Scott Jenkins

Violenza insensata? Proteste studentesche a Oxford nel XIV secolo

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Traditional scholarship has viewed student violence in medieval Europe either as a rich vein to mine for colourful anecdotes, or as a phenomenon which defies easy analysis due to its apparently senseless nature. Some scholars have pointed to youth, gender, or alcohol consumption as probable causes. However, the acquisition and expression of both communal and individual identities by students has not been sufficiently examined. I propose to analyse the case of Oxford University students between 1200 and 1400 as a way to examine the relationship between student violence and student identity. When considered in this light it is clear that, far from being senseless, medieval student violence had specific meaning(s) to its actors. Such violence can be read as an expression of inter-community antagonisms, or as a direct challenge to authority. Particularly in the latter case, it is more accurate to portray these paroxysms of violence as «protest» rather than mindless brawls of a drunken mob. Oxford students did not always engage in random violence; they knew whom their targets were. In the pattern of victim selection, both as expressed in criminal cases and in narrative storytelling, we can see students' expressing their frustrations with, or attempting to subvert the authority of the mercantile class in the university town. We can also see inter-community tensions both as expressions of violence between the Nations (the student associations) but also as hostility between groups of students from the north of England and the Celtic Fringe. This article will be based on a study of university records, judicial sources like the Oxford Coroners' Rolls or the Court of the King's Bench, as well as poetry and prose written by or about students. This essay will rescue student violence from the accusation of being a senseless phenomenon which defies analysis and instead offer an analysis of the way the university community defined itself and related to the world around it.


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