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21.08.32 Long et al., Horizontal Learning in the High Middle Ages

21.08.32 Long et al., Horizontal Learning in the High Middle Ages

This excellent volume arises from a 2016 conference on "Horizontal Learning within High Medieval Religious Communities," held at the Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Science and Arts in Brussels. It contains an Introduction, ten substantive chapters, and a final chapter called "Concluding Observations." It is also served by an Index and Bibliography.

As the Introduction by Steven Vanderputten and Micol Long observes, the aim of this collection is "to function as an incentive for further enquiries into various dimensions and aspects of horizontal learning" (14). Horizontal learning, it is hoped, will "broaden and nuance our understanding of how learning took place in the Middle Ages, calling attention to the need to take into account not only master/disciple interactions, but also the learning exchanges that took place between peers, as well as the potential for reciprocity inherent to any intellectual interaction" (14-15). With its focus on high medieval religious communities, the volume aims to "offer a contribution to both the field of medieval religious history and the ongoing debate on the use of the notion of community in medieval studies and beyond" (15).

Horizontal learning may be a term unfamiliar to readers, and the introduction helpfully explains the term. Rather than taking "a top-down perspective on the learning processes," which has characterised the majority of studies on medieval learning, "where the transmission of knowledge is considered a one-directional transfer to one or several disciples," the Introduction argues that much medieval learning was transmitted and acquired by means of "'horizontal' interactions, to which traditional categories such as 'teachers' and 'disciples' do not necessarily apply" (10). By horizontal learning, Vanderputten and Long acknowledge their indebtedness to sociological and anthropological theories, according to which learning "can be approached as a social process that changes the attitudes, knowledge, and skills of those who participate in it" (10). According to the Introduction, the volume takes two related approaches to horizontal learning: the first as "a process of socialization, during which members of a community co-constructed knowledge by interacting with and influencing each other, creating a shared repertoire of practices, knowledge, and beliefs" (10-11); the second is at the individual level, observing "exchanges of knowledge...between two people or within a small group" (11). Each of these is connected to historiographical tendencies, the first to "the personal and often affective quality of interpersonal relationships between people engaged in learning exchanges," exemplified in the work of Stephen Jaeger and the recent scholarship on the "history of emotions," and the second to "non-literate ways of communicating and learning in medieval culture," such as Carolyn Walker Bynum's work on teaching by example (11).

With the notion of horizontal learning thus explained, the Introduction provides a justification for the volume's focus on religious communities and the "high" Middle Ages. Indeed, one may ask why other contexts, such as teaching in the universities in studies such as law and theology, in both the early and later medieval period, or learning in secular contexts, are not part of this study? The authors of the Introduction concede this point, noting that "until the presence and spread of horizontal learning in the Early and Late Middle Ages has been studied, no conclusion on the peculiar character of horizontal learning in the High Middle Ages can be drawn" (12). The book's privileging of the "long twelfth century" and its religious communities draws on now-familiar tropes such as the spread of literacy and preservation of written records that characterise this period and the first appearance of treatises on monastic formation, as well as the "renewed attention to the self" (12). Nevertheless, the "Concluding Comments" to the book, as I advert to below, takes up these issues in more robust fashion.

The ten contributions to the volume are given an outline in the Introduction. There is no apparent rationale to the ordering of the chapters, however, as they--characteristically of a collection of this nature--cover diffuse and wide-ranging themes, subjects, and approaches. This is both a strength and a weakness. Yet, helpfully for the reader, the "Concluding Observations" by Sita Steckel impose a coherence to the contributions that might otherwise be lacking. Her observations provide a useful framework by which to outline the chapters for the purposes of this review, as she divides them into three classifications (236).

The first classification is horizontal relationships among individuals within religious communities that can be considered "peers." Within this theme, Micol Long's chapter deals with the concepts of co-discipleship (condiscipulus)and friendship within religious communities in eleventh- and twelfth-century sources. Long points to examples of practical co-operation between equivalently-ranked religious, the concept of non patrem sed parem (61). Long situates the medieval monastic world as one in which horizontal learning took place as an exchange of knowledge between peers, in which key aspects were "the equality of the parties involved and the reciprocity of the exchange" (47). This is in contrast to the prevailing view of the monastic Rule that stressed the need for obedience, and therefore a vertical, one-way transmission of knowledge. Long also locates instances of such horizontal learning in non-monastic sources, including members of the secular clergy and canons.

Cédric Giraud's contribution analyses spiritual formation, highlighting the importance of equality and friendship in the twelfth century, focusing on Pseudo-Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of St Victor, and Aelred of Rievaulx. Giraud points to "the special place" that the twelfth century occupies due to the appearance of a corpus of spiritual texts by these three authors for training novices in "the interior life," which attest to a horizontal learning pattern (67). The title for Giraud"s chapter comes from a passage in Aelred's De spiritali amicitia that illustrates horizontality by exhorting monks to pursue spiritual friendship so "that the greatest person lower himself and that the lowest rise that equality can be established (ut fiat aequalitas)" (77, n 42).

Nicholangelo D'Acunto examines the monastery of Saint Gall (situated in modern day Switzerland) and its chronicle, known as the Casus Sancti Galli. Taking case studies from the eleventh and ninth centuries, D'Acunto uncovers a "double dimension" (208). One is a vertical mode by which an elite group of aristocrat-monks perpetuated and legitimized the hegemony of their leadership group and supplied "a clear prescriptive and pedagogical function" (209) by modelling behavioural and value-systems to the monks. Second is the training provided by this monastic elite to its own members, which was in part vertical in respect to "cultural competences, such as mastery of Latin and the ability to compose poems and letters according to the hereditary canon of classical tradition," but also horizontal" by grooming select members, "through an informal leadership training process," to assume the roles of governance of the abbey (211). As an example of the latter, D'Acunto refers to the "three senators of our republic" (nostre reipublice senatores), Notker II, Tuotilo, and Rapert, engaging in their own exclusive collationes, which became known as sometimes illegitimate conventicula, "autonomous cells of personal solidarity" (213).

The second classification that Steckel refers to is horizontal relationships conducted in "informal settings...where no clear hierarchy could be established" (236). This section includes C. Stephen Jaeger's study on Hermann of Reichenau's didactic poem on the theme of Contemptus mundi, composed 1044-1046, which contains two extant parts. The first part is a prelude, while the second focuses on sermonizing, and the seven principles vices. The first part, which Jaeger describes as "one of the strangest works of original genius...from the Middle Ages" (169), opens up implications for student-teacher interaction, male-female pedagogic relations, and horizontal learning; the second's discourse on morality conforms with vertical modes of learning. The prelude is an attempt to deal with the dilemma posed by the circumstances of twelfth-century monastic culture in which the Rule of Saint Benedict enjoined that men and women live separately yet men teach women. Jaeger acknowledges the work of Hannah William's 2006 PhD dissertation in decoding this remarkable text, of which he concludes that the prelude, an "unusual comedy-drama of alienation and reconciliation, of offense given and offense returned, ending in docility and love, results from Hermann's double obligation: to maintain love and friendship with his students on the one hand; and to castigate female desire and sexuality with powerful rhetoric on the other" (182).

Babette Hellemans's chapter examines Heloise of Argenteuil's correspondence with Abelard, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Peter the Venerable. It takes an "anthropological approach" to understanding horizontal learning that is "marked by the spatial setting of medieval knowledge exchange to artefacts representing them: letters" (186). The "lived experience of monks and nuns," Hellemans observes, was "concentrated on the nexus where horizontal and vertical learning collide: on the one hand, they followed a strict Rule of obedience; on the other hand, they were people who created an entirely new system of knowledge" (186). In respect of the latter, Hellemans notes that letters represented "a flexible medium for knowledge exchange. This patchwork structure is what I consider 'horizontal knowledge,' by which I intend to stress the suppleness in the communication between men and women" (187). This chapter engages with a number of theoretical approaches to this "utopic epistolary culture," from Paul Zumthor's "vocality" (187), to Roland Barthes's "grain of the voice" (190), to the notion of the Ovidian myth of Echo as a means of "listen[ing] to the text" and its "voice" (192) in the semiotics of Walter Benjamin, to Simone de Beauvoir's insights into "Heloise's silence as a hermeneutical question" (197), to Raymond Williams's reading of the "mimetic knowledge" that is reconstructed (200) in the letters.

The third approach outlined by Steckel is horizontal learning within community settings "into which existing hierarchies were pushed into the background" (236). Tjamke Snijders's chapter is an analysis of the conceptual history of the term "community" in medieval studies. In it she opposes the "traditional" approach to community, which was centred on geographical boundaries, consensus, and a common denominator characterizing the community. In its place, she posits a preferred concept of a "community of practice," which defines a community as a practice-based social group on shared performance of a repertoire that is in constant flux between consensus and conflict.

Jay Diehl examines two manuscripts produced in the scriptoria of two separate Benedictine communities in the southern Low countries in the first half of the twelfth century. These manuscripts contained a number of texts on ethics, including treatises by St Augustine of Hippo on lying and deceit. With a close analysis of the context leading up to their production and the contents of the copied texts within them, Diehl convincingly makes the case that they represented horizontal learning of a different kind. "The written texts about lying...operated as surrogate teachers of ethics in the wake of a breakdown of a culture of living exemplars" (107). Diehl argues that an understanding of the circumstances of the production of these manuscripts "represent something of a transition from a culture of learning based on living models, in which some individuals were clear authorities, to one based on disembodied texts, which flattened out the ethical hierarchy of the community" (108). Here "the written texts were designed to do the pedagogic work that no member of the community was able to do" (108).

Marc Saurette continues the theme of deceptive speech in works by, about, and for, Peter the Venerable and his community at Cluny in the twelfth century. Saurette focuses on Peter's Book of Miracles and one vision-story from that collection on the Devil's visit to Cluny, explaining its didactic function as preserving "in text what an abbot of Cluny had told in person" (132) on the merits of disciplinary silence and "useful speech" (132). This medium of narrative story-telling imparts its message to fellow Cluniac monks, a horizontal audience, not just by the contents of the text and its narration, but by the implication of space and location in the cloister, Saurette argues.

Karl Patrick Kinsella's chapter, "Teaching through Architecture: Honorius Augustodunensis and the Medieval Church," takes the application of horizontal learning to the built spaces of religious communities in the twelfth century even further. Kinsella explores two types of texts by Honorius: one the one hand his liturgical commentary, the Gemma animae, and, on the other, two sermon collections (Speculum ecclesiae and Sacramentarium). Both types "drew attention to the church's structural framework (e.g., columns, windows, pavements, etc.) and created a set of potential meanings for many parts to help students learn history through the liturgy" (141-142). While the second type took a stricter and more didactic, and therefore, "vertical," approach, the second was flexible and adaptable, that is to say horizontal. Indeed, Kinsella argues, the Gemma animae's "representation of architecture aligns well with contemporary ideas of architecture's affective power in monastic praxis" (142). Kinsella concludes that the Gemma animae "encouraged an interaction between the reader or viewer and the fabric of the monastic church, an interaction that was very different to vertically-oriented pedagogical teaching strategies, as in sermons" (160); this "flexible" approach was highly successful in influencing a number of later works that followed it.

Neslihan Şenocak shifts the focus from monasteries to pastoral clerical communities. Clerical communities in Italy from the seventh century onwards were distinct from those in other parts of medieval Western Europe. All Italian dioceses were sub-divided into smaller administrative districts containing a head church called a pieve (Latin plebs); these pievi were largely responsible for the care of souls and were served by multiple clergy, unlike the model in the rest of Europe whereby parish churches were serviced by a single priest. This clerical community attached to the pievi lived a communal life in "canonries," called canonicas plebanales (219), which setting provided the opportunity for horizontal, peer-based learning by three principal means: daily meetings with the choirmaster for training in chanting; Church ritual, specifically the liturgy and predominantly the Divine Office; and the daily chapter meetings. Of these, the liturgy provided the most fecund source for education, since it enabled clergy from the pievi to participate in a number of pastoral services, such as exorcism, baptism, and last rites (unlike monks) and because the liturgical books or ordinal provided "a solid and well-rounded theological education" (229). In this way, these Italian canonries attached to the pievi utilized horizontal learning as an effective means of training clergy in the absence of seminaries or ad hoc schools.

Sita Steckel's concluding chapter goes further than merely summarising and synthesising the chapters that precede it: it offers a coherent framework for the contributions, as noted above. Additionally, and perhaps uniquely for a book of this kind, it provides suggestions for future directions in research on horizontal learning that are no mere idle musings, but well-constructed conceptions based on Steckel's considerable research track record in the field of religious communities in the high Middle Ages and by reference to Kuhnian paradigms of discovery in research.

This book is recommended for the specialist, rather than the general reader. Its contributions provide nuance and variety in their approach and coverage, aspects that will both inspire and inform the curious reader.