The Sands of Time: Histories of the Medieval and Early Modern Hourglass

Sandglasses were part of the variegated ecology of time measurement in the premodern world. This was a world attentive to time, where knowledge of the temporal rhythms of the environment reached from the movements of the stars to the fall of granules of lead. Among human-made instruments for time measurement, the sandglass was one of the most useful and accurate. Yet they remain little understood. Rarely displayed, sandglasses sit silent in the cupboards of collections across the world.
In this paper, presented for the Early Modern Circle Zoominar Series on 21 September 2020, Matthew Champion (ACU), seeks out some of the possible histories of the sandglass asking after their manufacture, materials, and deployment from the mid-fourteenth to the mid-sixteenth centuries.
You can now watch and listen to Matthew’s talk on the player below.

After posts in Cambridge and London, Matthew Champion returned to Melbourne in 2020 to take up a Senior Research Fellowship in Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the Australian Catholic University. He is the author of The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries (Chicago, 2017), which was awarded the Royal Historical Society’s 2018 Gladstone Prize. He is currently working on a sonic history of time, The Music of the Clock, which forms part of a wider ARC-funded DECRA projects, ‘The Sounds of Time, 1300–1600’.
Feature image: The Passing of Time, woodcut from the German translation of Francesco Petrarch’s Von der Artzney bayder Glück (De Remediis Utriusque Fortuna) (On the Remedies of Good and Evil Fortune), 1832. Artist: Hans Weiditz II