Choice and excellence

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A 12th-century manuscript containing Gariopontus of Salerno’s work on ailments and diseases. Gariopontus contributed to the development of the School of Salerno, the centre of medical studies; Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 177

For the wine lover in ancient times, there was Campania and the neighbouring regions in Italy. For the lover of small, efficient and short-lived government, there was Athens and the neighbouring states.

For the best education in the early Middle Ages, there were few places available. After the year 1000, there were more centres of excellence, but a good education still came in small supply.

There is a history of the division of learning just like there is one of the division of labour.

By the 12th century, the educational landscape was changing dramatically in the West. Classical letters, medicine, theology, science, were beginning to claim centres of their own. Salerno was to medicine what Orléans was to classical studies, and Paris was to theology what Spanish towns were to science. For the ultimate education in a given discipline, towns were becoming known as centres of excellence. Mobility improved as students realised that studying far from home was possible and, for more and more of them, quite achievable.

Talent usually concentrates in areas high in resources and talent. Talent goes where talent already is, creating pockets of excellence when the energies can flow freely. In 13th-century Paris, they did. In Oxford in the 1200s, they did not, and enough talent migrated to Cambridge where there was enough to create another pocket of excellence, the University of Cambridge.

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