Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Tradition and Innovation in Latin Schools from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century

Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Tradition and Innovation in Latin Schools from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century

Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Tradition and Innovation in Latin Schools from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century

Humanism and Education in Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Tradition and Innovation in Latin Schools from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century

Synopsis

The claim, central to many interpretations of the Renaissance, that humanists introduced a revolution in the classroom is refuted in Robert Black's masterly survey, based on over 500 manuscript school books. He shows that the study of classical texts in schools reached a high point in the twelfth century, followed by a collapse in the thirteenth as universities rose in influence. It was not until the later 1400s that humanism had a significant impact in the schoolroom, as Italian teaching, particularly at elementary levels, remained strongly traditional throughout the fifteenth century.

Excerpt

Latin education was the foundation stone of medieval and Renaissance Italian culture. The learning of the Latin language and the introduction to Latin literature were the principal preoccupations of schools throughout the middle ages and Renaissance: indeed, until the rise of abacus or commercial arithmetic schools in the thirteenth and especially fourteenth centuries, and before the introduction of Greek into the school curriculum in the fifteenth century, no subject other than Latin was studied at the lower stages of the educational hierarchy.

Given the fundamental importance of the subject, it may seem puzzling that there has been no comprehensive historical study of the Latin curriculum in medieval and Renaissance Italy. This has perhaps been due to the fact that the Latin syllabus has been shared among several modern academic disciplines. The most important work has been done by philologists, such as Remigio Sabbadini and Vittorio Rossi and their more recent Italian successors, for example, Gian Carlo Alessio, Rino Avesani, Giuseppe Billanovich or Silvia Rizzo. Their principal concern has, of course, been philological rather than historical: focusing on individual works and individual teachers, they have gone far in building up a picture of pre-humanist and humanist education; but because their discipline ultimately concentrates on the particular rather than the general, philologists have not aimed to reconstruct the story of the curriculum's development over a long period. Work of great importance has also been undertaken by students of linguistics, and in particular by Keith Percival, who has laid the foundations for a critical study of medieval and Renaissance theoretical grammar. But again, because a scholar such as Percival is concerned fundamentally with the theory and development of Latin language and grammar rather than with the history of Latin education, he has not been interested in reconstructing the multi-faceted story of the evolution of the elementary and secondary grammar curriculum from its foundations in the twelfth century through to the Renaissance.

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