Shazia Jagot

"Astrolabes and automata in the global middle ages"

Shazia Jagot
19/04 2017
12:15-13:15, Danish IAS conference room (Ø18-509-1)

In an age when our dependency on technology is steadily increasing, it is easy to determine the pre-modern world as mechanically inert. Yet engineered machines, known as automata, and hand-held astronomical devices known as astrolabes, flourished across the medieval world from Baghdad to Constantinople and through to Northern Europe. Ranging from water-clocks, mechanical roaring lions to singing metal birds, these automata were functional, entertaining and, in most cases, aesthetically pleasing. In some cases, the physical machine still exists, as do written records and hypothetical methodologies, and instructions engineered by natural scientists that can be followed and constructed today. In this talk, I will show that the creation and uses of automata and astrolabes were prevalent across the Islamic, Byzantine and European traditions, and that medieval scholars of a number of persuasions- scientists, philosophers, alchemists- in addition to poets, wrote with precision, wonder and imagination, in the creation of medieval machines.