Late Medieval Education: Continuity and Change



The late Middle Ages was a period of remarkable expansion in education. The educational wasteland depicted by humanists and religious reformers bears little resemblance to the complex and dynamic situation that characterized the last centuries of the Middle Ages. New urban schools catering to the needs of an increasingly powerful merchant elite appear throughout the Latin West supplementing and at times supplanting existing ecclesisatical schools. Monarchs, princes, bishops, and towns supported the foundation of new universities from Scandinavia to the Iberian Peninsula. Although substantial barriers to education remained, the late Middle Ages saw increases in literacy across a broad spectrum of society including both women and the poor. Although Jewish communities suffered from episodic and at times catastrophic outbreaks of violence, Jewish education continued to flourish in many parts of the Latin West until the end of the Middle Ages. In Italy new humanist textbooks and approaches augmented (though they did not entirely replace) traditional medieval grammatical instruction, and by the end of the Middle Ages Humanists had begun to make inroads within the universities as well. The result was the creation of a substantial literate public whose skills served both to challenge and reinforce existing political and religious institutions.