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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


College Fellow

Fellow, Girton College


Research interests: History of astronomy, late medieval sciences, scientific instruments and history of the book in the Middle Ages

I research the medieval mathematical sciences. I am particularly interested in how sciences were studied and practised by non-experts, as well as the relationships between science and religion, and science and literature.

My first book, The Light Ages, was published in 2020. It was shortlisted for the Hughes Prize of the British Society for the History of Science.

I have been a Research Fellow at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Girton College, an AHRC-funded curatorial intern at the Whipple Museum, a BBC New Generation Thinker, and have served as an independent expert to the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art.

My next research project attempts a global perspective of the natural sciences in the year 1000. Taking a comparative approach between case studies from China, the Islamic world and Latin Christendom, I am trying to evaluate the intellectual connections across Eurasia at the turn of the first millennium, and to show how deeply rooted scientific ideas were in the cultures that gave rise to them.

Selected publications

(many available to download from Seb's website)

The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery (Penguin, 2020). Published in the USA as The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science (W.W. Norton, 2020). Translations in Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Russian. Academic reviews include Isis and The Medieval Review. Many mainstream-media reviews linked here.

"Understanding the Length of Life: the Glosses on Plato of Tivoli's Translation of the Quadripartitum", SCIAMVS 22 (2022): 195–251.

"Copying and Computing Tables in Late Medieval Monasteries", in Editing and Analysing Numerical Tables: Towards a Digital Information System for the History of Astral Sciences, ed. Matthieu Husson, Clemency Montelle and Benno van Dalen (Brepols, 2021): 79–105.

"'El Capri Kylex': A Franciscan astronomical mnemonic", Journal for the History of Astronomy 52 (2021): 267–288. Available fully open-access.

"Vernacular Craft and Science in the Equatorie of the Planetis", Medium Ævum 88 (2019): 329–60. Available to download from JSTOR.

"Natural Sciences", in Historians on John Gower: Society, Religion and Politics, ed. Stephen H. Rigby (Boydell & Brewer, 2019), 491–525.

"Sacred astronomy? Beyond the stars on a Whipple astrolabe", in The Whipple Museum of the History of Science: Instruments and Interpretations, ed. Liba Taub, Joshua Nall and Frances Willmoth (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 11–32. Available fully open-access.

"'I found this written in the other book': Learning Astronomy in Late Medieval Monasteries", Studies in Church History 55 (2019): 129–44.

"A Merton College Equatorium: Text, Translation, Commentary", SCIAMVS 17 (2016): 121–159.

"Learning Medieval Astronomy through Tables: The Case of the Equatorie of the Planetis", Centaurus 58 (2016): 6–25.

"The scholar as craftsman: Derek de Solla Price and the reconstruction of a medieval instrument", Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science 68 (2014): 111–134. Available fully open-access.

Selected media

(more available on Seb's website)

"Medieval Science", You're Dead to Me (BBC), 2021

"Medieval Science", The Rest is History, 2021

"From Life on Mars to Dangerous Space Junk", Free Thinking (BBC Radio 3), 2021 (also featuring Joshua Nall)

"COVID and the Black Death: the imperfect fit", Sunday Feature (BBC Radio 3), 2020

"World's Worst Map", Worst Foot Forward podcast, 2020

"The Idea of the 'Dark Ages' Is a Myth. Here's Why Medieval Scientific Progress Still Matters", TIME, 2020

"John Gower, the Forgotten Medieval Poet", The Essay (BBC Radio 3), 2019

"Exploring the Mariner's Astrolabe", BBC Arts, 2017

"Monks, Models, and Medieval Time", The Essay (BBC Radio 3), 2017

"The World inside a Spanish Globe", Cambridge University Research, 2012