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The Invention of Time: Mechanical Clocks and the Age of the Manuscript

The Invention of Time: Mechanical Clocks and the Age of the Manuscript

A conversation with Elly R. Truitt and Larisa Grollemond

Talk held by the Getty Museum on October 6, 2021

The early 14th century was a revolutionary moment in the history of timekeeping, when the first mechanical clocks were invented and hourglasses first appeared in the historical record. The era coincided with the popularization of a type of book called a “book of hours,” which helped segment hourly, daily, and yearly time for its owners. These technologies radically changed how people structured personal and communal time, conducted business, and fashioned worldviews. In this conversation, professor Elly Truitt and curator Larisa Grollemond discuss the intersecting histories of many types of time-keeping technologies, from manuscripts to clocks, exploring how time was described and experienced in the Western medieval world.

Elly R. Truitt, associate professor in the history and sociology of science department at the University of Pennsylvania, has published and spoken widely on the history of medieval science. Her recent book, Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art, explored the history of automata in medieval Latin culture, including their use in early mechanical clocks.

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Larisa Grollemond is assistant curator in the department of manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum. She is the curator of the exhibition Transcending Time: Medieval Book of Hours.

Top Image: Clock depicted in a 15th century manuscript – Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. Ms-5196 réserve fol. 1r

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