StoriesPart of Modern Encounters With a Medieval Almanac

An animated almanac for the modern world

In his animated film ‘Inner World / Outer World’, Thomas Coleman set out to make a medieval almanac relevant to the modern world. Find out what attracted him to the almanac and how it inspired his film. Then watch the film.

Words and artworks by Thomas Coleman

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Photographic detail of a fragile folding almanac from the 15th century. The almanac is open on a illuminated illustration showing a figure of a man whose arms are outstretched to the side. Surrounding him are various figures including a ram, 2 small children on his arms, a crab and a bull. He is surrounded by a house-like shape the outline of which is gilded. Outside of this shape is handwritten latin script.

In 2017, Wellcome Collection invited my documentary animation class at the Royal College of Art to explore the collections and make an animated film that responded to an item, object or exhibition.  

The almanac and me 

I selected a medieval English folding almanac. It is an incredible object and its medical function captivated me: the idea that the human body is an inner world that is balanced like the outer world of nature and the stars. Its beauty and the importance of what it attempts to do should not be understated.  

With my animated film, I wanted to give a new perspective to the almanac’s function and, more importantly, its sincerity and intention. I’m autistic, and having been misunderstood through so much of my life, my philosophy and approach to my art is rooted in the importance of the misunderstood.  

I endeavour to explain things (a very autistic trait), but in my own unique way and from my perspective, using images as a language. I am a confusing person, both in my thoughts and how I communicate due to my autism, and my films reflect this.  

I am a Roman Catholic, and Christian theology is an important subject I examine in my own life. Politically, I consider myself a Christian anarchist. As such, I did not want to make this film a statement of faith, forcing my own faith on the viewer.  

The medieval almanac’s authority comes in part from Christian ecclesiology (the study of the Church and its function); its power is a personal relationship between the human body and its maker. This is what attracted me to it and is another aspect I wanted to communicate in my film.  

A 15th-century medieval folding almanac opened by a pair of white-gloved hands to show astrological tables and a highly coloured illustration of a 'zodiacman' with astrological signs at different points on the body

The 15th-century medieval almanac opened to show astrological charts and the ‘Zodiac Man’, with signs from the horoscope at different points on the body.

The film I made 

The style I created for ‘Inner World / Outer World’ shifts through the overlapping aspects of the almanac, while staying focused on a simple visual structure throughout.  

In the film, the human figure at the centre, who is sick and dying, mirrors the figure in the almanac itself. Around the figure, the circular zodiac calendar and the seasons change as the viewer is taken in and out of different worlds associated with the almanac: the humours, the seasons and the body.  

The film then bridges to modern equivalents of the almanac: objects we have created to explore the universe and ourselves, new means of observations of both inner and outer worlds.  

I hated the idea that anyone would dismiss the almanac, and only see it as medieval ‘pseudoscience’ through a modern perspective. I felt it needed to be updated and regain some of the truth it may have lost over time, between medieval medicine and our modern scientific era.  

The almanac speaks of exploration, of ethics, of how our bodies are not just part of this world but that each one of us is a world within a world within a world. Our relationship to these worlds is not through our wholeness in the universe, but through our similarities as many creations by one God. We are not one universe, but one existence.  

It is an important distinction, which the almanac represents, and I have explored in my film. I hope you enjoy my film as much as I enjoyed researching the subject and making the final film.  

Inner World / Outer World. © Thomas Coleman.

Watch ‘Inner World / Outer World’ by Thomas Coleman.

About the author

Black and white headshot of Thomas Coleman

Thomas Coleman

(He/him)

Thomas A Coleman is an essay filmmaker and writer from Peckham, south-east London. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in Documentary Animation. Thomas lives with his wife in Canterbury, Kent, where he researches personal subjects through anecdotal and archive materials for the purpose of creating his own folklore narratives.