Friday, November 19, 2010

A word on universities

I was going to write a post on the etymology of the word University, but it turned out not to be what I thought!. Somehow I thought that the word was related to the unity of knowledge, and I could rant about that should be the true focus and purpose of a university. However, Word of the day says it really had more to do with a legal and administrative unity:
both studium and universitas were Latin and so Oxford’s transition to university status, which happened in 1231 didn’t show up as an English word right away. Even when it gained the Latin label universitas the word didn’t mean specifically that Oxford was a place of higher learning, instead universitas meant that it was incorporated.
Literally it meant “turned into one.” 


  1. John Henry Newman (continuing the Oxford theme!) seems to have been disappointed to find the very same thing. See Note 1 in the third paragraph on this page (from his Idea of a University):

    Still, you might enjoy reading Peter Erb's analysis of Newman's Idea; it's linked from this page:

  2. I'd be suspicious of the 1231 date. We reckon it earlier than that :)

    There's a nice echo of this notion to this day in the degree ceremony, when the Vice-Chancellor admits candidates to degrees "auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis" - in the name of the whole university.