Telling the Time Throughout the Ages
Wednesday 4 April 2018
Kevin Karney studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, has been a VSO teacher in Borneo, and has worked across the world as an underground engineer. He is now a magistrate in Gwent. Kevin has had a life-long interest in the history of timekeeping and cosmology, and in sundials in particular, as objects of art, craft and science. His specialist topic is the Equation of Time. He has lectured on various aspects of sundials in the UK and USA, including to the British Sundial and North American Sundial Societies. Publications include articles in the journals of both these societies.
Throughout history, mankind has been absorbed with understanding the concept of Time. A extraordinary variety of devices has been developed, either to tell when something should happen (its 10 o’clock), or how long it should take (you’ve got 20 minutes), or to alert us to do something now (wake up, it’s time to go). So we have developed all kinds of devices to tell the time – using the stars, sundials, our shadows, Clepsydra (water clocks), mechanical clocks and watches, burning timers, sand glasses, bells, electronics and our fundamental biological clocks. But the ‘tick’ of all of these is the rhythms of the universe – the daily and yearly movement of the sun, the monthly movement of the moon and, more recently, by the buzz of the quartz and caesium atom. Such is our interest in the subject that craftsmen have always found commissions to create beautiful time telling things. This lecture looks at all these devices and many more. It charts how their use has risen and fallen as history, fashion and technology have progressed.
Caption: Sundial on Moot Hall, Aldeburgh, Suffolk
Suggested further reading:
- The Mastery of Time by Dominique Fléchon; 2011; Flammarion
- The Book of Time by John Grant & Colin Wilson; 1980; Westbridge Books
- The Book of Time by Adam Hart-Davis; 2011; Mitchell-Beazley
- The Oxford Companion to the Year by Bonnie Blackburn & Leofranc Holford-Stevens; 1999; Oxford
- Time in Antiquity by Robert Hannah; 2009; Routledge
The notes for this lecture can be downloaded and printed here