The mediaeval university had reference not to a handsome campus nor to venerable old buildings but rather to the society of scholars and students who gathered in a particular place, the studium. In the intellectual revival of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the important centers of learning, Bologna and Paris, provided the nuclei for the confluence from all parts of Europe of large numbers of scholars attracted either by their interest in a particular subject or by the fame of an individual teacher. It is in these two studia generalia, so designated because they attracted students from various parts of Europe, that the earliest university associations were formed. The cosmopolitan character of these associations is nowhere better illustrated than in the 'nations,' collegia of scholars, masters or students, which appeared as integral parts of the university associations in both Bologna and Paris, as well as in other universities established between the thirteenth and the fifteenth centuries in western Europe. These 'nations' persisted, in name at least, as apart of the university organization until the French revolutionary and Napoleonic era in Paris and Bologna, and until the nineteenth century in the universities of Leipzig and Vienna. As late as 1936, they were still functioning in the Scotch university of Aberdeen as electoral units for the choice of the rector of the university.
The nations, insofar as they were integral parts of the university as a whole, were closely related to the intellectual and institutional developments of their own time. These contemporary developments have already been portrayed in detail by those who have turned their attention to the rise and development of the universities in the twelfth century. The present study will therefore confine itself specifically to that phase of the institutional development only, that relates directly to the nations themselves, a phase that is less well known though none the less interesting for the light that it throws on contemporary constitutional theories and practices.
The nations were an inner division of the university. As such their direct contact with the town magistrates and with other outside agencies came, with the possible exception of the nations at Paris, chiefly through the university as a whole. The latter as a federation of separate units acted as a corporate body in its relations, with the town magistrates, the king and so on. The sphere of activity of the individual nation was more limited and was confined largely to its own membership, to its relations with the other nations, and to the university as a whole. Hence the nations can best be studied directly through their own records: in the . . .