Thomas Browne and the mystery of numbers

Event Date: 
30 May 2019

The Annual Distinguished Patrides Lecture, 5.30 pm, The University of York 


Professor Jessica Wolfe (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)


The seventeenth-century physician and essayist Thomas Browne is, like many of his English and European contemporaries, confused about what numbers are, how they behave, and what can and cannot be computed with the discipline of mathematics. Taking as its starting point Browne's concerns about the ease with which computational errors may arise and endure in scholarship, this lecture will explore various aspects of Browne's puzzlement over "numerical Characters or characteristical Numbers," including his suspicion of the field of biblical chronology, his concerns about the relative and variable nature of calendrical systems,  and above all his perception of the corruptive influence of human error upon mathematical practices.


Sponsored by the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies and the Department of English and Related Literature


Location: Bowland Auditorium, Berrick Saul Building


Admission: All welcome! No booking required.