In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Universities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Student Mobility
  • French Universities
  • Universities in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark
  • Universities and the Protestant Reformation
  • Spanish Universities
  • Universities in England and Scotland
  • Universities in Eastern Europe
  • Comparative History of Universities
  • Faculties of Theology
  • Protestant Academies
  • Jesuit Universities
  • Scholarship and Teaching

Renaissance and Reformation Universities
Paul Grendler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0033


Princes and towns valued universities so highly that they founded more universities during the Renaissance than existed in the Middle Ages, resulting in more than twice as many European universities in 1600 as in 1400. This is because universities played vital roles. They educated the professional classes of lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and teachers. They taught the army of men who filled administrative positions in the expanding bureaucracies and chanceries of empires, kingdoms, smaller states, towns, the papacy, and dioceses. An extraordinary number of intellectual and religious leaders of the Renaissance period came from universities. And universities produced vast quantities of original learning. Scholars have been aware of the importance of universities since the Renaissance, as professors began writing histories of their own universities in the late 16th century. A steady stream of university histories has followed. Much earlier scholarship consisted of describing origins and compiling lists of professors and students, and this data is essential. Over time, and especially in the second half of the 20th century, scholars have become more skillful in analyzing universities as living institutions and fitting this knowledge into larger intellectual, political, religious, and social contexts. What follows is an introductory bibliography of Europe’s universities in the Renaissance and Reformation eras. The bibliography recognizes the importance of older studies, especially collections of documents, but emphasizes recent scholarship.

General Overviews

The only recent general history of European universities views universities over many centuries and does not see the Renaissance and Reformation era as a distinct period. But it does recognize what happened during these years. Volumes 1 and 2 of A History of the University in Europe (De Ridder-Symoens and Rüegg 1992, De Ridder-Symoens and Rüegg 1996) have much useful information on the structure of universities, the university as an institution, and its personnel. Frijhoff 1996 offers a valuable roadmap. Although focused on universities in the Middle Ages, Rashdall 1936 is still useful. Thorndike 1944 translates a selection of documents concerning universities. The two volumes of Julia, et al. 1986–1989 attempt to survey university students across Europe, while Stichweh 1991 argues that the state played a larger role in the lives of universities in the 16th century than they did in earlier times, a theme that appears in much scholarship.

  • De Ridder-Symoens, Hilde, and Rüegg, Walter, eds. A History of the University in Europe. Vol. 1, Universities in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    Fifteen chapters written by experts, all with select bibliographies. Rüegg’s “Epilogue: The Rise of Humanism” (pp. 442–68) on the impact of humanism on Renaissance universities is particularly important.

  • De Ridder-Symoens, Hilde, and Rüegg, Walter, eds. A History of the University in Europe. Vol. 2, Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500–1800). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    Fifteen chapters, all with select bibliographies, written by distinguished scholars. It is particularly good on northern European universities.

  • Frijhoff, Willem. “Patterns.” In A History of the University in Europe. Vol. 2, Universities in Early Modern Europe (1500–1800). Edited by Hilde De Ridder-Symoens and Walter Rüegg, 43–110. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    Frijhoff attempts the difficult task of defining the university and explaining the different kinds of universities. He offers a tentative list of universities and other institutions of higher learning, plus maps. Although the definitions and lists are sometimes questionable, the survey provides valuable orientation.

  • Julia, Dominique, Roger Chartier, and Jacques Revel, eds. Les Universités européennes du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle: histoire sociale des populations étudiantes. 2 vols. Paris: Editions de l’Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, 1986–1989.

    A collection of studies mostly in French, some in English. A rare attempt to survey student numbers, social rank, and mobility in universities across Europe from c. 1500 through the 18th century. Although the studies are uneven, most try to assess whether enrollments rose or declined, and they address other social history issues.

  • Rashdall, Hastings. The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages. 3 vols. Edited by F. M. Powicke and A. B. Emden. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936.

    First published in 1895, revised and updated by Powicke and Emden, and limited mostly to legal and institutional and legal history, this is still useful because it extends to 1500.

  • Stichweh, Rudolf. Der frühmoderne Staat und die europäische Universität: zur Interaktion von Politik und Erziehungssystem im Prozess ihrer Ausdifferenzierung, 16–18. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1991.

    A survey of the impact of the state on universities. Argues that civil authorities transformed medieval universities into territorial universities integrated into society.

  • Thorndike, Lynn. University Records and Life in the Middle Ages. New York: Columbia University Press, 1944.

    Consists of translated documents, many of them fascinating, from all over Europe. The documents sometimes provide insight into the lives of students and professors.

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