History of Science Department Colloquium

Fri, April 21, 20173:30 PM - 5:00 PM

History of Science Department Colloquium

"Rethinking Tianwen: Astronomy, Omens, and Order in Early China”

Assistant Professor Jesse Chapman
Professor of History
OU Department of History

Friday, April 21, 2017
3:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Physical Sciences, Room 402

Categories exercise a subtle yet powerful effect on the way we think about texts, people, and cultures. Labels such as science and religion, astronomy and astrology, nature and culture shape the images of the objects to which they are applied. Early Chinese texts dealing with planets, stars, comets, and other celestial phenomena are often discussed under the umbrella of tianwen, a word that in contemporary discourse is equivalent to the modern sense of astronomy, but in early China literally meant celestial patterns, referring to all manner of celestial phenomena and their associated omenological significance. The manuscripts discovered at Mawangdui (terminus ad quem 168 BCE) present a telling illustration of the problem. Scholarship on the “Five Planets Prognostications” and “Miscellaneous Prognostications” discovered in the tomb has primarily emphasized their scientific value. Gaining an understanding of the position of the manuscripts within their historical and archaeological context requires dissolving the bounds between nature and culture, science and religion. The manuscripts respond to the concerns of local elite in chaotic times, serving to impose a sense of order on the world.
Categories exercise a subtle yet powerful effect on the way we think about texts, people, and cultures. Labels such as science and religion, astronomy and astrology, nature and culture shape the images of the objects to which they are applied. Early Chinese texts dealing with planets, stars, comets, and other celestial phenomena are often discussed under the umbrella of tianwen, a word that in contemporary discourse is equivalent to the modern sense of astronomy, but in early China literally meant celestial patterns, referring to all manner of celestial phenomena and their associated omenological significance. The manuscripts discovered at Mawangdui (terminus ad quem 168 BCE) present a telling illustration of the problem. Scholarship on the “Five Planets Prognostications” and “Miscellaneous Prognostications” discovered in the tomb has primarily emphasized their scientific value. Gaining an understanding of the position of the manuscripts within their historical and archaeological context requires dissolving the bounds between nature and culture, science and religion. The manuscripts respond to the concerns of local elite in chaotic times, serving to impose a sense of order on the world.


For further information or accommodation on the basis of disabilities, please contact Hunter Heyck at 405-325-2213 or hheyck@ou.edu.