Study day ‘Reading the Classics of Science: historical and anthropological perspectives’


Philip Beeley, Oxford,
Karine Chemla, CNRS/SPHERE,
Sally Humphreys, University of Michigan,
Agathe Keller, CNRS/SPHERE,
Yelda Nasifoglu, Oxford,
Christine Proust, CNRS/SPHERE,
Benjamin Wardhaugh, Oxford University







Traditions in science throughout the ancient and the early modern world have regularly given specific texts the status of classics or canonical texts. In this respect, scientific disciplines embraced a practice that was more generally followed in all scholarly fields. However – paradoxically – while it has always been recognised that commentary served as a vehicle for innovative dialogue with the socially most authoritative texts (sacred writing, law), scholars have been much slower to appreciate that the same is true in other fields, and to focus attention on commentary as practice. This conference aims at deepening our understanding of how classics and canonical texts were perceived qua texts, by relying on scientific sources, and to study the forms and editions through which these specific types of text were presented to users. Our project further seeks to observe the various readings and interpretations that actors operating in different contexts made of these texts. For this, we will scrutinize several types of evidence, from marginalia left by readers to commentaries systematically composed on classics and canonical texts. In particular, we want to defamiliarize the concept of commentary, and anchor it in more specific social and cultural contexts. We welcome case studies dealing with sources written in any language of the ancient and early modern world. The conference will approach these questions from a multidisciplinary perspective, bringing various forms of approaches and competences to bear on these issues. The conference is rooted in three projects that have been and are still developed at Oxford and Paris. Oxford project “Reading Euclid” deals with early modern English modes of reading of a classical work of mathematics, Euclid’s Elements, in its early modern editions. Paris-based project “Mathematical canons and commentaries” has aimed at understanding why and how mathematical activity in the ancient world has taken the shape of writing commentaries on canonical texts and which approaches to these canonical texts the commentaries testified to. Finally, Sally Humphreys has long developed a comparative and anthropological approach to ancient Greek classics; and has organized two comparative projects: Cultures of scholarship (Univ. of Michigan Press 1997) and Modernity’s Classics (Springer 2013).  


For more information please visit Maison Française d'Oxford



MONDAY, JUNE 3, 2019

9 am—10:15 am
Karine Chemla (SPHERE & CHSA, CNRS & University Paris Diderot)
The history of reading and the interpretation of a classic: Reading a problem, reading a
procedure, reading the organisation in The Nine Chapters

10:15 am—10:30 am: break
10:30 am —11:45 am
Benjamin Wardhaugh
Defacing Euclid: Printing and annotating the Elements of Geometry in early modern Britain
11:45 am—1:00 pm
Philip Beeley,
‘But, ’tis Euclide still!’ John Wallis on the principles and practice of editing classical Greek

2:30 pm—3:45 pm
Agathe Keller (SPHERE & CHSA, CNRS & Université Paris-Diderot)
Treatises and commentaries of Sanskrit mathematical texts: What was the author trying to
say? Who is the classic?

3:45 pm—4:00 pm : break

4:00 pm—5:15 pm
Antoni Malet (University Pompeu Fabra)
Conceptual Change in Seventeenth-Century Jesuit Editions of Euclid’s Elements


9 am—10:15 am
Vincenzo de Risi (SPHERE, CNRS & University Paris Diderot)
Interpreting Superposition: Movements in the early modern editions of Euclid’s Elements.

10:15 am—10:30 am: break

10:30 am —11:45 am
Yelda Nasifoglu (History Faculty, University of Oxford)
‘A very difficult but erudite Authour in the usefull & concrete Mathematiques’: Reading
Vitruvius in Seventeenth-century Oxford

11:45 am—1:00 pm
Sally Humphreys,
Learning through reading: the aims and readership of ‘technical’ works in premodern

1:00 pm—2:30 pm: lunch break

2:30 pm—3:45 pm
Florence Bretelle-Establet (SPHERE & CHSA, CNRS & University Paris Diderot)
Writing about the Treatise on cold damage disorder (Shanghan lun 傷寒論, 3rd century CE) in
late imperial China

3:45 pm—4 pm: break

4:00 pm—5:15 pm
General discussion