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Christopher Carlsmith. A Renaissance Education: Schooling in Bergamo and the Venetian Republic, 1500-1650.

Christopher Carlsmith. A Renaissance Education: Schooling in Bergamo and the Venetian Republic, 1500-1650. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2010. Pp. 435.

Carlsmith's book addresses the kinds of schooling available to young men during the early modern age in Bergamo and its surrounding communities .. As with any contemporary family concerned with the expense and the quality of an undergraduate education, parents who lived during the Renaissance had similar concerns regarding their children's education: who taught, what was taught, and how students learned. In this thorough, well-researched book, Carlsmith guides the reader through one hundred and fifty years of educational practice and reform in Bergamo. In this part of the world, the years 1500-1650 represent a key period in history, one during which humanists introduced a new kind of pedagogy. After poring through case studies, letters, contracts, the minutes of meetings, and other institutional records in archives and libraries, Carlsmith concludes that "The wide array of schooling options in Bergamo and the unexpected cooperation between institutions force us to reconsider who taught what to whom and why" (291).

Close to Milan but under Venetian domination between 1428 and 1797, Bergamo had to strike a balance between the two powers, and it is a good example of a provincial city willing to experiment with several approaches to education. Furthermore, it suffered from an undeserved and distorted reputation as an illiterate town. To outsiders, its inhabitants spoke a guttural language, and it was the birthplace of the commedia dell'arte's character Arlecchino. Lastly, Bergamo's history of schooling is representative of trends and patterns reflected in nearby cities and in the Venetian republic for its broad-based support of education as a necessary component for participation in civic and religious life. Studying the aims and goals of education, the skills both parents and rulers wished to impart on their children or their subjects provides a window into the dominant values and concepts in a society.

Carlsmith's introductory chapter provides a historical overview of extant scholarship on his topic. He reviews, summarizes and refutes the body of work on scholarship on education, including the work of Eugenio Garin, Paul Grendler, Anthony Grafton, Lisa Jardine and Robert Black. He aims to break new ground by using a holistic rather than narrow approach to the history of education by examining several kinds of institutions that provided educational opportunities and provides meticulous details available through case studies and microhistories of these institutions. The book's chapters examine the development of schooling supported by the commune, lay confraternities, religious orders, the episcopate, and parents.

Around 500 the commune of Bergamo began to sponsor public instruction. The first chapter examines the city's efforts between 1482 and 1632 to instruct local youth at the pre-university level as it took a more active role by appointing notable humanists such as Giovanni Battista Pio and Giovita Ravizza, whose teaching careers are examined. Prior to this date, education was controlled by the nobility and the Church. The commune wanted to increase the number of literate bureaucrats, merchants and clergy and was willing to experiment with a wide variety of choices. Between 1525 and 1632 the Church regained its ascendancy and the city council played a weaker role as the commune's allegiance to political and economic forces changed. Carlsmith also examines the role of law schools from 1482 to 1650 in his first chapter.

Brotherhoods, companies, consortiums, and sodalities were all names given to voluntary associations of laymen who lived by certain rules and performed good works. "Misericordia: Schooling and the Confraternities" describes the role of the most important and wealthiest confraternity in Bergamo, the Misericordia Maggiore, in education. Other charitable organizations also founded schools, hired teachers and offered scholarships, subsidies, and other forms of economic support for education. Their level of support ranged from firewood and sacks of grain to multi-year scholarships.

The third chapter, "Catechismo: Schooling and the Catholic Church" examines the influence of the Council of Trent's (1545-1563) and the reformer Carlo Borromeo's influence on education. During this period, the Church sought to re-establish its dominance in education, casting a wide net to teach reading, writing and the rudiments of Christian faith. The Schools of Christian Doctrine were staffed by lay men and women. The diocesan seminary, on the other hand, provided an exclusive and rigorous orthodox education. Both institutions had to interact with the commune and had to contend with both Venetian and Milanese oversight. Bergamo's "split allegiance" to the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Milan would continue to influence its educational programs.

"Chiesa: Schooling with Jesuits and Somarchans" describes the roles of religious orders in education. The primary ministry of the Jesuits and the Somarchans was education, but the Jesuits were repeatedly rejected in the area until the eighteenth century. The Somarchans supervised orphanages and public schools. Ecclesiastical institutions did not limit themselves solely to religious education.

Chapter 5 examines home schooling practices, private tutoring, and the creation of a private, cooperative academy focused on providing a classical curriculum. Historically, tutors were hired by prince and patriarchs, and humanist scholars traveled from town to town. Few parents in Bergamo could afford private tutors, but going beyond existing institutions, elite parents who wanted a classical education for their children founded the Caspi Academy in 1547, which aimed to provide both a religious and secular education.

In the final chapter Carlsmith compares Bergamo's schooling with surrounding towns such as Brescia, Verona and Vicenza to show how "Bergamo was simultaneously unique and yet entwined with a larger movement to transform education" (25).

Case studies provide examples of methods of recruiting, hiring, and the expectations of the instructors, examples of contracts, teaching careers, and the introduction of new practices. In one student evaluation the instructor laments, "In the third class there are 5 boys who know nothing at all of grammar" (116). Borromeo's rules for seminarians are outlined in pages 169-170. Several illustrations, frescoes and woodcuts show education in action, reminding us that books were scarce and that lectures, oral communication, and memorization were still important components of the educational practices of the times.

RoseAnna Mueller, Columbia College Chicago
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Author:Mueller, RoseAnna
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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