Premodern University Teaching, also convents etc. - History of Pedagogy
November 22, 2016 12:02 AM   Subscribe

How did premodern universities, schools, convents, etc., work? This question is a bit confused as in formulating it I realized I was confused, but I will do my best! It came up when I was reading a fantasy novel and the novel was clearly "the author went to 20th century American college and just retrojected that on his imaginary medieval world." But what was it really like? I'm looking for the history of teaching, I think, and not just in universities.

So, the history of Oxford and Cambridge are pretty well-attested. And I thought I was looking for "medieval schools" but then I realized that I was so ignorant I couldn't even google so don't limit yourselves! If you were a merchant in 1400 and sent your son to university or your daughter to a convent school, what would it have been like? What would the teaching methods have been, and what would the daily life of the scholar have been? I love British "school stories" where in novels they go through the whole daily life of a boarding school, and I'd love to read sources that gave me the same sort of idea of what education would have been like in 800, and 1300, and 1600. For boys and girls both.

I feel like universities at Oxford, Cambridge, Florence, etc., are pretty well-attested although I'll totally take sources for those. But what I'm really looking for is what young men would have done BEFORE university, or instead of it, or what young women would have done at convent school or with tutors, and so on. How did one BECOME a scholar before about 1700? Apparently in my brain they all hang around the oak tree with Socrates, and then nothing happens until Oxford is founded.

This question is a little discursive but I didn't realize how ignorant I was until I tried to formulate it! Even my google attempts failed because I appear too ignorant to narrow it down properly, I am very at-sea and possibly your answer that tells me how to narrow the question is as helpful as a specific answer.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Scholarship about the remarkable life of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651-1695) should could give some context about the education of women in convents, at least in the Spanish New World and Spain itself. She was amazing.
posted by BicycleFace at 12:54 AM on November 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You could look up mediaeval scholasticism (think Abelard) in the precursors to the university. It's described as a philosophy, but it's also a method of teaching and learning.
posted by tavegyl at 1:19 AM on November 22, 2016

I love British "school stories" ... I'd love to read sources that gave me the same sort of idea of what education would have been like in ... 1600

It's not 100% on point and comes very close to your cut-off date, but The Rhetoric of Death is a mystery novel set at Lycée Louis-le-Grand in 1686. Apparently it draws on the author's dissertation research. Oh, one non-fiction source that comes to mind is Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life by Philippe Ariès. It jumps around a lot between your 1300-1700 dates but connects a little with the other book: Ariès mentions Louis-le-Grand several times and describes Cardinal de Bernis going there in 1729 at the age of 14 to enter the rhetoric class, having spent the previous four years at a provincial school.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:54 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The French Wikipedia on the University of Paris and its numerous colleges (which includes a first-hand testimony by Erasmus) and faculties is quite extensive. The French National Library also has a kid-oriented subsite dedicted to Childhood in the Middle-Ages that includes a page on teaching with short texts. French historian (and specialist of medieval education) Pierre Riché just published a book on the topic.
posted by elgilito at 2:02 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The best book for your purposes is Nicholas Orme's Medieval Schools: Roman Britain to Renaissance England (2006).

On everyday life in schools, among the best sources are the simple dialogues, or colloquies, that were written to teach basic Latin grammar to schoolboys. The colloquies of the Anglo-Saxon monk / schoolmaster Aelfric Bata have recently been translated as Anglo-Saxon Conversations. As the blurb says, they 'open a door into the world of Anglo-Saxon monasticism, revealing the details of daily activities: rising and dressing, studying the day's lesson, eating, bathing and tonsuring. Oblates ask a master's help in reading, bargain for a manuscript-copying job, obtain help in sharpening a pen.'
posted by verstegan at 2:27 AM on November 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Nicholas Orme is great; there's also Helen Jewell's Education in Early Modern England.

I'm blanking on the rough era when this started, but certainly by the sixteenth century there were some part-time village schools for younger children as well. I remember reading that the passages in Great Expectations describing Pip's village school are likely a reasonable approximation of what it was like to attend these in premodern era, too; they just didn't change that much over time.
posted by Bardolph at 3:05 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The podcast The History of England, episode 122, talks about exactly what you're asking. The education one would have prior to going to university, logistics and personal details of student life, and typical outcomes.
posted by Liesl at 4:02 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Apparently in my brain they all hang around the oak tree with Socrates, and then nothing happens until Oxford is founded.

If you want a really cheap, inaccurate, unsubtle but ultimately effective set of images to stick in your brain, between Plato and Xenophon at the feet of Socrates and Oxford, insert a really nice image of a monastary. Any one will do - this is, after all, a kind of mnemonic.

If you want to elaborate the mental image a bit, intersperse clips from The Name of the Rose or relevant bits of The Secret of Kells. See those if you haven't already, obviously.
posted by eclectist at 7:48 AM on November 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might want to look at Peter Ackroyd's Life of Thomas More, which touches on his experiences. More went to Oxford, but he also went through an equally important part of a young English man's education, that is, spending time as a servant or page in the household of an influential relative or other patron.
posted by praemunire at 8:56 AM on November 22, 2016

This is what I picked up from the History of Civilization. Its 4000ish pages so I don't have references. Toward the end of the middle ages you get recognizable schools to teach medicine especially in Italy. Soon after that we see schools of theology and law. (Italy again, then Paris and soon after Oxford). Originally, each teacher would negotiate fees independently with his students and the students and teachers formed groups to look after their interests and the university superstructure grew out of that. Women's education was mainly in convents or by tutor.

In the middle ages you would have seen more universities in the Islamic world and educated men would travel around to study with famous teachers for months or years to get certificates from them.
posted by shothotbot at 10:03 AM on November 22, 2016

Err, scratch that about the podcast--you were searching for higher education before the flowering of universities, and the podcast concentrates on Cambridge in its early years. (It's still a great podcast, though.)
posted by Liesl at 2:51 PM on November 22, 2016

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