The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215

The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215

The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215

The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100-1215

Excerpt

The value of understanding the medieval origins of the modern university has been defended by scholars since they first began sifting through the accumulation of myth and legend that has obscured the institution's history. To Hastings Rashdall, author of the monumental threevolume Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (1895), the university could only be understood as a distinctly medieval institution, as an enduring legacy of the same centuries that created the Gothic cathedral and parliament. Writing during an important period of educational reform in England, Rashdall believed that studying its medieval origins could shed light on the university's changing role in the modern world. Too great a historian, however, to look in the past for simple answers to contemporary questions, Rashdall ended his book with a wise caveat. "In education as in other matters," he wrote, "some knowledge of the past is a condition of practical wisdom in the present, but the lessons of history seldom admit of formal deduction or didactic exposition."

Nevertheless, Rashdall still drew some helpful and practical lessons from his "purely critical and historical inquiry" into the origins of the university. That institution, he found, had shown a great deal of versatility and flexibility during its first centuries. Despite this "perpetual modification," or perhaps because of it, the university had managed to preserve and expand upon its essential form. This suggested to Rashdall that the educational reforms called for in his own time could be made without changing the basic institutional structure of the university. Moreover, he was convinced that the impetus for these reforms should come from within, rather than from outside, the university. To Rashdall, the . . .

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