Epact is an electronic catalogue of medieval and renaissance scientific instruments from four European museums: the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford, the Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza, Florence, the British Museum, London, and the Museum Boerhaave, Leiden. Together, these museums house the finest collections of early scientific instruments in the world.

Epact consists of 520 catalogue entries and a variety of supporting material. All European instruments from the four museums by makers who were active before 1600 have been entered in the catalogue. They include astrolabes, armillary spheres, sundials, quadrants, nocturnals, compendia, surveying instruments, and so on. Examples range from ordinary instruments for everyday use to more extravagant and often lavish pieces destined for the cabinets of princes.

Each instrument in the catalogue is described with the aid of one or more photographs and two levels of text: an overview text providing a short account of the most notable features of the instrument and a detailed text giving more technical and scholarly information.

A quick way into Epact is through the handlist, which lists all the instruments in the catalogue. It is also possible to view the handlist as a sequence of thumbnail pictures of the instruments. If you have a fast Internet connection you may want to view all the instruments in Epact as a list of thumbnail pictures.

Supporting material for the catalogue entries includes a thematic essay providing background information about the medieval and renaissance mathematical arts and sciences as well as a number of technical articles giving explanations of how the main different types of instrument operated. Short entries on all makers and places represented in Epact are supplemented by a glossary of technical terms found in the overview texts and a bibliography lists all references from the detailed texts. Terms from the makers and places indexes and the glossary are all cross-linked from individual catalogue entries.

A more detailed account of the cataloguing process and coverage of Epact is provided under cataloguing conventions, while further details about how to navigate around the Epact website can be found in the help section.

Epact provides a rich database of texts and images for exploration and reveals in detail the variety of ingenious and exquisite scientific instruments devised before 1600. Through these instruments it demonstrates the vitality and historical significance of the programme of practical mathematics which led to their creation as well as offering a new perspective on the shared material and scientific culture that flourished during the medieval and Renaissance period across the different nations of Europe.
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