Learned Diversity: Late Medieval and Early 16th-Century Cracow

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:30 AM
Congressional Room B (Omni Shoreham)
Paul Knoll, University of Southern California
Within the spectrum of racial, ethnic, and national complexity in the late medieval and early modern Polish-Lithuanian state, the University of Cracow (founded 1364, refounded 1400) represented an institutional center in which questions of diversity were represented and debated. This paper seeks to examine the range of these issues as a way of contributing to the larger picture of the way this state represented an important version of how a composite state could cohere and how its experience might help to understand similar entities in the same period and later. Unlike other universities in late medieval and pre-Reformation Europe, the University of Cracow was remarkably diverse in terms of ethnic and national groups. Although students from the regnum Poloniae were the single largest group, collectively they were often a minority among matriculants from other national and ethnic origins. This diversity had social effects in forming national identities—often seen in both official and unofficial university documents. Moreover, among the learned community of this period, questions of religious and ethnic diversity were often at the heart of debates and treatises written by professors and graduates. They were by no means constrained by the limits of academic organization, but were able to engage larger social, political, and religious problems. For example, whether pagans had rights; whether heretics could be legitimately included as political and military allies; whether those who were Orthodox Christians were equal partners within the polity: these were only some of the issues treated by scholars. In analyzing the range of these discussions, this paper looks particularly at the work of those whose views of the ideal ruler and of the ideal state represented an effort to create from diversity an identity that reflected a certain kind of unity.
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