The Mental and Material Laboratories of 13th Century Science

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The Mental and Material Laboratories of Medieval Science is an interdisciplinary research project, bringing together a range of diverse approaches from across the humanities and the sciences to better understand scientific thought and observation in the middle ages, as well as considering its implications for modern science.

Our current understanding of medieval science is centred on interpretations of surviving manuscripts. However, a true appreciation of the contribution of the scholars can only be gained by understanding the intellectual and material environments in which they lived, and the psychology of their experiences. This project seeks to understand the medieval interpretations of natural phenomena through interdisciplinary collaboration between two DPhil students, with backgrounds in the sciences and humanities. The project is supervised by Prof Clive Siviour (Associate Professor of Engineering Science and Tutorial Fellow at Pembroke College), Dr Hannah Smithson (Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology and Tutorial Fellow at Pembroke College), Professor Carol Harrison (Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity), and Dr Giles Gasper (Reader in High Medieval History at Durham University).

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. In the meantime, more information and regular updates about the project can be found at its website: and Twitter:


Clive Siviour
Hannah Smithson
Carol Harrison

Past Events