7.6 Learning, Literature, and the Arts of the Middle Ages

By the 1100s, Europe was experiencing dynamic changes. No longer was everyone preoccupied with the daily struggle to survive. A more reliable food supply and the revival of trade and growth of towns were signs of increased prosperity.

Illustration of a man at a podium speaking to rows of students taking notes.

This Italian illustration from about the 1300s shows a lawyer lecturing his students in a medieval school.


  • Explain the emergence of universities and their importance to medieval life.
  • Understand how newly translated writings from the past and from other regions influenced medieval thought.
  • Describe the literature, architecture, and art of the High and Late Middle Ages.
  • Examine the lasting heritage of the Byzantine Empire.

Key Terms

  • scholasticism
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • vernacular
  • Dante Alighieri
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Gothic style
  • flying buttresses
  • illumination
  • Christine de Pisan
  • icon

The Rise of Medieval Universities

As economic and political conditions improved in the High Middle Ages, the need for education expanded. The Church wanted better-educated clergy. Royal rulers also needed literate men for their growing bureaucracies. By acquiring an education, the sons of wealthy townspeople might hope to qualify for high positions in the Church or with royal governments.

Early Universities

By the 1000s, schools had sprung up around the great cathedrals to train the clergy. Some of these cathedral schools evolved into the first universities. They were organized like guilds, with charters to protect the rights of members and set standards for training.

As early as the 900s, Salerno in Italy had a respected medical school. Bologna's university, set up in 1158, became famous for legal studies. Paris and Oxford founded universities in the later 1100s. In the next century, other cities rushed to organize universities. Students often traveled from one university to another to study different subjects.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments