Participant Info

First Name
Last Name
University of Pennsylvania
Website URL;
history of science, history of technology, medieval history, intellectual history, cultural studies, AI, robots, 500-1700, history of magic/occult, history of medicine, Europe, Islamicate world
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Personal Info

About Me

I am a historian of medieval science and technology, broadly construed, with expertise in the long medieval period in both the Latin Christian West and the Islamicate world. I have published (as E. R. Truitt) scholarly articles on a number of topics, including the history of clocks and timekeeping technology, automata and engineering, astral science, divination, and pharmacology/materia medica. My first book, Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (2015), uncovers the importance and prevalence of robots in the medieval imagination, and also examines the developments in engineering and fine technology that made the construction of these objects possible.

I am currently involved in several new projects, including the importance of speculative or imagined technology in medieval political thought and intellectual development (i.e., weird machines), the development of experimentalism in the 13th and 14th centuries, the long history of time measurement and time-telling (including the development of the codex as well as the invention of the mechanical clock), and the medieval history of AI. My research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the French government, and I have been resident at the Huntington Library, the Science History Foundation, and the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science.

I have also worked on projects for broader audiences, including consulting for an exhibit on robots at the London Science Museum and policy conferences about robotics and AI. I have experience in print and radio, and have appeared as a guest on “In Our Time” and “Rise of the Robots” (both BBC Radio 4). My work has also appeared in AeonHistory Today, and the TLS.

Recent Publications

Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (Philadelphia: Press of the University of Pennsylvania, 2015; paperback ed., 2016)

“Made, Not Born: AI from Myth to Materiality,” The Love-Makers, ed. Aifric Campbell (Goldsmiths Press, under review)

“Demons and Devices: Augmented and Artificial Intelligence before AI” in AI Narratives: A History of Imaginative Thinking about Intelligent Machines, eds. Stephen Cave, Kanta Dihal, and Sarah Dillon (Oxford University Press, 2020), 49-71.

Translatio scientiae: Chaucer and the Astrolabe,” Medieval Translations and Their Readership: Proceedings of the XI Cardiff Conference on the Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages, eds. Pavlina Rychterová and Jan Odstrcilik (Brepols, under review).

“Marvelous History: Authority and Credibility in Medieval Histories of Troy,” Literary Forgery and Patriotic Mythology in Europe, eds. Earle Havens and Walter Stephens (Baltimore, Md.: The Press of the Johns Hopkins University, 2018), 99-117.

“Celestial Divination and Arabic Science in Twelfth-Century England: The History of Gerbert of Aurillac’s Talking Head.” The Journal for the History of Ideas 73 (2012): 201-222.

“Fictions of Life and Death: Tomb Automata in Medieval Romance,” postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 1 (2010): 194-198.

“The Virtues of Balm in the Late Medieval Period,” Early Science and Medicine 14 (2009): 711-736.

Media Coverage
BBC Radio 4: "Rise of the Robots" (2016); "In Our Time: Roger Bacon" (2017); "In Our Time: Automata" (2018).
Country Focus
Expertise by Geography
Mediterranean, Western Europe
Expertise by Chronology
Medieval, Pre-17th century, 17th century, Early Modern
Expertise by Topic
Book History, Gender, Medicine, Science, Sexuality, Technology, Women