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Western Civilization 10, Lesson 125, Essay 2 – The University System During the High Middle Ages

The system of colleges and universities that we are so familiar with today started 900 years ago in the 12th century.  However, these schools have come a long way in those hundreds of years.  In this essay, I am going to briefly describe what the university system was like during the Middle Ages.

When the system of universities first started, things like degrees and fixed programs of study had not been created yet.  There did not seem to be fixed classes, but debates and discussions over a certain topic that was monitored by a teacher.  There was also no standard that each university had to be held to.  Each one could do their own thing as long as they had the approval from a pope or imperial being.

For example, in Bologna, the students practically ran the school.  They decided what they wanted to do on what day, what type of classes to offer, etc.  The students could even punish their teachers if they were unhappy with their classes and teaching methods.  In Paris, there was a rule that university teachers could not plan out their lessons or read from lesson notes.  Whatever they taught in their class was improvised and their lectures had to come from off the top of their heads.

Like modern-day universities, each one had a nearby town where students would go to have fun.  The Church protected university students and cared for their well-being, especially if it meant protecting them from angry townspeople.  If a student, for example, killed a man, the case would be held in an ecclesiastical court, where the student would be treated kinder than in a town court, where everyone already hated them.

As you can see, the beginning of the universities and their system was very different to the one we follow today.  University was a place of debate, with a healthy dose of partying, and sometimes vandalizing, in the nearby towns.

Thanks for reading!


Author: sophiaelahirpc

10th Grade student in the Ron Paul Curriculum. Full-time teen writer living in Singapore.

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