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‘COLLEGE PECULIARS’

The above argument has suggested that colleges embodied frictions that were a function of their intermixing a particular charitable purpose and their constitutional affiliations with religious institutions of one sort or another. Like all the officers and institutions for accountability analysed here, the intelligent construction of institutions for regulating conflict was at the centre of colleges’ own approaches.

The fault-lines, this section suggests (pp. 214—20), are mostly a consequence of colleges’ need to embody various accountabilities (the plural is important). But colleges’ oddness has also been stressed, partly in order to see them as novelties (and distinct from halls or older private masters’ schools). Many college histories have been written for almas matres with some level of filial piety, and some consequent idealization.[1] This can take some of the rough edges off them ins titutionally.[2] There is also a risk that self-administering, endowed, communal colleges, for the education of poor students, are seen as both a significant innovation and a teleological inevitability, a position with some potential for paradox.[3] This is made the easier by the durability and hence familiarity of the institution. Medieval descriptions of college administrators can be transposed to their modern equivalents (and vice versa). The parallel tendency to view especially Oxford and Cambridge—and consequently their colleges—as ever-present centres of scholarship should likewise be resisted. In the mid-thirteenth century Lincoln or Northampton might look equally likely English scholarly centres—as collegial statutes providing for the relocation of colleges remind us.[4]

So it is hard to recapture the oddness and insecurity of colleges. It has been argued that William of Durham’s bequest for supporting ten to twelve Theology Masters (the future University College) was mishandled because ‘people were not sure what to do with it’—his ‘Parisian [collegial] concepts were too advanced for the Oxford of 1249’.[5] Similarly, whether Pecham would not or could not recognize what he saw at Merton, his misapprehensions about its organization seem a conservative Franciscan’s misreading of one institutional form (a college) for a more traditional hierarchy that he could, or would, recognize (a monastery or perhaps a Franciscan stadium). Merton certainly looked wrong to him, probably in principle, certainly in practice. This begs a simple question though: if colleges were that odd and insecure, why did they exist at all, and why did they persist?

  • [1] 163 e.g. Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. 39^2, 94-102. On the historiography of ‘Oxbridge’see Mordechai Feingold, ‘Oxford and Cambridge College Histories: An Outdated Genre?’, Historyof Universities 1 (1981), 207-13 revisited by Robin Darwall-Smith, ‘Oxford and Cambridge CollegeHistories: An Endangered Genre?’, History of Universities 22.1 (2007), 241-9. The contours of university historiographies unsurprisingly vary with place. See e.g. Peter Denley, ‘Recent Studies on ItalianUniversities of the Middle Ages and Renaissance’, History of Universities 1 (1981), 193-205.
  • [2] Darwall-Smith, History of University College begins refreshingly with the perversion of itsfounder William of Durham’s original bequest (1—17).
  • [3] Tuilier, Histoire de l’Universite de Paris, i. 119—21 stresses the ambiguous purpose of theSorbonne at its origins.
  • [4] See Frans van Liere, ‘The Study of Canon Law and the Eclipse of the Lincoln Schools, 1175—1225’, History of Universities 18.1 (2003), 1—13; H. G. Richardson, ‘The Schools of Northamptonin the Twelfth Century’, EHR 56 (1941), 595—605; C. H. Lawrence, ‘The University in State andChurch’, in History of the University of Oxford, i. 97—150 at 127—32. Irrespective of the precise timingof the decline of these schools, founders’ provisions for relocation indicates their uncertainty about thestability of study where they were establishing colleges.
  • [5] Darwall-Smith, History of University College, 13, 12. It is not evident how clear William ofDurham’s ‘original’ ‘collegiate endowment’ was (12). The 1280/1 inquiry into its mishandling doesnot offer strong proof for its coherence. It could be argued that the presence of a founder or closefamily member was a key (see Merton, Balliol, the Sorbonne). Maddicott stresses the personal involvement of Walter Stapeldon and his family in Stapeldon Hall (Exeter College): Founders and Fellowship,31, 45-6, 48-9.
 
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