there weren’t enough people trained in Latin, so delivering sermons in English had to be adopted as the new status quo,” Professor Rees Jones adds.
“The registers may shed new light on what it was like to live through this period and will perhaps give us a sense of how the Church reasserted its authority after such catastrophic events.”
The project, called ‘The Northern Way’ will run for 33 months in partnership with The National Archives (UK) and with the support of the Chapter of York Minster. The team will also generate a programme of lectures, publications and joint research with local history groups and postgraduate students.
Once indexed, the material from the registers will be linked via the York’s Archishops’ Registers Revealed platform to ecclesiastical records at The National Archives, the British Library and York Minster to provide a complete picture of the role of the northern archbishops in national affairs.
“These chronicles will give us a window into the lives of important figures and ordinary people,” Professor Rees Jones says. “Their revelations may change our perception of northern identity and parts of history as we know it.”
John Arnold, ‘Lordship, Violence and Very Small Churches in Southern France, c. 1000-1200’
The York Medieval Lecture 2018, Tuesday 13 February at 5:30pm in K/133
John Arnold is a cultural historian of medieval religion, with particular interests in gender, affect, and the theory of history-writing. He was appointed as Professor of Medieval History at the University of Cambridge in 2016, having previously worked at Birkbeck, University of London and the University of East Anglia. He has been editor of the journal Cultural and Social History, and currently sits on the editorial board of Past & Present.
John has strong ties with the University of York, having studied here as for his undergraduate degree, and in particular with the Centre for Medieval Studies, where he completed his PhD. (Not only was John supervised for his doctorate by a current York medievalist – Prof. Pete Biller – but has since supervised the PhD of another, Tom Johnson!) John’s doctoral research on the inquisition of the Cathar heresy in southern France formed the foundation of his book, Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), as well as many subsequent articles on subjects including textual power, orality and literacy, and the history of emotions.
While John’s core interest lies in the history of medieval religion, he has also written widely on what it means to do history in the present today, as, for example, in his first book, History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000), and his later What is Medieval History? (Polity, 2008). His most recent published project continues in this vein, in a co-edited volume (with Matthew Hilton and Jan Rüger) on the intellectual legacy of Eric Hobsbawm: History after Hobsbawm: Writing the Past for the Twenty-First Century, co-edited with (Oxford University Press, 2018).
John’s current research, however, has seen him return to the south of France. Along with Pete Biller, he has recently published a source-book for the Manchester Medieval Sources series, Heresy and Inquisition in France, c. 1200-c. 1300 (Manchester University Press, February 2015). And he is currently completing a monograph on the making of lay religion in southern France, c. 1000-1350 – the research for which forms the basis of his talk at York.