“The University in the City: University Spaces and Their Uses in Europe, 13th to 21st Centuries”, an international conference (sponsored by University Paris-Est Créteil – CRHEC, University Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée – ACP, and École Normale Supérieure of Lyon – LARHRA, 25-26 September 2014. The conference will be held at Créteil and Marne-la-Vallée)


The university is an exclusively urban institution that originated simultaneously in Bologna, Paris, and Oxford around the year 1200. Nowadays, the university is still present in the city centre or periphery, sometimes occupying the same districts since the Middle Ages. Since its inception, the university has been part of the city spatially due to the development of places – either open spaces or buildings – reserved for the work of professors and students, the concentration (to a lesser or greater extent) of housing for professors and especially students, the presence of places of worship for the university community, and shops – such as bookshops or nowadays copy shops – whose business is almost entirely dependent on university customers. These days, as in the past, university buildings sometimes comprise entire districts on a very compact scale, or may be spread across several districts within the city or urban area.


Since the 1960s, the abundant historiography dedicated to European universities has focused on the social, intellectual, and political history of these institutions. The topic of university spaces within the city has been relatively neglected. When addressed, research on this topic has consisted of monographs on a single city, country, and/or a given era. This conference aims to address the history of the urban integration of European universities since their inception (the early 13th century), with priority given to the very long term and to comparative studies. By bringing together a series of research studies focused on a single theme, our ambition is to cast light on new perspectives.


This study of the university space over the very long term, from the 13th to the 21st centuries, will obviously spark some objections. Indeed, one could easily point out the differences between medieval professors and students and their present-day counterparts. However, the university form has shown some constants over the centuries (albeit possibly obscured at times) that allow us to assert that it is indeed a single object of study: it provides “higher” education, has ranks, is recognized by outside authorities, and – depending on the eras – has a strong corporatist identity or, more modestly, a rather clear sense of belonging to a unique sphere. Without falling into the illusion that words and social realities have not changed over time, the attempt to view the university’s history in a very long-term perspective thus appears to be a legitimate and potentially rewarding undertaking. The long term may also allow us to contribute to a long-standing reflection among town planners regarding how urban campuses have developed or renewed.


In many cases, the material surroundings must be described. The aim is firstly to investigate university places per se, the diversity of buildings, ranging from scholars’ colleges built by rich patrons on a monumental scale in the Middle Ages, to the most recent university housing complexes, while also looking at the centuries-long evolution of classrooms, amphitheatres, canteens, and university libraries that are sometimes extensive and sumptuous. Regarding buildings, we can also mention how the university fits into the city through its open spaces, streets such as the famous Rue du Fouarre in the Paris Latin Quarter, squares, esplanades, sometimes incorporated into the university space – such as the Pré aux Clercs in Medieval Paris. Generally speaking, conference contributions can focus on all urban facilities or signs that mark a university presence in the city.


Another focus would be to study how these places are used. The practical conditions for research or teaching have an undoubted influence on these activities. While it is sometimes complex and definitely calls for cautious interpretation, the relationship between the material surroundings (notably from a spatial standpoint) and the activities taking place there is so tight that many historians have used material traces or iconographic representations in an attempt to reconstruct the prevailing teaching practices of the past. Based on this general observation, conference participants could consider how university activities may be restricted by the space available, perhaps even reassessing the importance of this factor, but also, conversely, how the university’s evolution leads to reorganisation of the university space, with varying time lags.


Apart from the forms of buildings and open spaces, the evolution of university districts in a general sense is worthy of attention. Contributions should thus focus on the location of these districts within the city: either in the city centre, close to the centres of power or in the periphery, within one or more settlements, and their proximity with communication routes. Since the Middle Ages, the powers that be (whether royal, municipal, or ecclesiastic) have focused on the university, seeking to strengthen their sway over the institutions and men, sparking conflict with claims for the university’s privileges. Therefore, contributions can also look at how these powers helped transform university spaces.



Thus, papers presented at the conference may address the following topics:


1) University places (classrooms, libraries, university housing, etc.) and their form.

2) The structure of university districts: compact or spread out; unplanned or carefully organised.

3) Policies for setting up and building universities, as well as the legal status of university spaces.

4) The material aspects of building a university: the actors, cost, and means used.

5) The uses of the university space.




Proposal submissions and selection:


Please send paper proposals in French, English, or Italian as an email attachment to: gorochov@u-pec.fr

Proposals should include a title and a summary (around 1,500 characters), as well as the researcher’s contact details (first and last name, academic position and institution, email and postal addresses).


1st February 2014: deadline for proposals.


Organisational committee: Florence Bourillon (UPEC–CRHEC), Nathalie Gorochov (UPEC–CRHEC), Boris Noguès (ENS Lyon–LARHRA), and Loïc Vadelorge (UPEMLV–ACP).


Scientific committee :  Robert Anderson, Florence Bourillon, Gian Paolo Brizzi, Hélène Caroux, Jean-François Condette, Peter Denley, Hilde de Ridder, Wilhem Frijhoff, Carla Frova, Nathalie Gorochov, Christian Hottin, Martin Kintzinger, Thierry Kouamé, Jean-Noël Luc, Eléonore Marantz, Pierre Merlin, Boris Noguès, Lise Roy, Loïc Vadelorge, Jacques Verger.   


Citer ce billet
traversier (2013, 2 octobre). “The University in the City: University Spaces and Their Uses in Europe, 13th to 21st Centuries”, an international conference (sponsored by University Paris-Est Créteil – CRHEC, University Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée – ACP, and École Normale Supérieure of Lyon – LARHRA, 25-26 September 2014. The conference will be held at Créteil and Marne-la-Vallée). Histoire Urbaine. Consulté le 24 juin 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/u44p

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