Pieter Dhondt

University history as part of the history of education

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Even up to the period when the research imperative gradually took hold at Western universities, they were first and foremost considered educational institutions, as is illustrated in the first section of this article by way of the debate on the function of the university in Belgium around 1880. However, despite this clearly educational background, historical studies on the university have never been regarded as being part of the history of education, although this sub-discipline has managed to establish itself rather strongly, mainly through its special place within teacher training. The second section discusses briefly the institutionalisation of history of education as a discipline, and looks at how one of the main concerns in the field, i.e. presentism, can at the same time be used as an opportunity to defend the field, also with regard to university history writing. Following up on this, the main ambition of the article, particularly in its third and last section, is to explain what university history as a sub-discipline could gain by connecting itself more closely to methodologies and concepts used in the field of history of education, such as classroom history, the integration of a larger variety of (visual and material) sources, conceptual frameworks like segmentation, grammar of schooling, demythologisation, educationalisation and the pedagogical paradox. The last notion in particular points to the relativity of the often overblown rhetoric with respect to the field of education, also applicable to the level of universities.


  • University history
  • History of education
  • Historical methodology
  • Presentism
  • Pedagogical paradox


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