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The dissemination of Knowledge

by Craig Martin on 2020-05-13T00:00:00+01:00 in History | Comments

With the end of the classical world, no major culture gained dominance. However, this period saw the rise of the early medieval Church and Benedictine monasteries as major authorities across Europe. Both establishments had preserved classical knowledge held in their collections of books. The church had preserved Christian texts, the monasteries spiritual and secular works including Greek texts. Literacy was uncommon in medieval society. Latin survived and continued to be the formal language of the Church, education, legal and political establishments throughout the Middle Ages. Both establishments encouraged literacy and learning.

The Cathedral schools were initially concerned with educating clergy for church careers, but later expanded to include children of the nobility. Their schools (Schola in Latin) were divided into Schola minor for younger students (primary schools) and Schola major, for older students (secondary schools). Eventually the cathedral schools broke away from the Church and became educational institutions. Christ Church College, part of Oxford University has its foundations in Christ Church Cathedral and its Cathedral school.

Benedictine monasteries actively encouraged reading, studying and learning. Abbots ran monastic schools to teach Latin, reading and writing to the young novice monks. Their libraries were resources used by the monks for their education and spiritual growth. These monastic schools eventually expanded to provide an education to others outside their order. The first academic establishments at Oxford were monastic halls.

Both establishments provided a formal higher education taken directly from the classical period. This was a direct consequence of the survival of the classical texts, which formed the foundation of their libraries. The trivium comprised of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Followed by the quadrivium; arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Together they are known as the seven liberal arts.

The classical world speaks to us today partially through its literature. The survival of texts has preserved knowledge, disseminated ideas, and values across centuries. Learning and sharing knowledge and understanding is a core function of a university. At the heart of every University is its library.

Sally Dummer
​Library Assistant

Before working at the Library, Sally Dummer was a Roman Archaeologist. She held positions at Newcastle upon Tyne University and Glasgow University. Later she became Keeper of Archaeology in Ipswich and worked on Compass at the British Museum.


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