In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Schooling and Literacy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Humanist Pedagogues
  • Latin Elementary Texts
  • Latin Letter-Writing Manuals
  • Vernacular Literature and Arithmetic Schools in Northern Europe
  • The Education of Girls and Women
  • England and Scotland
  • France
  • German Lands
  • The Piarists of the Pious Schools
  • Catechism Schools
  • Seminary Education

Renaissance and Reformation Schooling and Literacy
Paul Grendler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0005


The study of schooling, defined as preuniversity education, in the Renaissance and Reformation era is old and new. Historians have long been aware of the high value that Renaissance pedagogical theorists, political leaders, and clergymen placed on educating the young properly. From the late 19th century onward, local historians have produced valuable monographs on the schools in their own cities, towns, and villages, often without connecting their research to a larger context. Historians also analyzed humanistic pedagogical treatises and assumed that students acquired rhetorical skills and moral wisdom by reading the classics. Protestant theologians and Catholic religious orders believed that students learned Christian truth in the schools that they organized, and historians generally took them at their word. Only in the past few decades have historians made a determined effort to find out what really happened. They have asked practical questions as, what kinds of schools existed? How many boys and girls attended them? What did they learn? Such questions and answers have animated, broadened, and renewed the study of schooling. At present most historiography focuses on two areas. The first is institutional research: that is, studying the organization of schooling. What kinds of schools did state, town, religious order, family, or private teacher establish, and who attended them? When enrollment figures and census information is available, scholars can make estimates about the literacy of the population and formulate hypotheses about the educational levels of society. The other focus of research is the content of schooling: What did teachers teach and students learn? This involves analysis of the textbooks and much else. Of course, institutional and intellectual investigations are two halves of a whole and should not be separated. What follows is a select bibliography, most of it recent, on schooling and literacy in the Renaissance and Reformation era, defined as beginning in Italy about 1350, and in northern Europe about 1450, and lasting to about 1648.

General Overviews

A handful of old and new studies survey research and generalize about education across Europe. Grendler 1990 summarizes recent trends, while Hexter 1961 and Stone 1964 argue that the Renaissance and Reformation period saw a great expansion of education and revolutionary change. Woodward 1967 endorses this view.

  • Grendler, Paul F., ed. “Education in the Renaissance and Reformation.” Renaissance Quarterly 43 (1990): 774–824.

    Articles by four scholars summarize recent research and what needs to be done. Bibliography included.

  • Hexter, J. H. “The Education of the Aristocracy in the Renaissance.” In Reappraisals in History: New Views on History and Society in Early Modern Europe. Edited by J. H. Hexter, 45–70. New York: Harper, 1961.

    Using the English and French aristocracy as examples, Hexter argues that nobles were more educated than their medieval counterparts and that their purpose was to serve the commonwealth.

  • Stone, Lawrence. “The Educational Revolution in England, 1560–1640.” Past and Present 28 (July 1964): 41–80.

    DOI: 10.1093/past/28.1.41

    Building on Hexter 1961, Stone argues that a revolutionary expansion of education in both preuniversity and university education occurred. Although the study concentrates on England, the author suggests a European revolution.

  • Woodward, William H. Studies in Education during the Age of the Renaissance, 1400–1600. New York: Columbia University Teachers College Press, 1967.

    Short studies of important humanist educators across Europe. Stone emphasizes that the Renaissance saw revolutionary changes in education. Originally published in 1906.

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