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The Mental and Material Laboratories of 13th Century Science

Our current understanding of medieval science is underpinned by interpretations of surviving manuscripts. However, a true appreciation of the contribution of the scholars can only be gained by understanding and experiencing the intellectual and material environments in which they lived. This project seeks to understand the medieval interpretation of natural phenomena though interdisciplinary collaboration between two DPhil students, with backgrounds in the sciences and humanities.

The humanities student will focus on the frameworks of knowledge inherited by 13th century scholars and the balance between these and original observation. The influence of Aristotle and his Islamic and Jewish commentators takes the bulk of attention in this field. A novel contribution of the humanities student will be to refocus on Augustinian influences, which are often undeservedly forgotten. The science student will focus on the material world that 13th century scholars had at their disposal, through which to observe the phenomena they sought to explain. By recreating the scenarios described in medieval manuscripts using the tools available to the authors, and understanding the intellectual frameworks they inherited, the students will work together to develop a rich understanding of medieval science.

The project will culminate in a unique exhibition showcasing both the laboratory of the medieval mind and the material world in which 13th century scholars were working. This project will be truly interdisciplinary and will benefit from joint supervision by academics in Theology, Engineering, History, and Psychology, combining state-of-the-art experimental and computational analysis tools with unrivalled manuscript and historical collections.