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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Temporal and Spatial Scales: Ophthalmology and the Cosmos: Medieval and Modern Measurement of Sight in a Multi-Cultural Context - workshop

22nd February 2017, 10:00 to 16:00, SCR Dining Room, Hatfield College


Measurement and scale were subjects central to medieval learning, which were pursued within interdisciplinary and multi-cultural environments. Ophthalmology and the Cosmos: Medieval and Modern Measurement of Sight in a Multi-Cultural Context takes the form of a collaborative reading workshop, which follows in those interdisciplinary footsteps. The workshop will gather experts from a wide range of disciplines (from arts, natural and medical sciences) to explore two central elements of pre-modern appreciation of scale and measurement: astronomy and the human eye. The workshop on 22nd February 2017 will focus on three foundational medieval works, from the western and Islamic traditions which illustrate the diverse routes by which knowledge reached the medieval west: directly from its own inheritance of the Ancient World, and through the Islamic absorption of ancient Greek thought, passed, eventually, to the West. Each treats the subjects of scale and measurement, of space and time, in different ways and in different contexts. Together they represent the breadth, richness and surprising modernity of medieval thought concerning the natural world.

These texts are:

1) the eighth century De temporum ratione – On the Measurement of Time of Bede;

2) the ninth century Kitab al-Ashr Maqalat fi’ l Ayn – Book of the Ten Treatises on the Eye by Hunayn ibn Ishaq, translated into Latin as De oculis by Constantine the African at the end of the eleventh century;

3) the second century Almagest, Ptolemy’s Handbook of Astronomy, translated into Latin by Gerard of Cremona in the mid-twelfth century

The workshop will bring together experts in Arabic science and its transmission in the West, western medieval specialists, modern ophthalmic surgeons and vision perception specialists, as well as experts in ancient Greek and modern cosmology. Gathering this creative and specialist team allows their interpretative skills put to use in a focused, problem-solving, discipline-sharing series of tasks. This forms a genuinely interdisciplinary approach to the history of science. An appreciation of ancient and medieval modes of measurement, the ends to which measurement was put, and how different scales of time and distance were related to each other, has considerable potential to spark new interpretations, both historical and modern. This workshop will open up some of these possibilities.

The intended outcomes take the form of an online presentation of the materials discussed. A series of dedicated webpages will include the text, the original and translation (with appropriate publication permissions secured). These will be surrounded with linked commentaries on all aspects of the text.

External participants include: Professor Hannah Smithson, University of Oxford and IAS Fellow; Professor Nader El-Bizri, American University of Beirut; Professor Cecilia Panti, Università di Roma, Tor Vergata.

Attendance is by registration with Dr Giles Gasper g.e.m.gasper@durham.ac.uk. Numbers are limited to a first come first served basis.

Contact g.e.m.gasper@durham.ac.uk. for more information about this event.