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The Dominicans and the University of Oxford, 1221-1538

Cornelia Linde

This project explores the relationship between the Dominican Order and the University of Oxford, from the foundation of the convent in 1221 to its dissolution in 1538. It analyses the interactions of these two very different institutions, taking into account the underlying social structures, and exploring how, in light of ever-increasing legislation issued both by the Order and the University, the Dominicans were institutionally embedded into the university. The study will challenge the scholarly assumption that the Dominicans were highly integrated into the medieval universities. Instead, the friars did not, at least in the case of Oxford, proactively engage with and integrate in it, nor did the university pursue a closer collaboration. The Dominicans strove to remain independent actors, who in part acted within the structures of the university and reaped the benefits of an institutional affiliation, but their focus ultimately lay on the fulfillment of the order’s goals, for which its own educational concepts and regulations played a crucial role. This focus on the order’s goals inevitably caused them to come into conflict with the university in various aspects, such as with regard to recruitment and curricula, but also due to the clash of conflicting goals of training and education. The institutions’ relationship thus wedded two mismatched partners, which led to repeated and inevitable conflicts. Yet despite numerous quarrels, and even though each institution on its own instilled a strong sense of belonging and identity into its members, thereby creating fictive kinship, neither party withdrew from the voluntary connection.

The study also explores the claims towards Oxford as an educational base by, on the one hand, the Dominican Order as a whole and, on the other hand, the English Province, highlighting a major source of intra-institutional conflict.

Analyses of several instances in which the Dominicans sought to resolve external conflicts to their advantage by means of staging them within the context of the university will illustrate the social and political importance of the university for not just the Order of Friars Preachers but for the wider medieval world.

Comparative approaches – for instance with regard to developments at Paris and Cambridge, as well as through comparisons with the Franciscan Order – will aid in tracing the importance and role of the Friars Preachers at the University of Oxford in the Middle Ages. The project as a whole is of relevance to a number of fields of research. Most importantly, the study will offer new insights into the institutional history of both the Dominican Order and the University of Oxford. At the same time, it will also produce results that will be apply to the history of all mendicant orders in the Middle Ages, as well as the history of education more broadly.