Elly R. Truitt

Andrew W. Mellon Regional Fellow in the Humanities

20092010 Forum on Connections

Elly R. Truitt

Asst Professor of History, Bryn Mawr College

Magical Mechanisms: Automata in the Medieval West

Magical Mechanisms is an inquiry into the intellectual underpinnings and cultural meanings of medieval automata—self-moving objects most often in human and animal form. By examining a variety of medieval literary genres, including romance and epic, as well as historical chronicles, travelogues, philosophical treatises, archival documents, and manuscript paintings, I trace the ways that medieval automata in the form of people, animals, and the universe itself were described and created in Europe in the medieval period. I pay special attention to the relationship between textual and material culture in medieval Europe, the relationship between the Latin Christian West and the Dar al-Islam, and the early modern legacy of medieval science. In this way, my project offers a counterpoint to the traditional historiography of the Scientific Revolution, which often presents the idea of the clockwork universe and mechanistic models of natural action as novel intellectual developments.