How hasÂ knowledge been figured and framed in the past?Â By trees, nets, wheels, eggs, seeds, mirrors, bows and arrows, and much else.Â And what fantasies attended scientificÂ inquiry?Â A partial list would include sympathy among the elements, the prediction of the future, gender fluidity, cosmopolitanism, cultural distinctiveness, cross-species dialogue, divine order, wayward emergence,Â human dominion, and inhuman voids and vastness. As remains the case today, the expression of empiricalÂ fact quickly veers into fable, fabrication, and philosophical speculation.
This courseÂ explore fabricated figures (mental, textual, visual, and physical media) that constituted influentialÂ instruments of science in the later medieval period. It is in this senseÂ that we are concerned with science fictions — i.e., how knowledge claims wereÂ made and mobilized. We will also look at how developments in the history of science registered in literary texts. Throughout we will examine moments where “arts and sciences” overlapped, resulting in effective ways of knowing that spanned disciplines and propagated encyclopaedic learningÂ (e.g.,Â cultivating literacy and numeracy, mental and mechanical facility, qualitative and quantitative forms of inquiry). Seminar discussions areÂ likely toÂ range across geometry, geography, astronomy, alchemy, botany, and zoology, showing how early knowledge practices could becomeÂ sites of cultural and cross-species exchange. We will consider the influx of scientific terms and techniques in vernacular literatureÂ to understand how different branches of knowledgeÂ depended on manifold tongues, traditions, disciplines, and devices.Â Case studies will be drawnÂ from speculative and practical writings (e.g., planetaryÂ theory andÂ how-to manuals) and from prose and poetry in Middle English. Several readings are available on reserve orÂ electronically (including Bartholomaeus Anglicus, Nicole Oresme, Macrobius, Hildegard of Bingen, Trotula), but you will needÂ your own copies of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower and ofÂ The Book of John Mandeville. See syllabus for details about specific editions.
ContactÂ Dr. Allan Mitchell
Tree of Knowledge. Ramon Llull (c. 1232-1315)