Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Doing Time in Oxford

The current special exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford is Time Machines and it illustrates from the collection ways of telling the time.

The oldest exhibit is a Roman sundial, the most recent research projects from the University on precise time measurements. There are some fascinating things to see, including the late fourteenth century Oriel astrolabe, the mid-seventeenth century Fromanteel longcase clock, chronometers by Harrison, and the dottiness of a French Revolutionary timepiece by a clockmaker named Janvier - ironically one of the terms the whole daft scheme abolished.

The exhibition is linked by the figure of a time travelling 'hende' Nicholas, the protagonist of The Miller's Tale, that delightful Chaucerian account of what purports to be some of the more questionable aspects of Oxford University and town life in the 1380s and 90s. Nicholas is presented as a cut-out figure and his comments on later methods of timekeeping point up the continuities and discontinuities in his time travel:

Nicholas of Oxford with Phone

Nicholas of Oxford puzzles over a mobile phone; what so many of people use for time telling today

One again the Museum has presented in an informative and attractive way a complex topic, and Time Machines is well worth visiting if you are in Oxford. There are a series of special lectures and presentations in connection with the exhibition - for details see the Museum website, which is available here.

The exhibition continues until April 15th, and the Museum is open Tuesday to Friday 12-5, Saturday 10-5, and Sundays 2-5. Christmas, New Year and Easter times will vary. Admission is free.

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