Cambridge University Library

Exhibitions

Keeping time: a celebration of the year 2000

Poster for the exhibition Keeping Time

18 March to 15 September 2000

In commemoration of the calendar's turn to the year 2000, this exhibition drew on the enormous wealth of material in the University Library's collections to reflect many aspects of the human appreciation of time and its passage. To the westerner, the words Greenwich and time are closely linked, and many of the items in the exhibition come from the collections of the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives, now held in the University Library.

In the Middle Ages the daylight was sometimes merely divided into twelve equal parts, parts which varied in length of time throughout the year. The solar year is central to life on Earth but calendars in different cultures vary: the Islamic calendar, for instance, is a lunar calendar.

In the seventeenth century, following the observation of the regularity of the pendulum, European mechanical clocks reached new levels of accuracy. The precise measure of time led directly to accurate astronomical observations and the modern science of astrometry - the exact measurement of the positions of stars and celestial bodies in the sky. From seventeenth-century astronomy sprang the development of the modern physical sciences.

In literature, some authors lament the passing of the years, while the idea of moving through time has stimulated others who have created works with little or no relation to scientific ideas of time and time-keeping.

Keeping time aimed to explore some of the many ways in which humans have sought to grasp and use the idea of time and our place in time.

Highlights from the exhibition: