Universities during the Enlightenment



In Europe the number of universities was constant during the 18th century. In Europe there were about 105 universities and colleges by the year 1700. In North America there were 44 universities among them were the newly founded Harvard and Yale. The number of students and universities remained the same during the enlightenment except for Britain, were the numbers increased during the enlightenment. The students were mostly men from wealthy families who were looking for a career with in medicine, law or the church.

The universities themselves were there to educate future physicians, lawyers and members of the clergy. Before the 18th century, science courses were taught almost exclusively through formal lectures.  In the first decades of the 18th century the structures of the courses were about to change, when physical demonstrations were added to the lectures. The experiments that took place ranged from swinging a bucket with water on the end of a rope demonstrating that the centrifugal force would keep the water in the bucket, to experiments using an air-pump.

During the French revolution, all colleges and universities in France were abolished and reformed in 1808 under the single institution of the Univerité imperiale. The Univerité divided the arts and sciences into separate faculties, something that had never happened before in Europe.

The French universities tended to serve a downplayed role in the development of science during the enlightenment. That role was dominated by academies as the French Academy of Sciences. The contribution of Britain was mixed. On the one hand the University of Cambridge began teaching Newtonianism but failed to become a central force behind the advancement of science. On the other end Scottish universities had strong medical faculties and became centres of scientific development.

While the number of universities did not dramatically increase during the enlightenment, new private and public institutions added to the provision of education. Most of the institutions educated in mathematics which made them popular for merchants, military and naval officers and engineers. Universities on the other hand stuck to the old ways and emphasized the classics, Greek and Latin.



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