Seb Falk

I studied History and Spanish at Oxford, and worked first in the Home Office, before becoming a school teacher. I taught History and various other things, including sailing and singing, at schools in the UK and Canada. I came to Cambridge for an M.Phil. in History and Philosophy of Science, followed by a Ph.D., supervised by Liba Taub. I was a Research Fellow at Girton College, and have also been a Research Fellow at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities. I am a BBC New Generation Thinker.
I research the history of science in the later Middle Ages. I am particularly interested in how the mathematical sciences – especially astronomy – were studied and practised outside the universities, by non-experts.

I completed my PhD, entitled Improving Instruments: Equatoria, Astrolabes, and the Practices of Monastic Astronomy in Late Medieval England, in 2016. In my thesis I examined the ways that astronomical instruments were used for practical, didactic and display purposes; I also examined the relationships between instruments, the texts describing them, and the numerical tables often essential for their construction or use.

More recently I have focused on how sciences were practised in late medieval monasteries. My research asks how these relate to, and contrast with, the scientific studies of university scholars, and how religious belief and motivation shaped scientific study in different locations. The main output of this research is a book for a general audience, The Light Ages, to be published in September 2020.
I have lectured for Part I Paper 15 (European History, 1200-1520), as well as History of Science Part II Paper 1 (Early Science and Medicine).

I have supervised for History of Science Part IB (History of Science and Medicine: 1500-present), and Part II Paper 1 (Early Science and Medicine). I have also taught students taking Part I English (English Literature and its Contexts 1300-1550) and Part II History (Historical Argument and Practice).
As a BBC New Generation Thinker, I have made radio programmes and short films for BBC Radio 3 and the BBC website. See, for example:

"John Gower, the Forgotten Medieval Poet" (, The Essay, broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 28 June 2018 & 10 October 2019.

"Monks, Models and Medieval Time" (, The Essay, broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 20 March 2017

"Exploring the Mariner's Astrolabe" ( Film for BBC Arts, 2017.
I am not currently available for research supervision.

Key publications

'The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery' (Allen Lane), to be published in September 2020. Also published as 'The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science' (W.W. Norton, USA & Canada).

‘Vernacular Craft and Science in the Equatorie of the Planetis’, Medium Ævum 88 (2019): 329-60.

‘Natural Sciences’, in Historians on John Gower: Society, Religion and Politics, ed. Stephen H. Rigby (Boydell & Brewer, 2019), 491-525.

‘The Medieval Universe’, in Geoffrey Chaucer in Context, ed. Ian Johnson (Cambridge University Press, 2019), 239-251.

‘“I found this written in the other book”: Learning Astronomy in Late Medieval Monasteries’, Studies in Church History 55 (2019): 129-44.

‘What’s on the back of an astrolabe? Astrolabes as supports for planetary calculators’, in Heaven and Earth United: Instruments in Astrological Contexts, ed. Richard Dunn, Silke Ackermann and Giorgio Strano (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 24-41.

"A Merton College Equatorium: Text, Translation, Commentary", SCIAMVS 17 (2016), 121-159.

"Learning Medieval Astronomy through Tables: The Case of the Equatorie of the Planetis", Centaurus 58 (2016), 6-25.

"The scholar as craftsman: Derek de Solla Price and the reconstruction of a medieval instrument", Notes and Records 68 (2014), 111-134.

Other publications