M. Schuh: Aneignungen des Humanismus an der Universität Ingolstadt

Aneignungen des Humanismus. Institutionelle und individuelle Praktiken an der Universität Ingolstadt im 15. Jahrhundert

Schuh, Maximilian
Education and Society in the Middle Ages and Renaissance 47
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“Aneignungen des Humanismus” is a detailed study of the place of humanism at the University of Ingolstadt in the final three decades of the fifteenth century. As such it constitutes a contribution – and a significant one – to two important and related fields of study: the history of universities and education, and the diffusion of Renaissance humanism throughout Europe. Schuh trains his aim at an admittedly small target – a few decades at a single, secondary German university – but he strikes with precision. His two most important achievements are to demythologize the great-man explanation of humanism’s spread to Ingolstadt, and in the same blow to show that humanism found a home there in a broad community rather than in an elite circle. In short, he demonstrates that the new learning was not, as has heretofore been thought, introduced at a stroke by Konrad Celtis in 1492; rather it corresponded to the education and interests of faculty as well as to the needs of students. Humanism was rooted in the institution from the latter’s opening in 1472 and grew there organically. When Celtis arrived twenty years later, he was met not with a bastion of scholasticism but an established tradition of humanist teaching, a willing student body, and a library whose collection of classical texts was better than could be found in most other universities in the Empire.

In a 1962 article, Paul Oskar Kristeller laid the foundation for decades of study on “The European Diffusion of Italian Humanism”, focusing on the movement of key individuals and writings and on educational reorganization.[1] Subsequent scholarship, while tending to substantiate Kristeller’s view, has also modified it by putting even greater emphasis than he did on the way humanism was actively adapted rather than passively adopted in various national contexts.[2] Schuh falls into this tradition, but with one notable difference: he discounts the importance of charismatic individuals and institutional reform, taking instead a bottom-up approach. Similar to the way Brian Maxson has reevaluated the place, valence, and uses of humanism in Renaissance Florence[3], Schuh investigates the larger community of those who participated in humanism in Ingolstadt. He focuses especially on the lowly masters of the arts faculty, lecturers on poetics, and their students, explaining what stake each had in humanism and how they submitted to its charms while simultaneously bending it to their needs.

Hence the title “Aneignungen des Humanismus”, that is ‘adaptations’ or ‘appropriations’ of humanism. As Schuh explains, “Aneignung is understood as both the appropriation of intellectual or material goods and the individual ways that forms of knowledge, abilities, and practices are used. Italian models were not simply adopted in Ingolstadt; instead teachers and students took up individual elements, put them into traditional educational contexts, and thereby embedded them in new horizons of meaning” (p. 32). Inspired especially by Michel de Certeau’s “The Practice of Everyday Life”[4], Schuh pays close attention to the “tactics” (p. 32) used by individual actors in their encounters with and appropriation of humanist curricular subjects, social habitus, aesthetic ideals, and approaches to knowledge and teaching. To reconstruct these tactics he delves deeply into unplumbed archival and other manuscript sources as well as incunabula, including official university acta, textbooks, lecture notes, library catalogues, and codices containing classical and humanistic works along with the marginalia preserved on their pages.

Schuh begins the body of his study (chapter two) by exploring the individuals who brought humanism to Ingolstadt and the institutional contexts in which they operated. The focus is initially put on the careers of a few humanistically inclined arts masters. As their cases show, humanism arrived in Ingolstadt not directly from Italy nor via recognized humanist stars but rather with humble German masters who had developed an affinity for the studia humanitatis during grammar-school and university training elsewhere in the Empire. Similarly enlightening is Schuh’s investigation of the other locus for humanistic teaching: lectures on poetics. This subject was not standard in the medieval studium generale but was introduced shortly after the university opened. Significantly, the first two individuals to teach the subject owed their prestige not to this lectureship or their other humanistic interests but to their degrees in medicine and law, respectively. The lectures themselves, although appreciated by students, offered only poor remuneration. Thus the introduction of poetics is further proof that humanism enjoyed a place in Ingolstadt before Celtis’ arrival, albeit one that was yet novel and ignoble.

Nevertheless that place was important – both to the masters and especially to their students. As Schuh demonstrates in chapter three, which describes the institutional contexts in which humanism thrived in Ingolstadt (namely in the curriculum and the library of the arts faculty), the expansion of humanistic teaching was driven less by supply than by demand. For although rhetoric and grammar were subjects of no great prestige, they served the needs of students. By the late fifteenth century, most university students did not seek higher degrees but useful, remunerative skills. Thus courses on epistolography, while technically at the bottom of the curricular hierarchy, were among the most expensive and the most popular. Schuh concludes that Ingolstadt expanded its humanist curricular offerings not according to any grand design but rather ad hoc to meet demand. Furthermore, as humanistic subjects gained a permanent and larger official place in the university, they constituted the daily fare of “the student ‘masses’ […]; rather than being discussed solely in elite humanist circles, humanist rhetoric and grammar belonged to the basic training offered by the university – a training beyond which most students did not continue” (p. 121). Thus although it would be wrong to discount the enduring importance of medieval traditions in Ingolstadt, much less to think of the university as undergoing a wholesale humanistic restructuring, it is nevertheless clear that the studia humanitatis became broadly entrenched there in the last three decades of the fifteenth century – and not as a result of conscious reform. Schuh reinforces his argument for the grass-roots success of humanism in Ingolstadt in chapter four, where he explores the various ways students and masters encountered, adapted, and utilized the texts and tools of humanism by investigating the books they wrote, read, studied, owned, and annotated.

Schuh’s work is clearly significant for the way we understand the spread of humanism to northern European universities generally. Unfortunately, he does not follow up on the broader implications of his own findings. If humanism was not imported wholesale to Ingolstadt by Konrad Celtis but rather grew organically out of the interests of masters and the needs of students – and thus if humanism owed its flourishing at least partially to market considerations – then what role did universities actually play in the diffusion of humanism over the Alps? What contribution was made by charismatic individuals like Celtis or Melanchthon? What is the true import of official curricular reforms? And just how deeply did the tools of humanism penetrate chanceries and schools – the ostensible markets – across the Empire in the second half of the fifteenth century? Sadly, Schuh does not speculate about these important questions, and thus “Aneignungen des Humanismus” remains a sound and informative book, but one caught within the confines that bind all but the very best micro-studies.

[1] Paul Oskar Kristeller, The European Diffusion of Italian Humanism, in: Italica 39/1 (1962), pp. 1–20. Reprinted in: Paul Oskar Kristeller, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, vol. II., Rome 1985, pp. 147–165.
[2] Albert Jr. Rabil (ed.), Renaissance Humanism. Foundations, Forms, and Legacy, vol. 2: Humanism beyond Italy, Philadelphia 1988; Roy Porter / Mikuláš Teich (eds.), The Renaissance in National Context, Cambridge 1992; Johannes Helmrath / Ulrich Muhlack / Gerrit Walther (eds.), Diffusion des Humanismus. Studien zur nationalen Geschichtsschreibung europäischer Humanisten, Göttingen 2002; Thomas Maissen / Gerrit Walther (eds.), Funktionen des Humanismus. Studien zum Nutzen des Neuen in der humanistischen Kultur, Göttingen 2006.
[3] Brian Jeffrey Maxsons, The Humanist World of Renaissance Florence, Cambridge 2014.
[4] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley 1984. Original French edition = Arts de faire, in: L’invention du quotidien, Paris 1980. Schuh cites the German translation by Ronald Voullié, Kunst des Handelns, Berlin 1988.