21 February 2009

On 19 and 20 February, I attended "the History of Chronology" conference organised by Prof. Harm Beukers of the Scaliger Institute (Leiden University). It was great to meet fellow history students interested in the history of science and the connection with Asia. Also the opportunity to listen to and speak with the authors of the books I have been reading is really inspiring.

After the introductory speeches by Max Sparreboom (IIAS) and Harm Beukers, Professor Anthony Grafton gave his keynote address with the title "From Chronicle to Chronology: Emending Past Time in Early Modern Europe." Interesting points Grafton touched upon were, I thought, the difference in role between chronology and history. In the eyes of some, chronology overshadowed history because the former recorded when and where historical events occurred and combined it with the the positions of the Sun and other heavenly bodies.

From the 15th century onwards, various innovations improved chronology, such as an index to make the chronology better accessible, the use of illustrations, new designs for lay-out (horizontal timeline and important persons and events encircled to attract attention, and a timeline in BC. In the 16th century, history and astronomy were connected by linking events to solar eclipses. This is very useful now, since modern astronomers and calculate exactly when solar eclipses must have taken place; this is data with which we can reconstruct 16th century calendars according to our own calendar.

Furthermore, Grafton talked about the Byzantine efforts to combine Persian sources with their own; the use of topography, genealogies, and Biblical chronology in conflict with Greek chronology. And of course, the keynote could not be finished without first discussing the Scaliger's cosmopolitan interest and innovation to include not only the Greek and Roman chronologies, but also the Persian, Babylonian, and Egyptian chronologies. Entertaining was the anecdote that Jews must have laughed at the Christians in the late 15th-early 16th century, because the Christians had great difficulty calculating when Easter had to be celebrated.


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