Thursday 2 January 2014


In the dark ages before laptops and printing, students created their own “textbooks” by taking down everything the lecturer said. This required very slow talking on the part of the lecturer and meant that he couldn’t cover much material. The university therefore passed a law requiring lecturers to utter the words rapidly so that the mind of the hearer can take them in but the hand cannot keep up with them. Lecturers found in violation of this statute were deprived of their licence to teach for a year. Students who opposed the statute by shouting, hissing, making noise, and throwing stones were suspended for a year.

Fast-talking lecturers meant more business for the booksellers, who bought existing course notes and hired scribes to copy them. (Copyright and copy machines were still only a glint in the eyes of visionaries!)

Sometimes the booksellers got a little greedy and put obstacles in the way of students by buying too cheaply and selling too dearly and thinking up other frauds.

The university therefore passed a regulation requiring those who acted as intermediaries between buyers and sellers to put the price of the book and the name of the seller somewhere where it can be seen and to charge their commission to the buyer. They also passed regulations against price-gouging for paper and parchment needed to make duplicates.

Some students were too poor to buy textbooks. They rented copies for a term or a year. Booksellers were responsible for the accuracy of the copied text and were required to verify that the scribe's work was a true and correct copy. The University also required booksellers to swear an oath that they would not demand from students anything beyond a just and moderate rent for their books.
(Quotations are from L. Thorndike, University Records and Life in the Middle Ages).



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