Astrolabes in Medieval Cultures

In: Medieval Encounters
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  • 1 Institut für Jüdische Studien Westfälische Wilhelms-UniversitätMünster
  • | 2 Warburg Institute, Woburn SquareLondon WC1H 0ABUK
  • | 3 Museum of the History of ScienceBroad St, Oxford OX1 3AZUK
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This Special Issue of Medieval Encounters is based on the papers of the conference on “Astrolabes in Medieval Cultures” held at the Warburg Institute, University of London, on 24–25 April 2014, under the aegis of a three-year research project on “Astrolabes in Jewish Culture.” This project was supported by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (ah/I003800) and based at the Warburg Institute (Josefina Rodríguez-Arribas and Charles Burnett) with the participation of the British Museum (in its initial stages, Silke Ackermann) and the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University (Stephen Johnston). The aims of the project were to produce a monograph on the place of the astrolabe in medieval Jewish culture, to draw up an illustrated catalogue of the instruments, and to edit and translate one of the Hebrew treatises on the use and construction of astrolabes. All three aims are nearing completion. In this context it seemed opportune to bring together scholars and students interested in the instrument, its history, and its literature, in which experienced and new scholars could update the knowledge so far available in this field. We were interested in all periods and cultures, and in all kinds of approaches, but especially those that have received less attention. This meeting was an occasion for scholarly and friendly exchanges, and a source of inspiration for future research. Several participants brought instruments they possessed or had made themselves, which were admired, displayed, discussed—and used! The general feeling was that astrolabe is still very much alive and there is still much to learn about its subtleties. After the conference, further articles were commissioned to fill out the subject matter of the book and it was decided to include David King’s list of European astrolabes (to ca. 1500 arranged by category) as a useful tool to place the astrolabes referred to in this volume in context.

The editors would like to express their gratitude to the Warburg Institute, their staff and fellows, and to the British Museum and the Oxford Museum of the History of Science and their staff, for supporting this research project and this conference in different ways. We would particularly like to thank Stephen Johnston for his part in preparing the conference and for the unstinted help and advice that he has always given us. We would like to extend our gratitude to Ryan Szpiech, the editor of Medieval Encounters, for accepting the proceedings of this conference into this journal. Last but not least we also thank all the participants in the conference “Astrolabes in Medieval Cultures” for sharing their knowledge and their enthusiasm for this intelligent, beautiful, and emblematic object and making this scholarly event a very special occasion.

The Editors

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