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
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.