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Commonplace Learning: Ramism and Its German Ramifications 1543-1630.

Howard Hotson. Commonplace Learning: Ramism and Its German Ramifications 1543-1630.

Oxford-Warburg Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. xvi + 334 pp. index. illus. tbls. map. bibl. [pounds sterling]80. ISBN: 978-0-19-817430-1.

This volume is the first major study of Ramism since Walter Ong's Ramus: Method and the Decay of Dialogue appeared in 1958, and it serves as a significant sequel to Hotson's earlier study of philosophy and method, Johann Heinrich Alsted, 1588-1638: Between Renaissance, Reformation, and Universal Reform (2000). The range of the study is from the beginnings of Ramism in German lands following the middle of the sixteenth century to the development of Ramist and semi-Ramist textbooks in academies and universities from 1590 to 1613, concluding with a detailed examination of the "post-Ramist eclecticism" of Alsted's Encyclopedia.

Hotson begins with comment on the line of Ramist scholarship, beginning with Samuel Eliot Morrison and Perry Miller, that assigned Ramus a major role in pedagogy in Puritan England and New England, but expends little space in either developing the point or in tracing out later scholarship on Ramism in England and New England, although his apparatus indicates knowledge of the bibliography. He then notes what may be called the paradox of the earlier scholarship particularly evident in Ong's work, namely, its identification of Ramus and Ramism as pivotal to the intellectual and cultural development of an era coupled with its seeming inability to identify intellectually significant elements in Ramus's philosophy. He continues by pointing to the equally paradoxical datum of the massive concentration of printings and usage of Ramist works in Germany over and against the general lack of interest in Ramism in German scholarship of the early modern era--with the exception of the line of scholarship, first proposed by Moltmann, that there is "theoretical link between Ramism and Calvinism." Hotson quite effectively argues that this theory is "unproductive" of any useful historical result--omitting, unfortunately, reference to recent studies of covenantal thought that have also rejected Moltmann's theory as utterly incongruent with the documents.

The center of Hotson's study, the diffusion of Ramism and its adaptation in the Reformed academies and universities, offers significant examination of a series of German Reformed pedagogues and philosophers: most importantly, Otto Casmann, Clemens Timpler, Bartholomaus Keckermann, and Johann Heinrich Alsted. Here, in addition to providing detailed examination of the philosophical labors and the increasingly encyclopedic curricular focus of these writers, Hotson offers his approach to the importance of Ramus over against Ong's paradox, perhaps best evidenced in Keckermann's recognition of the importance of Ramus's attack on the use of Aristotle in the basic teaching of philosophy and Ramus's emphasis on a more practical and coherent organization of study, coupled with Keckermann's equally strong recognition that Ramus's reorganization of logic and removal of metaphysics from the philosophical curriculum were intellectually disastrous. In Keckermann's work, and even more so in Alsted's, the clarity and practicality of Ramist organizational models was conjoined in an eclectic semi-Ramism containing both Aristotelian philosophy and various elements of Renaissance method from Agricola and Melanchthon to Zabarella (and in Alsted's case, elements drawn from Ramon Lull's combinatorial logic).

Hotson convincingly argues that the real focus of Ramist success was in the pedagogical aspirations of smaller academies and universities, where newer pedagogies appealed to practical concerns--somewhat less convincingly that the key to this success was the relationship of a new and methodically clarified pedagogy to social and political forces that were pressing toward "the emancipation of the early modern mind from a deference to antiquity which was becoming oppressive" (294). The social, political, and emancipatory dimension appears here more an interesting concluding hypothesis than as a demonstrated conclusion.

The volume is a fine study of Ramism in German lands, and it does offer a sound argument for the popularity and impact of Ramus, namely, the impetus given by his methods to the efficient and practical organization of pedagogy in general and to the creation of architectonic models for understanding the encyclopedia of academic disciplines. A point of criticism to be raised here is that this sense of Ramism as a clear organizational and architectonic tool is not exactly new, but is quite characteristic of the conclusions of historians who have examined the impact of Ramism in England and on Reformed theology in the early orthodox era--noting among other things the connection between Ramism and a theological emphasis on praxis. What is new is that Hotson applies this understanding of Ramus's influence to the German academic scene and works it through the broader pedagogical and curricular concerns of the Continental enycylopedist movement as evidenced in Keckermann and Alsted. And here the detail and precision of his work is consistently evident.


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Author:Muller, Richard A.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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