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  • Communities of Learning: Networks and the Shaping of Intellectual Identity in Europe, 1100-1500 ed. by Constant J. Mews and John N. Crossley
  • John D'Alton
Mews, Constant J. and John N. Crossley, eds, Communities of Learning: Networks and the Shaping of Intellectual Identity in Europe, 1100-1500 (Europa Sacra, 9), Turnhout, Brepols, 2011; hardback; pp. viii, 368; 1 b/w illustration, 1 b/w line art; R.R.P. €80.00; ISBN 9782503532332.

This volume takes its starting point as the observation that all learning happens within some communal network of intellectual exchange. It features fifteen articles that explore various aspects of schooling, the transmission of ideas, and book culture in twelfth- to seventeenth- century Europe, covering many perspectives and contexts, such as interfaith dialogue in twelfth-century Toledo, Greek-Latin interaction at the Council of Florence, and the exchanges between Avicenna and Gundissalinus and fifteenth-century German abbesses. The Introduction establishes a clear theoretical framework from which to interpret the various contributions, most of which were originally papers given at a conference at Monash University.

The first three chapters explore various interrelationships and translation efforts among Muslims, Jews, and Christians in twelfth-century Spain, and demonstrate just how rich the intellectual interaction was among scholars, poets, and theologians. Charles Burnett's contribution shows evidence for an enthusiastic interchange of religious knowledge, and for Christian appropriation of specific Greek and Muslim texts of science and philosophy including works on medicine, astrology, geometry, and the like. Alexander Fidora continues this theme by discussing the joint translation of De anima completed by the Jew Abraham Ibn Daud and the Christian Gundissalinus. Fidora shows how the development of a common philosophical approach allowed for significant studies in comparative religion, and for the peaceful evaluation of religions based on philosophical reasoning. Amos Bertolacci [End Page 283] then discusses the influence of Avicenna on later Christian philosophy and theology.

Letters form an important genre that clarify relationships and expose world-views. Cary Nederman's creative contribution shows how, in his writings to his close friends, John of Salisbury exemplifies his Ciceronian theory of the virtuous friend. Nederman also explains how John's correspondence may be considered as a disembodied learning network and evidence for a virtual learning community. Constant Mews charts the development of the University of Paris and various aspects of its diversity such as the system of nation-based colleges and the differing evaluations of Averroes and Aristotle. He presents convincing evidence for the multi-vocal nature of the university that corrects the simplified notion of a unified academic authority.

Two contributions focus on the work of Johannes De Grocheio and his creative approach to music theory. John Crossley and Carol Williams discuss the many influences on Grocheio, and the expectations he had of his students' prior knowledge. This tells us much about medieval learning, and is an excellent pair to the contribution by Catherine Jeffreys that analyses the work of Grocheio, Guy of St Denis, and Peter of Auvergne. Jeffreys discerns connections and discontinuities and overturns current thinking by demonstrating that much of the creativity in music theory occurred outside the Paris Faculty of Arts.

Earl Richards contrasts the development of Marian devotion in France and Spain, in particular the significance of vernacular influences such as anti-Semitism and ribald humour. His analysis shows clearly that ecclesiastical and vernacular authors were in dialogue, and he contributes to further breaking down the common notion of a medieval, isolated, elite culture.

Aristotelian language and thought became central to medieval culture, and Mary Sullivan examines how Ptolemy of Lucca and Dante used Aristotle's political language but for quite different purposes. Both cite the Greek philosopher frequently in developing their political visions, and Sullivan's analysis shows that Aristotelian language provided a shared vocabulary even among those who disagreed.

Karen Green's article on Christine De Pizan and Julie Hotchin's on German abbesses both indicate that some women were not as intellectually isolated as previously thought. Both authors trace the networks of relationships and intellectual influences, including the sources of their libraries, which surrounded their subjects. The work by Hotchins is especially extensive and expands our knowledge of convent educational practices...


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