Middle Ages - Enlightenment (1100-1780's)

Higher education was a privilege of the very wealthy, and all students took the same classes. During the reformation, universities became propaganda factories, as different sects chartered them to be used as pawns in the prolonged church vs. church and church vs. monarchy battles. During the enlightenment, university education fell out of fashion in the UK, with the traditional curriculum seen as irrelevant in an increasingly mechanized world.

Middle Ages - Enlightenment (1100-1780's) Middle Ages - Enlightenment (1100-1780's) Middle Ages - Enlightenment (1100-1780's) Middle Ages - Enlightenment (1100-1780's) Middle Ages - Enlightenment (1100-1780's)

The First European Universities

Colleges and universities first emerged in Europe during the 1100's. Education was modeled on the traditional system of apprenticeship: each degree built on the successful completion of the previous, and had practical and intellectual components. Institutions were organized like monasteries; given a charter by a religious or royal leader, and functioning as a city. The buildings also served as residences for professors, who were generally members of the clergy. Professors were generalists, teaching subjects without a speciality. Much of the daily process of education fell to graduate-student tutors, older students who had completed their BA -- and in preparation for Master’s studies, were required to spend 4 years working on moral and intellectual development of undergraduates. The students were mostly very wealthy, and took the same classes. Nearly all of them finished with a religious degree, though many never practiced as priests.

The Shaping of the University System

By the end of the twelfth century, a few schools could claim to be of more-than-local importance: they were called Studia Generalia, and became places to which scholars came from all parts of Europe. The chartering of Universities remained a piecemeal process, which was particularly problematic during the era of the Reformation. As churches and monarchies struggled for power, they chartered numerous and competing universities to increase their clout and to serve as propaganda factories. This led to an over-abundance of universities, many of which closed during the Industrial Revolution. At the end of The Reformation, all universities were officially “nationalized,” but were, in practice, still religious.

University Education Falls Out of Fashion

The number of universities dropped during The Enlightenment, reflecting a general skepticism towards established sources of knowledge. During this period, university education fell out of fashion, and was seen as irrelevant in an increasingly mechanized world. This dramatically decreased the number of universities in Europe, but it did allow university access to members of a slightly-less-rich class, as the richest pulled their children from university and hired private tutors to educate them instead.

Take Aways

  1. Modern universities have much in common with their Medieval forbearers:
  2. Professors led large lecture classes, small group learning happened with graduate-student tutors.
  3. Receiving a PhD qualified individuals to become professors and teach other PhD students.
  4. Town-gown relationships were strained; universities chose to be isolated from nearby cities.