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Die Prager Universitat im Mittelalter: The Charles University in the Middle Ages.

Frantisek Smahel. Die Prager Universitat im Mittelalter: The Charles University in the Middle Ages.

Education and Society in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance 28. Leiden: Brill, 2007. xii + 636 pp. index. tbls. bibl. $188. ISBN: 978-90-04-15488-9.

For the past two-and-a-half decades, Frantisek Smahel has been recognized as the preeminent scholar of the Hussites in fifteenth-century Bohemia. His magisterial four-volume treatment of that movement--termed by him and many other scholars "a revolution"--was published in Prague in 1993 (a three-volume German translation appeared in 2002). However, his dominance in this field has, to a degree, obscured his reputation as a historian of the early years of Prague University. As early as the 1960s he was already making significant contributions to this topic. Even after events in 1968, when Smahel was dismissed from the Academy of Sciences and reduced to driving a tram on the streets of Prague, he continued to produce important studies on the university, many of them bearing directly upon larger issues of the Hussites. (He is graciously appreciative in his forward to this book for the support and assistance he received in these years from colleagues in Czechoslovakia and Poland, as well as from Western scholars.) Only in 1980, when he was appointed to an academic position in the Museum of the Hussite Revolutionary Movement in Tabor, was he able to begin publishing again in his own country, and his work on the Hussites in subsequent years led to the magnum opus noted above. After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Smahel was appointed director of the Academy of Sciences Historical Institute. Since then he has picked up the strands of his research on university history, and the volume under review here brings together seventeen studies in German and four in English devoted to this field. It is particularly welcome, for many of these appeared in hard-to-find publications in East Central Europe during, or at least are derived from research done during, the Communist era: one item is previously unpublished, and a handful are translated from original Czech language publications.

Smahel has grouped the items included here around three closely-related themes. The first addresses aspects of the early history of Charles University, the institution founded in 1347-48 by Emperor Charles IV (also King of Bohemia). In it Smahel explores the heritage of the studium in the context of the national tradition, symbols, and vocabulary of the university, the prosopography of the medical faculty, some aspects of the relationship of the school to Hussitism, the controversial developments that led to the royal decree of Kutna Hora (Kuttenberg) in 1409 and the subsequent withdrawal of German students from Prague, and the career of humanists at the university. Some of these articles represent versions of larger studies originally published in the Czech language. The second theme focuses upon the faculty of liberal arts to about 1450, and includes treatments of personnel and statutes, representative lectures, book catalogues in the library of the oldest Prague collegium, and a look at Parisian relations with Prague. The articles devoted to the final theme focus on issues of philosophical realism at Prague, especially the problem of universals, the influence of Wycliffe upon both John Hus and Jerome of Prague, and listings of sources from Prague library collections relating to these matters.

These items represent a treasure trove of materials for university history, and not only for developments in Prague. Among the many contributions they make derive from Smahel's prosopographical approach to institutional and intellectual issues at the university, his attention to Jerome of Prague, who has been traditionally overshadowed by attention to Hus, his careful and detailed description of sources, and his important finding list of works that remain to be studied--especially those that bear on the nature of philosophical realism at the university in this period. Equally intriguing as suggestions for future scholarship are passing references to developments at Prague that extend beyond the chronological limits of the Hussite period narrowly defined. From these one can see the degree to which the university did not sink into intellectual decrepitude, but rather remained a vital and dynamic center of study and thought. Finally, it should be thankfully noted that in many instances Smahel has updated the bibliographical apparatus to his notes so that one can see what the course of scholarship has been since the preparation and publication of these impressive studies.


University of Southern California, Emeritus
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Author:Knoll, Paul W.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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