Academic Migration to Italy before 1500: Institutional Perspectives

Academic Migration to Italy before 1500: Institutional Perspectives

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Academic Migration to Italy before 1500: Institutional Perspectives

By Peter Denley

Über Mobilität von Studenten und Gelehrten zwischen dem Reihe und Italien (1400–1600), ed. Suse, Andresen und Schwinges, Rainer (Repertorium Academicum Germanicum (RAG) Forschungen 1), Zürich 2011.

Introduction: Scholars who wish to investigate the mobility of university men across regions or countries in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance have to make a journey of translatio that in many ways echoes that undertaken by their subjects. Alongside the physical transposition (and the cost involved), those who wanted to study or teach in terra aliena had to contend with different systems, customs, languages, cultures and assumptions; modern researchers examining their history have to deal with the residue that these figures left in archives of institutions that, despite their aspirations to universality, were equally diverse in their organisation, documentation and legacy. These obstacles can be formidable, and in some cases insurmountable.

Late medieval Germany and Italy are a case in point. The comparatively late emergence of the German universities meant that they were founded at a stage when the idea of what a university was supposed to be was already quite developed, legally, constitutionally, institutionally and even in terms of ritual. For posterity a fortunate consequence of this was the creation and preservation of extensive matriculation lists, in theory allowing access to a ‹base› record of almost all those who began studying at a German university. This enviable resource has made possible serious prosopographical work on a scale, and with a statistical focus, that is almost unique for the period. The historiographical trend towards quantification and cliometrics in the 1960s and 1970s, which produced such a strong boost to prosopography in university history, has no better medieval result than Professor Schwinges’s monumental study of German Universitätsbesucher, which is testimony to the unique riches of the German university records of the period, and which laid the foundations for the work now undertaken by the Repertorium Academicum Germanicum. It is unlikely that the insights afforded by this spectacular analysis can ever be replicated for other parts of Europe in this period.

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