17 SES 09, Paper Session
Many have repeated Anant Agarwal’s claim that ‘Online education for students around the world will be the next big thing in education. This is the single biggest change in education since the printing press’ (edX, 2012). Like many of the claims for the historical significance of online education it was not supported with evidence. Eisenstein (1997 : 61, footnote 61) noted that printing’s influence ‘is especially likely to be underplayed in connection with the history of education’, but unfortunately did not support this with an extended consideration of printing’s effects on education. Rather, the argument seems to be that: (1) printing revolutionised the transmission of information; (2) universities are involved in transmitting information; therefore (3) printing must have revolutionised universities. This mirrors a corresponding argument frequently made about the current information revolution: (1) digital technologies have ‘disrupted’ some forms of transmitting information such as photographs, recorded music, and traditional news and public affairs media; (2) universities are involved in transmitting information; therefore (3) digital technologies will or should disrupt universities.
But what were the effects on universities of Gutenberg’s proving of printing in about 1450? One difficulty in answering this first question is disentangling the effects on universities of the introduction of printing from contemporaneous changes. We remain alive to O’Day’s (1982: 196) warning that ‘An overall view of educational trends through out the early modern period has been hindered by the excessive periodisation which is rampant in historical studies’. The designation of books printed in the first 50 years as incunabula reminds us of the extended transition from most books being produced in manuscript to most being printed, and it is appropriate to look a century further to observe printing’s effects on European universities. Printing took even longer to have its full effects on university libraries (Moodie, 2014, 2016). During this extended period following Gutenberg there were numerous other changes affecting European universities such as the rise of Humanism, the Scientific Revolution, the Reformation, the establishment Protestant and other academies, an expansion of grammar schools, an increase in European prosperity, an expansion of European university enrolments, and a change in the composition of university students from fewer clerical and poorer students to more lay and wealthy students.
Secondly, the paper considers: how did the effects on European universities of the printing revolution differ from the effects on universities of the Scientific Revolution? The paper’s objective is to consider whether an understanding of the effects on universities of the two earlier information revolutions may inform an understanding of the possible effects on universities of the current information revolution.
The paper seeks to infer the effects of the Gutenberg revolution on European universities by examining education before and after printing began spreading throughout Europe in the middle of the 15th century. But unfortunately there are only scanty records and accounts of European education before the 17th century. It has therefore been necessary to extrapolate from accounts of European universities in earlier times. The most complete accounts of European universities during the Middle Ages are university statutes, but unfortunately the earliest statutes extant are mostly silent on the core concerns of curriculum and pedagogy (Ferruolo, 1988: 5). Furthermore, documents were most likely to be issued and preserved when there was an unusual conflict, disagreement or dispute, which thus give a misleading impression of normal affairs. Of course Latin was the language of scholarship until the end of the 18th century, but the meaning or referent of some medieval Latin terms is obscure (Fletcher, 1967: 431-2). The research dealt with these challenges by surveying a large number and wide variety of secondary accounts from the high Middle Ages to the early modern period of the production of books, journals and other scholarly materials; universities, teaching academies, specialised training institutions, schools, and other teaching institutions; learned academies and patrons of learning; scholasticism, Humanism and experimental philosophy; and some accounts of general social and economic developments. The study sought to disentangle the multiple changes over this time by making judgments about what is likely by extension from events’ interactions in other contexts and periods: ‘one has to trace the threads in history’s fabric without unpicking its weave’ (Moodie, 2016: 17).
While printing transformed European society generally, the new technology was absorbed into existing university practices rather than revolutionised them. This is because, as important as printing was, it did not essentially change universities’ core activities of extending, testing and transferring knowledge (Moodie, 2014: 465). Printing stimulated a new organisation of the curriculum that surveyed different authorities on one subject rather than one authority possibly on different subjects (Eisenstein, 1997 : 432; Grendler, 2002: 482), but at least equally big curriculum changes were achieved by the Humanists, who were active in universities well before printing (Leader, 1983: 218, 1984: 105; McConica, 1986: 65). Printing introduced a major change in pedagogy, the sequencing of subjects by level of difficulty (Eisenstein, 1997 : 432; McConica, 1986: 65, but it did not as might be expected end dictation for memorisation until at least the early seventeenth century (Müller, 1996: 344; Blair, 2008: 64). ‘Cursory’ lectures to dictate key texts to students ended at least at Oxford at least by 1584, yet dictation within ordinary lectures persisted until well into the eighteenth century (Fletcher, 1968: 331, 1967: 427). And university lectures have been as important in the five and half centuries since the invention of printing as they presumably were for the three and a half centuries before printing. European universities changed their summative assessment from its medieval form of oral, individualized, public, and collective disputations of questions in Latin to written, standardized, private, and individual answering of questions in the vernacular, but this was not completed until the 18th century, and owed as much to the mathematization of the curriculum following the Scientific Revolution and the expanded number of candidates as to the ability to print question papers (Moodie, 2016: 21).
Blair, Ann (2008) in Campi, Emidio, De Angelis, Simone, Goeing, Anja-Silvia and Grafton, Anthony (editors) (2008) Scholarly knowledge. Textbooks in early modern Europe, Librairie Droz, Geneva, pages 39-72. edX (2012) The future of online education is now, video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn5MkE-djxA Eisenstein, Elizabeth L (1997)  The printing press as an agent of change: communications and cultural transformations in early modern Europe: volumes I and II, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Ferruolo, Stephen C (1988) ‘Quid dant artes nisi luctum?’: learning, ambition, and careers in the Medieval university, History of Education Quarterly, volume 28, number 1, pages 1-22. Fletcher, John M (1967) The teaching of Arts at Oxford, 1400-1520, Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education, volume 7, numbers 1-2, pages 417-454. Fletcher, John M (1968) The faculty of arts, in J McConica (editor) The history of the University of Oxford volume III: the collegiate university, pages 157-99, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Gieysztor, Aleksander (1992) Management and resources, in De Ridder-Symoens, Hilde (editor) (1992) A History of the university in Europe: universities in the Middle Ages, volume I, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pages 108-143. Grendler, Paul F (2002) The universities of the Italian Renaissance, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. Leader, Damian Riehl (1983) Grammar in late-medieval Oxford and Cambridge, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, volume 12, number 1, pages 9-14. Leader, Damian Riehl (1984) Teaching in Tudor Cambridge, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, volume 13, number 2, pages 105-119. Maclean, Ian (2012) Scholarship, commerce, religion: the learned book in the age of confessions, 1560-1630, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. McConica, James (1986) The rise of the undergraduate college, in James McConica (editor) The history of the University of Oxford volume III: the collegiate university, pages 1-68. Moodie, Gavin (2014) Gutenberg’s effects on universities, History of Education, volume 43, number 4, pages 450-467. Moodie, Gavin (2016) Universities, disruptive technologies, and continuity in higher education: the impact of information revolutions, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Müller, Rainer A (1996) Student education, student life, in De Ridder-Symoens, Hilde (editor) (1996) A History of the university in Europe: volume II, universities in early modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pages 326-354 O’Day, Rosemary (1982) Education and society 1500–1800. The social foundations of education in early modern Britain, London and New York: Longman.
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