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About us

The group exists to promote the study of the life and times of the Elizabethan mathematician Thomas Harriot (1560-1621). We meet annually at the University of Durham or Birkbeck, University of London (on alternate years).

Contact us: to discuss any aspect of the Seminar's activities, please contact Dr Stephen Clucas, THS Chair.


  • The Thomas Harriot Seminar was established by Dr Cecily Tanner, formerly Lecturer at Imperial College, London. From 1967, it met in Oxford under the leadership of Professor David Quinn of Liverpool and Dr Alistair Crombie of Oxford. The seminars were organised by Dr JD North (and latterly by Dr JJ Roche), under the presidency of Dr Crombie. The first was held at All Souls, but the rest were held at Trinity College, where Dr Crombie was a Fellow. The last Oxford seminar was held in April 1983.
  • In 1977, Dr Tanner financed a meeting in Durham which met every two years from 1979 under the chairmanship of Professor GR Batho, until his death in 2013. From 1988 to 1999 biennial seminars were also held in Cambridge. Since 2013, the Seminar has been chaired by Dr Stephen Clucas (Reader in Early Modern Intellectual History at Birkbeck, University of London), who was Vice Chairman of the Seminar from 1990-2013. The Seminar now alternates between the University of Durham and Birkbeck.
  • The Durham Harriot Seminar published a series of 35 occasional papers and a catalogue of the Tanner Papers in the University of Liverpool. These are no longer available, but we hope to put PDFs of them online in the near future.
  • The money provided by Dr Tanner to endow the Seminar has been supplemented since her death in 1992 by Lord Egremont. The money Dr Tanner gave Professor Batho in 1977 was put into the hands of the Durham University Treasurer and the stewardship of the Treasurer has resulted in the Seminar being adequately endowed for the foreseeable future. Help is given to students to attend meetings and money has been provided to assist with relevant publications.
  • Lord Egremont is the Patron of the Thomas Harriot Seminar.


  • The THS welcomes any interested persons to its meetings. They are attended by scholars from Europe and America, but anyone with an interest in Harriot may attend. Postgraduate students who wish to attend may be eligible for a subsidy from the Seminar; applications should be made to the Chairman.

Mission statement

  • In 1991 the Committee of the Thomas Harriot Seminar formulated the following objectives:
    • to promote study and research on the history of science, mathematics, cartography and maritime exploration in the time of Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) and of any directly related matters
    • to conduct seminars in Durham, Cambridge and elsewhere as the Committee may decide on subjects bearing on Harriot’s life and interests
    • to subsidise attendance at such seminars at the discretion of the Chairman acting on behalf of, and under the guidance of the Committee
    • to publish occasional papers arising from the activities and/or interests of the Seminar
    • to subsidise the publication of material by outside publishing bodies related to the interests of the Seminar, especially on the life and work of Harriot and the Northumberland circle and by authors or editors who are members of the Seminar.


  • Chairman: Dr Stephen Clucas (Birkbeck, University of London)
  • Ordinary members
    • Stephen Johnston (Museum of the History of Science, Oxford)
    • Stephen Pumfrey (University of Lancaster)
    • Richard Maber (University of Durham)
    • Sophie Weeks (University of York)
  • International Members
    • Robert Goulding (University of Notre Dame)
    • Matthias Schemmel (MPIWG, Berlin)

About Thomas Harriot

  • After graduating from St Mary’s Hall (now Oriel College) Oxford in 1579, Harriot enjoyed the patronage of Sir Walter Raleigh and Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland. Harriot took part in the Raleigh-sponsored voyage to Roanoke in 1585-6 led by Ralph Lane and Richard Grenville, and subsequently published an account of the voyage, the Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588).
  • Joining the household of Northumberland in 1595, Harriot had his own house in the grounds of Percy’s house, Syon, beside the Thames at Isleworth and received a generous annuity until the end of his life.
  • Although Harriot published nothing else during his life, he left behind a substantial collection of manuscripts (now divided between the British Library and Petworth House) which span an enormous range of topics, including mathematics, atomism, mechanics, navigation, astronomy, optics and alchemy. Harriot worked extensively on algebraic equations, and after his death his colleague Walter Warner (1563-1643), with the help of Nathaniel Torporley (1564-1632), published a short textbook on algebra, the Artis analyticae praxis (1631).
  • Harriot corresponded with Johannes Kepler, made telescopic observation of the moons of Jupiter shortly after Galileo, drew maps of the moon and observed the movements of sunspots, anticipated Snell’s discovery of the sine law of refraction by nearly thirty years, and was acquainted with some of the leading intellectual figures of his day - including the mathematician John Dee, the poet George Chapman, and the navigational expert Richard Hakluyt.