Associate Professor

Cohen 326

Curriculum Vitæ


Ph.D. Harvard University
M.A. Harvard University
M.Phil. University of Cambridge
B.A. Wellesley College

Elly R. Truitt studies the circulation of scientific objects and natural knowledge throughout central and western Eurasia and north Africa, from antiquity into the early modern period. She has a particular interest in how scientific ideas, practices, and objects traveled and were adapted to new settings, and philosophical treatises, archival material, literary texts, lyric, material objects, and images all inform her work. Her first book, Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (Penn, 2015), explored the history of automata in medieval Latin culture, where they appeared as gifts from foreign rulers in Baghdad and Damascus and at the courts of Constantinople and Shengdu, and demonstrated that artificial people and animals were ubiquitous in medieval culture, and that they were used to pose questions about identity, liveliness, and the ethics of knowledge and creation. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, the Huntington Library, the Max-Planck-Institute for the History of Science, and other institutions. She has published articles on the history of automata, the history of timekeeping technology, pharmacobotany, the adoption of Arabic terms and ideas into Latin and English scientific texts, and on concepts of artificial intelligence in the Middle Ages.

She is currently working on several projects: an account of the formation of the category of "modern science" and the role of the medieval period in that formation; a study of monumental astronomical clocks and Christian temporality in late medieval Europe; an account of the boundaries between magic and science in the work of Roger Bacon; and a study of courtly science in the medieval world.

Research Interests

Her current projects explore temporality and periodization, the relationship between technology and magic in the late medieval period, and the role of experiential knowledge in the creation of scientific knowledge. Her second book, Roger Bacon and the Invention of Modern Science, examines all of these through the work of thirteenth-century philosopher Roger Bacon. He outlined the potential of natural knowledge and human endeavor to create amazing machines and clearly defines (and denounces) magic as a possible route to the same ends, exposing the boundaries among natural philosophy, magic, and technology in the late medieval period. The adoption of Arabic texts and ideas by Bacon helped configure his reputation in the early modern period as an experimental and technological visionary, revealing the ways in which invention and circulation inflect one another. An article on the mechanical clock and the codex also takes up questions of technology and periodization, arguing that both need to be understood as chrono-technologies that were also central to the production and transmission of narratives of Christian universality. Finally, she is also working on her third book, about courtly science in the medieval world. Different courts (Latin Christian, Byzantine, Islamicate) between 750-1300 appear as case studies to identify how science was fostered and practiced at secular and religious courts, and the extent to which the natural knowledge pursued at courts—such as engineering, navigation, alchemy, and divination—was valued alongside text-based natural philosophical frameworks.

Selected Work

Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art (Philadelphia: Press of the University of Pennsylvania, 2015; paperback ed., 2016; audiobook, 2019). 


Affiliated Faculty, Middle East Center

Affiliated Faculty, Global Medieval Studies

Teaching Fields

Medieval science, medicine, and technology; history of magic, divinatory sciences, alchemy; history of experience, experiment, and observation; scientific manuscripts and early printed books; robots & AI; history of the body

Courses Taught

STSC 028-401: Medicine, Magic, and Miracles

STSC 308-301: Science & Spectacle

HSSC 624-301: Experience & Experiment

Faculty Bookshelf