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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellows' Seminar - Making a big picture out of small fragments: How should we write the history of Babylonian astronomy?

12th December 2016, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Professor John Steele (Brown University, USA)

Despite the groundbreaking work in deciphering Babylonian astronomical texts and reconstructing Babylonian astronomy by scholars such as F. X. Kugler and O. Neugebauer over the past hundred and thirty years, there have been very few attempts to write an overarching history of Babylonian astronomy. Instead, scholars have largely undertaken focused studies of particular aspects of Babylonian astronomy. As someone who is in the process of trying write such an overarching history which both attempts to draw all the different aspects of Babylonian astronomy into a cohesive whole while also examining the diversity of Babylonian astronomical practice and the interconnections between different parts (as we see them) of this practice, I want to use this seminar to explore some of the methods and problems of writing such a history. How, for example, do we go about scaling up from a fragmentary textual record which offers snapshots of astronomical practice into a big picture? What role should theory play in writing the history of Babylonian astronomy? How do we deal with source bias (geographical, chronological, modern)? How do we avoid interpreting Babylonian astronomy through the lens of the goals and techniques of current or ancient Greek astronomy?

Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.