Programme Line: Education – Key concept: Intellectual formation and spreading

(Clementina Marsico, Lav Šubarić, Isabella Walser-Bürgler)


Whereas during the first period of the LBI (2011–17) this research line has been mainly dedicated to political issues of early modern Europe and its development towards our ‘modern’ Europe as we know it, the second period (2018–24) will turn towards the educational aspect of Europe in the Early Modern Period. It is safe to say that Latin education was one of the cornerstones of early modern European culture. Keeping up the tradition of Latin learning and teaching coming from the Middle Ages, Latin served as the dominant language of instruction and academic achievement from the fifteenth century until well into the first decades of the nineteenth century. Despite the rise of the vernacular languages during the Early Modern Period, the preoccupation with Latin and Latinity prevailed in schools and at universities all over Europe. The idea of a well-rounded education not only envisaged the knowledge of the ancient literary and cultural heritage, but also the fluent and confident mastery of Latin grammar and elocution, as well as – especially at university-level – the profound occupation with erudite matters of science and other related disciplines in the Latin language. Hence, the history of early modern Latin education is widely acknowledged as a subject of fundamental importance. But although seminal socio-historical and philological investigations have already been provided, the subject is yet far from being comprehensively or substantially researched. There are still a lot of ongoing debates on even the most elementary topics, such as the question of whether we can speak of either continuity or revolution in the early modern educational system compared to the medieval one. In addition, most studies are executed top down, emanating from and concentrating on single outstanding figures; the obscure mass of grammarians, glossators, pupils, teachers or professors, however, has received only little attention so far, as have many of the early modern teaching materials, the schooling methods or scholarly deliberations on the ideology of education.


These neglected issues will be addressed by the programme line Neo-Latin and Education, combining so-called ‘elementary’, ‘secondary’ and ‘higher’ education. Its aim is to make an innovative contribution to the study of education in early modern Europe by, on the one hand, looking at the circumstances under which both pre-university and university-level learning took place, and how, on the other, this learning was actually embedded in contemporary political, religious, cultural and scientific discourses. In this way, it is not the history of early modern schools or that of early modern universities which will be at the heart of our investigation, but rather the learning and teaching context, its outreach and its textual output covering the whole period from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Given that the passing through school and particularly university was the decisive precondition for admission to the world of the early modern institutions (e.g. of law, politics, science, the Church) setting the course of early modern Europe, the education line’s intention is to carve out the creative force and the role of Latin in building up and shaping European society and in forming its values in three different yet interconnected projects.


The first project will provide an examination of the Latin teaching in late fifteenth and sixteenth-century Europe, an age characterised by seminal and perseverative curriculum changes, through a bottom-up investigation of one of the most influential early modern manuals: Lorenzo Valla’s Elegantie lingue latine. This work, persisting over a remarkably long period of time and spread across a wide geographical area, constituted a decisive tool for learning Latin for generations of students and intellectuals from all over Europe. The work became a high-level scholastic manual, a reference text for resolving doubts or errors, for tracing classical sources as well as idiomatic expressions. But despite its exceptional diffusion, studies on how, by whom and to what end the Elegantie were used are still completely lacking. Many of the Elegantie’s manuscripts and prints, though, are authentic student notebooks, containing teacher explanations, student writing exercises or some scholars’ own analyses in the margins. The project will thus seek to present a vivid and close picture of Latin teaching on the basis of a comprehensive investigation of the Elegantie on the early modern classroom desks. Through the study of the marginalia and the epitomes, and through the identification of the books’ owners and readers, the study will also try to clarify the different uses of the Elegantie at different times and in different parts of Europe, in order to eventually shed light on Valla’s innovations in learning, which would indeed earn him the title ‘Master of Latin for Europe’.


The second project will take a look at the real practice of learning and teaching in Jesuit schools beyond and behind the central Jesuit educational programme, the Ratio studiorum. For whereas the Ratio has been quite well studied so far and suggests a rather monolithic educational system, the reality behind this notion yet needs to be determined. The project therefore sets out to answer to which degree the Jesuit educators abided by the Ratio, and to which degree they had to improvise, adapt and develop a range of practices most suitable for the local conditions in their respective provinces. For that purpose, especially later primary sources will be at the centre of attention such as student notebooks and miscellany manuscripts containing regional literary productions from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In order to get a well-rounded picture of the actual circumstances of Jesuit education, these documents will be supplemented by contemporary official writings of the Order, which reflect the institutional side of the system, by teacher correspondences, which provide useful insights into the difficulties the teachers faced in teaching, by later regulative texts of the Order, or by paratexts of editions produced by the Jesuits. In order to keep the search for further sources practicable, the project will have a limited geographic scope and will focus on the provinces of Germania superior, Austria and Bohemia, which roughly match the core territories of the Austrian line of the House of Habsburg and the House of Wittelsbach, thus constituting a politically and culturally rather homogenous heuristic frame, which nevertheless accommodates a variety of traditions, religion and language that the Society had to respond to in different ways.


The third project will focus on the intellectual changes going on within the sphere of early modern higher education and highlight the specific role the university teachers played concerning the transition from the medieval to the modern university. To that end, a genre will take centre stage which was mastered in the academic context exclusively, but has received only scant attention in modern research: the inaugural oration given by a professor in order to be officially admitted to his office. Inaugural orations have been delivered since the Middle Ages and have by the majority even been made accessible in print. In their programmatic form and with their exclusive sophisticated primary audience on the one hand (i.e. the university and faculty dignitaries and other professors), and their broader secondary audience on the other (i.e. by means of publication), they serve an intriguing purpose. They provide us with different significant perspectives on how representatives of the learned culture of early modern Europe, as well as universities of bearers of European culture in general were embedded into political, confessional, scientific and related affairs, as they reflected upon and responded to various trends and developments of the Early Modern Period, such as Humanism, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment or nationalism. The project will therefore set out to show, in which way and to what degree inaugural orations actually integrated in and interacted with the educational life in the Early Modern Period. Furthermore, it will explore the measures with which the orators reached out to discuss, transmit, popularise or cultivate contemporary political, religious, and scientific issues. The scope chosen for that topic will be the German-speaking world from approximately 1500 to 1850, before Latin eventually disappeared from the university scene.