Lessons from history: emergent academia (and public engagement)

In my quest to understand how all things ‘academic’ come to (not) be – and how pictures can say it better than words, or differently (cf transduction) – here are two telling depictions of evolving academic behaviours:

1) Teaching before print ca. 1500s, Cambridge University (Leedham-Green 1996:31)Before_Print_Leedham-Greenthe master propounds the text to students sharing a single copy either of the text itself or of a summary

2) Teaching after print (ibid: 32):

After_Print_Leedham-Greena less depressed group of students, each of whom now has his (sic!) own copy, attends a lecturer now free to devote more time to exposition of the text

(Lots to unpack, including the stricking analogy with today’s students, who consult smart technology during lessons so the lecturer is no longer the sole focus of their attention, cf ‘after print’ image, above).

But these depictions are proposed by Leedham-Green in the wider context of how academia’s moeurs reflect the evolving religious, royal, political, legal and technological values and concerns of society.

What I need to tease out, is how does all this impact on academic writing ….

For example, I am reminded of the academic values embodied in the Trivium versus Quadrivium curriculum (mediaeval Trivium: grammar, rhetoric and logic, and Quadrivium: arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy): what are today’s core knowledges in academia, and why, and how are they represented, and why (cf. (multi) modality and creativity)?

Another interesting historical perspective relates to the requirement of the Academy, throughout the ages, to engage in public engagement: did you know, for example, that in the ca. 13th century

… in the faculty of arts, of law and, in due course, of medicine, instruction was in the form of lectures and disputations, a number of which had to be publicly performed in order to meet the requirements of inception

and that, because of the different audiences involved, this had an impact on their choice of language:

senior students of theology were statutorily bound to preach both ad clerum in Latin to their peers, and, in the vernacular, at Paul’s Cross in London

(Leedham-Green: 19)

In other words, even in the ‘good old days’ where tradition, rigour and discipline reigned (!), it wasn’t good enough to be understood soley by your peers: you also had to get public approval, and adapt your style.

Hmmm … what are your reactions? Do you have any literature recommendations on the history of academia and of academic writing?

Reference: Leedham-Green, E. (1996) A Concise History of the University of Cambridge CUP

Thank you to @EllieClewlow for responding to a twitter request for such literature, and @qikipedia for the initial tip-off

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2 thoughts on “Lessons from history: emergent academia (and public engagement)

  1. Pingback: ‘Do I sound academic?’ via @seburnt | Academic Emergence

  2. Pingback: Reining in the Research Narrative (my own) | Academic Emergence

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