Medieval Universities


Figure 1.--This is a depiction of a lecture on theology at the early Sarbonne (13th century). Notice the robes both lecturer and students wear. I am not sure if the students are tonsured or wear caps.

One of the major development in the late-medieval period was the opening of universities throughout Western Europe. They played a major in the expansion of knowledge which led to the Renaisance and the modern age. Education was extremely limited in Europe in the early- and even mid-edieval era. At first education was primarily for the clergy, even members odf the ruling classes were iliterate. Scholarship and education was at first primarily involved with work on sacred texts (translating, organizing, copying and codifying). There was also some surviving classical works. Education was centered primarily in cathedral and monastry schools. This changed only slowly with the aristitocracy evenualy achieving a modicum of learning. They were generally taught by tutors. Important learning centers in the Bzantine Empire survived the fall of Rome. A university at Constatinople was founded (2nd century AD). Other important centers are known to have been located at Alexandria, Antioch, and Athens. The Islamic conquest conquered these areas, except Constantinople (8th century), but the Calophate set up their own learning centers. Those in Spain were especially influential in Europe. It is difficult to know how important these Byzantine-Islamic centers were, but they surely helped establish ythe idea of centers for higher education. They were also places in which surviving classical works were collected and translated. The origins of the early universities in Western Europe are not well documented or well understood and in fact vaeied from place to place. A major step in the early medieval period was the promotion of cathedral and monastry schools as a result of the reforms of Charlemagne. Charlemagne realized that his expanding empire needed the services of a body of well-educated clerks and administrators. His decree and the creation of cathedral schools focused on more than theology was the founding stone of the future universities. They provided the opportunity for clever boys from common famiiles to obtain skills that would make them useful to the Carolingian empire. The next critical individual involved in the development of European universities. was Pope Gregory VII. The Pope issued a papal decree ordering the establishment of cathedral schools responsible for educafting the clergy (1079). Such schools existed before Gregory's decree, but it both promoted and regularized the effort. The Pope's decree led to the opening of educational centers. These centers would be the core around many great universities grew. It was not until the end of the 11th century that these universities began to appear. The first true university is believed to be the University of Bologna in Italy (1088). The University of Paris came into existence a few decades later (1119). It was an informal association of various monastry schools and centered at Notre Dame. Colleges began to appear in Oxford (1167-1185). The first college at Cambridge appeared a few decades later (1209). Robert Sorbon founded a theological college (1231). Over time it would grow into the Sorbonne University. The medieval universites developed as "community of scholars" with the authority to confer degrees.

Medieval Schools

After the fall of Rome, formal schooling in the West disappeared. The rare vestiges of school were the song schools of the cathedrals and monasteries. The boys chosen at first were taught to prepare them for holy orders. We have only limited information about the clothing for these early choristers. Formal schooling in Europe outside of church schools were rare in Europe until about the 10th century. The great bulk of the population was iliterate. The number of children attending schools was very limited for several more centuries. There were similarities in the development of schools throughout Europe, but the pattern varied significantly in many areas. We have little information at this time about clothing at these early schools. There does appear to have been some uniformity in the clothing worn by the choristers in the early song schools. This appears to have been less common in the secular schools which slowly developed during the second millennium.

Medieval Scholarship

Scholarship and education was at first primarily involved with work on sacred texts (translating, organizing, copying and codifying). There was also some surviving classical works.

Early Learning Centers

Important learning centers in the Bzantine Empire survived the fall of Rome. A university at Constatinople was founded (2nd century AD). Other important centers are known to have been located at Alexandria, Antioch, and Athens. The Islamic conquest conquered these areas, except Constantinople (8th century), but the Calophate set up their own learning centers. Those in Spain were especially influential in Europe both because of the prevailing multi-cultural ethos and the geographic location. It is difficult to know how important these Byzantine-Islamic centers were, but they surely helped establish the idea of centers for higher education. They were also places in which surviving classical works were collected and translated. The learming at these centers were far beyond any center in Western Christendom until the appearance of the universities. Ironically at about the time the European universities appeatred, the Islamic centers of learning drew back from secular learning to scholarship centered on theology.

Historical Developments

The origins of the early universities in Western Europe are not well documented or well understood and in fact vaeied from place to place. A major step in the early medieval period was the promotion of cathedral and monastry schools as a result of the reforms of Charlemagne. Charlemagne realized that his expanding empire needed the services of a body of well-educated clerks and administrators. His decree and the creation of cathedral schools focused on more than theology was the founding stone of the future universities. They provided the opportunity for clever boys from common famiiles to obtain skills that would make them useful to the Carolingian empire. The next critical individual involved in the development of European universities. was Pope Gregory VII. The Pope issued a papal decree ordering the establishment of cathedral schools responsible for educafting the clergy (1079). Such schools existed before Gregory's decree, but it both promoted and regularized the effort. The Pope's decree led to the opening of educational centers. These centers would be the core around many great universities grew.

Violence

Violence was a serious problem in medieval universities and there are numerous incided of serious violence in university towns. One problem was that of town and gown. As the universities grew in size, conflicts developed between the students and the town residents. This was especially the case in Paris and other cities where the number of students were substantial. Carousing students were often resented by the towns people. In some cases the stydents had immunity from civil authotity. Many universities experienced major episodes of violence with the towns people. There were also serious internal conflicts and feuds within the universities, at times over trivial matters. Birtually any appointment could become an issue. And this included the hiring of non-professional staff incluing messengers and porters. It was not uncommon for university rectors to have body guards.

Governance

One issue at early universities was governence. Thise of us who studies in the 1960s will be interested to know that student particpation in the university governence was a major issue. The battles fought by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in American univrsities or Parris students were not unlike struggles that developed in early medieal universities. This varied from university to university. The issue of a student role in governance was especially critical in two major university centers, Bologna and Paris. Authority at a medieval university lay with the general assembly. Many early universities had no real central organization, but rather were loose collection of teaching units. As the universities were developing, virtually any one could collect students to his lectures. Groupings began to form calling themselves universitas or corporation to regulate the organizations that began to colaease. At Bologna it was the students who seized control.

Geography

The geography of meduieval universities is interesting. The first universuties appeared in Italy, the same place where the Renaissance appeared. Some of the same forces which produced the universities also produced the universities. It is why both began in Italy. And then when the universities were well established, the Reformation would emerge out of these universities. With the Catholic Counter Reformation came a religious test on learning. Scholars were inhibited by the Inquisition. First there were attacks on Jews and subsequently on Protestants or Catholics challenging Church teachings. The most famous is the arrest by the Inquistion of Galileo. The impact would affect learning in Italy, Portugal, and Spain for centuries. As a result, most of the great scientific discoveries of the great European universities would come from northern Europe. It was the same religious intolerance that had cloesed off secular scolarship in the Capiphate (12th century).

Important Universities

It was not until the end of the 11th century that these universities began to appear. The first true university is believed to be the University of Bologna in Italy (1088). The University of Paris came into existence a few decades later (1119). It was an informal association of various monastry schools and centered at Notre Dame. Colleges began to appear in Oxford (1167-1185). The first college at Cambridge appeared a few decades later (1209). Robert Sorbon founded a theological college (1231). Over time it would grow into the Sorbonne University. The medieval universites developed as "community of scholars" with the authority to confer degrees.

Impact

One of the major development in the late-medieval period was the opening of universities throughout Western Europe. They played a major in the expansion of knowledge which led to the Renaisance and the modern age.






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Created: 8:33 AM 5/23/2009
Last updated: 7:22 AM 5/25/2009