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Durham University

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Ordered Universe

A research project of the Department of History, part of the Medieval, Science and Medicine, Intellectual and Cultural History and Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia research groups.


Dedicated to fresh and original examinations of medieval science the project focuses on interdisciplinary readings of the scientific works of the remarkable English thinker Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253). Supported by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), research grant 2015-2019, it is based at Durham and Oxford Universities, UK, with other partners across the UK and internationally (McGill, Montreal; Georgetown, Washington D.C.; American University of Beirut, Lebanon; University of Rome, Tor Vergata, Italy; Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln).

Currently funded by an AHRC Major Award the Ordered Universe was supported 2012-2014 by an AHRC International Network Award. Additional funding has been provided by Durham University (Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies including the Joanna Barker Research Strand ‘Senses’, and University Research Committee), the Mahfouz Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research, Pembroke College, Oxford, the Lincoln Record Society and Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln. The project was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards for Research Project of the Year, 2014.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • The Ordered Universe: Interdisciplinary Readings Of Medieval Science (£39324.30 from AHRC)


Bringing together a unique configuration of natural scientists, social scientists and arts and humanities scholars, the project integrates the conceptual tools of modern science with the textual methods of the humanities to explore the richness of Grosseteste’s thought. Our translations, many for the first time, and which incorporate the groundbreaking concept of translation into mathematics, enable wider access to this wonderful mind, compelling us to make new assessments of his perceptive and inventive imagination.


Each team member, from whatever discipline, contributes to editions, translations, analyses and presentations. In so doing, we are pioneering new ways of working across and between our disciplines. Trusting one another, and learning to learn from the past have presented creative demands. We have challenged academic and public preconceptions regarding the value of past science as ‘irrelevant’. To the contrary: the team has published new science (on rainbows, colour and cosmology) inspired by engaging with another thinker from eight centuries ago.

Flowing from the translation work, colleagues in Computing Engineering are developing a 3D film, which translates Grosseteste’s treatises into 3D representations of the natural phenomena he investigates. A third strand has introduced Grosseteste and his world into schools, presenting the scientific questions he raises, within the curriculum. This strand emphasises the value of collaboration, inter-disciplinarity and the longer history of science: skills with clear social benefit in a modern knowledge economy.

The centre and heart of the project are our collaborative reading workshops: we all sit down together, and, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, grapple with and unlock the amazing world which Grosseteste opens up. Our other activities include public lectures and outreach of many and varied sorts as well as conference presentations and publications. If you’d like to know more: engage!

Published Results

Authored book

  • Dinkova-Bruun, Greti, Gasper, Giles E.M., Huxtable, Michael, McLeish, Tom C.B., Panti, Cecilia & Smithson, Hannah (2013). The Dimensions of Colour: Robert Grosseteste's De colore Edition, Translation and Interdisciplinary analysis. Toronto: PIMS.

Journal Article

  • Bower, R.G., McLeish, T.C.B., Tanner, B.K., Smithson, H.E., Panti, C., Lewis, N. & Gasper, G.E.M. (2014). A medieval multiverse?: Mathematical modelling of the thirteenth century universe of Robert Grosseteste. Proceedings of the Royal Society A 470(2167): 40025.
  • Smithson, Hannah E., Gasper, Giles E. M. & McLeish, Tom C. B. (2014). All the colours of the rainbow. Nature Physics 10(8): 540-542.
  • Smithson, Hannah, Anderson, Philip, Dinkova-Bruun, Greti, Gasper, Giles, Laven, Philip, McLeish, Tom, Panti, Cecilia & Tanner, Brian (2014). Color-coordinate system from a 13th-century account of rainbows. Journal of the Optical Society of America A 31(4): A341-A349.
  • McLeish, Tom C.B., Bower, Richard G., Tanner, Brian K., Smithson, Hannah E., Panti, Cecilia, Lewis, Neil & Gasper, Giles E. M. (2014). History: A medieval multiverse. Nature 507(7491): 161-163.
  • Gasper, Giles E. M. (2014). Robert Grosseteste at Durham. Mediaeval Studies 76: 297-303.
  • Smithson, Hannah E., Dinkova-Bruun, Greti, Gasper, Giles E. M., Huxtable, Mike, McLeish, Tom C. B. & Panti, Cecilia (2012). A three-dimensional color space from the 13th century. Journal of the Optical Society of America A 29(2): A346-A352.
  • Gasper, Giles (2012). Oil upon the waters: On the Creation of Light from Basil to Peter Lombard. Archa Verbi 8: 9-31.


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