Working Papers from the Textbook Colloquium, No 4

From Dialectic to Didactic

David Hamilton
Department of Education
Umeå University
901-87 Umeå


 This paper extends the arguments of an earlier work, The instructional turn (Hamilton, 2000). In effect, it fills in the spaces between the words ‘syllabus’, ‘curriculum’, and ‘didactic’. It looks more closely at these key educational concepts and indicates how they might have been linked in the minds of educationists in the 15th and 16th centuries.


The project of indoctrinating and disciplining an entire population had never been undertaken with the seriousness which it was being attempted around 1580, and for this new project a different approach to education was needed.

Hotson (2000), pp. 23-24)



To use dictionaries in the search for the origins of syllabus is to encounter two confusions. Nineteenth-century French- and German-Latin dictionaries1 associate the word ‘syllabus’ with the Confessions (397) of Augustine (354-430). When I checked the Latin originals, I found there was a confusion of ‘syllabus’ and s’yllable’ -- a judgment corroborated in later editions of Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary (first edition, 1879). The Oxford English Dictionary reports the second confusion -- the source of the word ‘syllabus’.

 The confusion arose from a type-setter’s or proof-reader’s error in transcribing the letters of Cicero:

Syllabus appears to be founded on a corrupt reading, syllabos, in some early printed editions of Cicero’s Letters to Atticus. The manuscript reads syttabas, a parchment label or title slip on a book . . . Syllabos [came to mean] to put together, collect. (OED, 1979; entry paraphrased and modernised)

 This OED entry, however, makes it possible to date the emergence of ‘syllabus’. The phrase ‘early printed editions’ indicates that this confusion occurred after Gutenburg’s invention of moveable-type printing around 1450. And there is a further clue in the first example of the use of ‘syllabus’ in English: ‘a title or index in a book to show places or matters by letters or figures’ (1656; emphasis added).

 This juxtaposition of index, places and matters is a valuable indicator. By itself, ‘index’ provides the easiest definition of ‘syllabus’ -- a table of contents. Places links ‘syllabus’ to the Greek word topos (and its Latin equivalent locus); and matters links ‘syllabus’ with the Latin word res (thing, matter, issue). Together, these associations provide a starting point for this paper. Each of these connections is revisited in this paper.

 The slippery places of dialectic

 I already knew, from the works of Ong (1958) and Mack (1993), that places were the building blocks used in the creation, construction and polishing of arguments. Indeed, this usage still applies in English, whenever people argue in the form: ‘In the first place . . . In the second place’. I also gleaned, from the same authors, that there is a parallelism between ‘argumentation’ and ‘instruction’. The content, order, organisation and delivery of a lesson is analogous to the content, order, organisation and delivery of an argument.

 As the building blocks of argumentation, places can be traced back to Aristotle. Just as there are different kinds of arguments, so there are different kinds of places. Further, each type of argument is associated with different degrees of truth in its premises and conclusions. Accordingly, Aristotle suggested that argumentation:

• True premises (discussed in Aristotle’s Analytics);

• Commonly accepted premises, leading to probable argumentation (discussed in Aristotle’s Topica); and

• Ornamentation and persuasion (discussed in Aristotle’s Rhetoric).

By the Middles Ages, these different forms of argumentation became known, respectively, as logic, dialectic and rhetoric. And as philosophers and others engaged in argumentation, they made use of different kinds of places.

 The places associated with the fields of logic and dialectic furnished ‘strategems’ for reasoning (Moss, 1996, p. 4). They helped to strengthen arguments by clarifying -- for the sake of the audience -- the argument’s premises, qualities and levels of truth. By contrast, the places identified in Aristotle’s Rhetoric had no direct connection with logic or dialectic. Instead, rhetorical places furnished ornamenta (Latin: defences), examples, and illustrations that, in effect, strengthened an argument by making is more persuasive.

 Logic became important in the Middle Ages because it provided the epistemological foundation of scholasticism:

 Through reason and the powerful tool of Aristotelian logic, men could resolve the seeming contradictions between faith and reason, Christian truth and Greek science, and attain insights into the nature of the world, of man and of God. (Overfield 1984, p. ix)

Although the premises of logic and dialectic were based on different degrees of truth, the words dialectic and logic were deemed to be synonyms in the time of Aristotle. What influential people believed to be true was assumed, in fact, to be true. Moreover, by the Middle Ages this fusion was complete -- to the extent that dialectic was often given priority over logic. This fusion -- and reversal of priorities -- is evident, for instance, in two influential sources: Boethius’ De differentiis topicis (composed in the early part of the 6th century) and the Summulae logicales (c. 1246) of Peter of Spain (Thomas Aquinas’ contemporary who also became Pope John XXI in 1276).

 For Boethius, places were merely elements in argumentation’s ‘mechanism of proof’. And, as Moss (1996, p. 15) concludes:

Boethius has no interest in the place as auctoritas [cf. authoritative quotations] . . . and it is both symptomatic and significant that his work on places, while containing plenty of made-up examples of propositions for analysis, is devoid of illustrative quotation from sources other than his primary philosophical texts.

 And, according to Ong (1958, p. 55), the Summulae logicales was ‘probably the most widely read of all scholastic works’ and, as such, Peter of Spain’s definition of dialectic resonated through the scholasticism of the following centuries:

Dialectic is the arts of arts and the science of sciences possessing the way to the principles of all curriculum2 subjects. For dialectic alone disputes with probability concerning the principles of all other arts, and thus dialectic must be the first science to be acquired. (quoted in Ong, 1958, p. 60; emphasis added)

 Indeed, Ong highlights the fact that dialectic could be seen as synonymous with logic. He (1958, p. 60) comments that, in general, Peter of Spain was ‘too preoccupied with a simpliste formalism . . . to be able to hold in focus anything so elusive as probable argumentation [i.e. Aristotle’s original conception of dialectic]’. His view of argumentation, that is, was based on certainties, not probabilities.

 During the Renaissance, this fluid view of argumentation underwent further changes, notably through the linking of dialectic and rhetoric. George of Trebizond’s, Rhetoricorum libri V (c. 1430) and Lorenzo Valla’s Dialecticae disputiones (originally prepared in 1439) provide illustrations. George of Trebizond, for instance, disregarded the minutiae of scholastic logic (e.g. in the work of Peter of Spain) and, instead, proposed strategems that fused a sense of dialectical places (i.e. establishing proof) with a sense of rhetorical places (i.e. strengthening an argument for the purposes of persuasion). Argumentation, from this perspective, could be seen as persuasion in context rather than the establishment of absolute and eternal proof.

 This transformation of medieval logic into humanist dialectic was further advanced in the work of Lorenzo Valla (1407-57). His Dialecticae disputiones not only undermined the medieval scholasticism of Peter of Spain. It repositioned dialectic even closer to rhetoric:

 Valla critically weakened the rigour of medieval logic by extending the range of permissible modes of argument to include procedures designed to maximize plausibility, even when they fail of absolute proof. Valla diverts from the logician’s pursuit of formal validity and necessary truth in order to reclaim the territory of dialectic as it was originally marked out by Aristotle and colonized by Cicero, the territory of well-substantiated opinion, of the probable, the plausible, the apt and the appropriate. This was precisely the territory which was home to the places of argument common to dialectic and rhetoric, that is to say, to intellectual strategems aimed as assuring assent, rather than certainty beyond reasonable doubt. (Moss, 1996, p. 61; emphasis added)

 Sources for Discourses

 Valla brought argumentation into the public domain where, in new forms, it began to contribute to moral discourses about the self-shaping and re-shaping of humankind (i.e. about learning and instruction). The ‘places’ of argumentation began to be organised as sites where devices of argumentation were gathered for practical purposes (e.g. preaching, reading). And, more important, they were also disposed in a form that aided retrieval.

 Cicero’s De Inventione provided a model. It discussed, for instance, how places might be used, for example, in speeches of praise or condemnation. Such a speech might focus on physical or moral attributes. These, in turn, would be broken down into sub-topics (i.e. sub-places) such as agility, honesty, strength, good looks and health (and their binary opposites). If they wanted to follow Cicero, speech-makers (orators) would be drawn to gather places into storehouses. Indeed, the first printed book published in England in 1477 can be regarded as such a storehouse. The Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres (sic) was an English translation of a ‘French translation of a Latin version of a Spanish rendering of an Arabic collection of the purported sayings of Greek philosophers’ (Moss, 1996, p. 32).

 The classical source of this storehouse image can be found in Seneca’s Epistulae morales:

We should imitate bees and we should keep in separate compartments whatever we have collected from our diverse readings, for things conserved separately keep better. Then, diligently applying all the resources of our native talent, we should mingle all the various nectars we have tasted and turn them into a single sweet substance, in such a way that, even if it is apparent where it originated, it appears quite different from what it was in its original state. (translated in Moss, 1996, p. 12)

 Seneca’s invocation of bees and bee-keeping explicitly referred to modes of study (or self-shaping). Other popular images also emerged, like the Old Testament image of Ruth gathering the residual wheat after the reapers have finished; or the image of the orator making collections of flowers (florilegia).

 Such florilegia began as collections of passages (auctoritas) from classical authors, pagan and christian. They were produced as collections to be read, marked, digested and, whenever necessary, imitated or copied. Further, they could be compiled for different purposes. Florilegia for the creation of sermons used biblical rather than pagan sources; florilegia for letter-writing emphasised salutations and farewells; florilegia for poetry writing contained rhyming phrases; florilegia for speechmaking included different forms of praise; and, not least, florilegia for self-instruction comprised collections of moral maxims.

The quotations that appeared in early florilegia were gathered in the same sequence as they had appeared in the source texts. But the ordering of these derived sources underwent modification as they were assembled for different purposes. One notable example of this modification was the Manipulus florum composed by a Dominican, Thomas of Ireland, in Paris in 1306 and printed for the first time in Piacenza in 1483. Although based on earlier florilegia, the Manipulus florum was also an innovation. By this time archetypal bee-keepers could be expected to order (cf. ordinare) rather than mingle (cf. confundere) their diverse readings (Moss, 1996, p. 40). The Manipulus florum contains around 6000 extracts divided into three sections -- Church Fathers, ecclesiastical writings, and pagan authorities -- and listed in alphabetical order. As such, the Manipulus florum’s primary purpose was to facilitated the preparation of sermons (see Rouse & Rouse, 1979). Overall, it seems that the late-15th century was the probable the seedbed of syllabus thinking (as implied in the OED entry). A syllabus was regarded as something between a bunch of flowers and, after Gutenberg, a table of contents.

 Despite Gutenberg’s assistance, the renewed circulation of the Manipulus florum in the latter half of the 15th century may also have arisen from humanist attention given to Cicero’s ideas. In 1416 and 1421, respectively, two influential source texts on oratory had been discovered (or more accurately, disclosed): Cicero’s De Oratore and Quintilian’s Institutio oratores (see Murphy, 1974, p. 357 and passim).

 But Gutenberg’s impact was as profound. Argumentation could capitalise on the consequences of moveable-type printing. How would print affect its assumed status as an oral mode of expression? Was the retrieval and ordering based on a memory technologies to be replaced by ‘ mise-en-page’ technologies (Parkes, 1976, p. 115). Are the places of an argument to be memorised -- in the way that journalists still ask themselves: Who? What? Where? When? How? Or can the places of an argument be stored in a physical and spatialised form, in the same way that timetables became stored, on the printed page, as spatialised, geometric representations?

 Visual and spatial storage became ascendent. One consequence of this mise en page (or printed) system of representation was the introduction of headings. For instance, The florilegium of sermon commonplaces, Lumen animae (The Light of the Soul), printed in Germany between 1477 and 1482, was arranged alphabetically under topics called capitula. The Margarita poetica of Albertus de Eyb (1420-1475) provides a further illustration. Published for the first time in 1459 in Nuremberg and reprinted at least 13 times by 1503, it had three elements. It was a manual for letter-writing, a collection of model orations, and a florilegia. Following a model possibly acquired in Italy, Eyb offered, in a ‘ well-organized and utilitarian fashion . . . the material and the method for acquiring a particular style of expression’. Accordingly, the inclusion of a table of contents, an index and numerical page and sub-page references furnished a ‘ finding method’ for those who wished to use Eyb’s Margarita (Moss, 1996, p. 67).

 It is important to note, however, that Eyb’s Margarita poetica supported studying, not instruction. Indeed, such prescriptions and exemplars were gathered together in collections, De ratione studii (on schemes of study) which appeared ‘with some frequency’ after 1531 (Moss, 1996, 115). In English these collects were known as common-place books, with the first recorded use of ‘ commonplace-book’ in the Oxford English Dictionary dating from 1578. Learners compiled their own commonplace-books, initially in Latin and, after 1520, increasingly in vernacular languages like German (Moss, 1996, pp. 140-141). Meanwhile the idea of a common-place book took another turn -- as published source books known as copia (e.g. Erasmus’ De copia, 1512). In short, collections of places had taken two forms by the mid-16th century: compilations made by learners and for learners.

The Instructional Turn: from self-fashioning to other-fashioning

 Despite these different modes of composition, both varieties of compilation were drawn from the same moral and educational discourse, the ‘twin’ discursive practices, as Crane called them, of ‘gathering’ and ‘framing’ (1993, p. 3). In other words, students used humanist commonplace-books both to compose texts, to compose themselves, or to be composed by others.

This last development in the history of places can be discerned in the work of Rudolphus Agricola (1444-1485). Like many other 15th-century humanists, Agricola is remembered for travelling back and forth over the Alps bringing Italian humanism into northern Europe. His best known work, De dialectica inventione, was begun in Italy, finished in Germany by 1479, and published repeatedly in Paris between 1538 and 1543.

 The significance of De dialectica inventione for the history of argumentation is that it assimilated the art of dialectic to that of rhetoric. Argumentation focused not on truth but on what might be said within reason. Accordingly, Agricola focused on the Topics rather than the Analytics of Aristotle. He felt that philosophical knowledge and argumentation included not only the works of Aristotle and Cicero but also the writings of historians, poets and orators. Thus, for Agricola, dialectic was an open field: the art of finding ‘whatever can be said with any degree of probability on any subject’ (quoted in Moss, 1996, p. 77; cf. Comenius’ concern to ‘teach all things to all people’). Further, Agricola’s contribution to this enlarged sense of logic was that the ‘places’ of argumentation were ‘ common headings (capita communia)’. Thus, as Moss explains:

The analogy between the dialectical ‘ commonplaces’ by which propositions may be found and the common-place-heads by means of which material is ordered and retrieved in the notebook is written into Agricola’s language. (Moss, 1996, p. 78)

By this transformation, dialectic became the art of discoursing (holding forth in speech) or expatiating (speaking or writing copiously). It was built around the identification, gathering and organisation of ‘ places’. As Ong points out, Agricola’s exclusion of rhetoric as a separate field was the ‘critical Renaissance divorce’ (or slippage) in the hitherto ‘uneasy union’ of rhetoric and dialectic. Henceforth humanist dialectic was to embrace persuasion (i.e. moving the listener/reader). Thus, dialectic, annexed the ornamental (i.e. defensive) aspects of rhetoric, leaving rhetoric as the residual field of decoration.

 Moreover, Ong also suggests that the outcome of this divorce entailed that dialectic became ‘congenial’ to the humanists’ ‘pupil-oriented teaching’ (cf. persuasive instruction), as against the universities’ ‘teacher-oriented teaching’ (viz. lectures that fostered reading as self-directed study; Ong, 1958, pp. 102, 97, 103). In short, the ‘ultimate objective’ of Agricola’s innovation was to move all argumentation away from proof (logic) and declamation (rhetoric) into a new paradigm -- instruction:

Even discourse which others would consider rhetorical or persuasive, whether a man is being led to persuasion willingly, or forced to it against his will, is seen by Agricola as fundamentally a teaching process. (Ong, 1958, p. 103)

 If Ong is correct -- his argument is supported by Mack (1993) and Jardine (1993) -- Agricola’s humanist initiative, which post-dates the self-instructional and self-fashioning texts identified by MacLintock (1971, reprinted in Hamilton, 2000), was a critical moment in the instructional turn.

At the risk of over-simplification, ‘commonplace-books’ became school textbooks -- collections of quotations, maxims, and texts worthy of use. In the words of William Kemp’s The Education of Children in Learning (1588), they could be used to ‘teach all things, framing [the student] to eloquence in talke and vertue in deedes’ (quoted in Crane, 1993, p. 53).

 Moreover, this development in framing was not restricted to England. Over the same period, it was also implicated in Philip Melanchthon’s De loci communes ratio (On the organisation of commonplaces, first edition, 1521). Melanchthon’s thinking was linked more to the aristotelian world of things (res) than to the ciceronian world of words and speech. His ‘places’ pertained to a truth beyond language. They were a set of keys for apprehending the world and its law-like workings. As such they were as much a contribution to the transformation of the natural sciences (see, for instance, Kusukawa, 1995) as they were to the history of argumentation and instruction.

 For Melanchthon, commonplaces steered instruction. They were ‘one and the same thing’ as place-headings. They were ‘indistinguishable from general heads, capita or tituli ‘which, in turn, were related to ‘systematic divisions in the universe of the knowable’ (Moss, 1996, p. 120). As Kusukawa describes the same development:

Melanchthon’s works on philosophy set the trend of sixteenth century ‘textbooks’. Instead of staying close to Aristotle’s order of argument, Melanchthon followed a lists of loci, selected and ordered with didactic clarity in mind . . . . Instead of trying to resolve exhaustively by way of logical reasoning (as in the quaestio method), Melanchthon proceeded by loci: each section began with a question such as ‘Quid est physica?’, ‘Quid est anima?’ and ‘Quid est mundi?’ . . . . Melanchthon simply selected what was useful for his purposes. (1995, p. 174)

Moss succinctly summarises the outcome of Melanchthon’s synthesis:

It was in German territories that the drive to systematization was to remain strongest throughout most of the rest of the sixteenth century, prompted by the alliance of Lutheran Church leaders with civil authorities in meticulously constructing a Protestant cultural matrix of which the foundation was laid in the language of Europe [Latin], and its method of induction into that language had been formulated by Melanchthon, who in turn channeled into the German Programmes Erasmus’s rhetoric of copia and Agricola’s dialectic. (Moss, 1996, p. 143)

Curriculum and (further) standardisation

But, as Kusukawa (1995, pp. 174-175) notes, Melanchthon was ‘reticent’ about ‘the order or choice of appropriate topics’ for teaching. He ‘never explained how and why certain loci were selected and ordered in the particular way that they were’. This transformation, of syllabus into curriculum, seems to have been accomplished later in the 16th century.

 Since the time of Aristotle, the construction of an argument had been regarded as a two-stage process. First, premises had to be found (invention); and, secondly, the overall validity of the argument had to be reviewed (judgement). These joint processes became the via inventionis and via iudicii of dialectic. Ong (1958, pp. 114-5) however, suggests that, in the age of printing, the second stage began to be regarded not so much in terms of judgement but, rather, in terms of arrangement (dispositio). In turn, the ‘technicalities’ or prickles (spina) of mediaeval logic were ‘set aside’ in favour, among other things, of ‘practical pedagogy’. Further, the principled manner in which ‘ places’ (or heads) were disposed or inter-related on the page (and in practice) underpinned, through the work of Peter Ramus in Paris, the notion of a curriculum (see Hamilton, 1989, ch. 2).

 The interventions of Melanchthon and Ramus, sometimes known as Philippo-Ramism, offered a basis for the creation of an intellectual and practical platform linking syllabus, curriculum and instruction. Ong (1958, ch. 7) suggests, further, that this platform was moveable, and became a self-reproducing, if controversial, ‘pedagogical juggernaut’. It not only rolled over northern Europe (in many different editions), it also rolled over and squeezed out the intricacies of Aristotelian philosophy:

 Instead of representing an approach to truth through the real dialectic of Socrates’ midwifery, or through a series of probabilities as in Aristotle’s conception, dialectic or ‘logic’ became the subject a teacher taught to other coming teachers in order to teach them how to teach, in their turn, still other apprentice teachers, and so on ad infinitum. (Ong, 1958, p. 154; see also Hotson, 2000, p. 20-21)

Knowledge became a standardised commodity, as teaching retreated from the autonomy of study to the dissemination of pre-structured printed texts. The motivation for this standardisation, Ong concludes, was doctrinal and political -- a fear that ‘too many voices could result in chaos’:

If a master was to purvey to his students what as an apprentice he had received from another master, the obvious way of assuring proper continuity or the unity of the total product which was being purveyed by the members of the teacher’s guild, was to put the product in writing. The well-known university regulations against teachers’ dictating to their pupils, and even against pupils taking pen or ink into the classroom are capital evidence of the persistent tendency of the members of the teacher’s guilds to rely slavishly on the written word. (Ong, 1958, p. 155)


 But where and how did didactics emerge? One strategem is to focus on the 16th-century notion of an art since, in German, didactics was described as a Lehrart. In aristotelian thought, an art is concerned with making or doing something (‘technique’ comes from the Greek equivalent). As a Lehrart, then, 17th-century didactics can be regarded as a technology of production (or framing). Learners were, simultaneously, identified as the raw material, the object, and the outcome of instruction. Put another way, didactics was about shaping the learner to the designs of that period -- sometimes called the further Reformation (see Hotson’s discussion, 2000, pp. 1-5). If Luther and Melanchthon had steered the first Reformation, creating a political space in Europe, the activists of the further Reformation (like Comenius) devoted themselves to the re-configuration of that space through an associated ‘reformation of life’ (Hotson, 1994, p. 35).

 This was the ‘ different approach’ to ‘ disciplining and indoctrinating and entire population’ that Hotson has identified:

What the lawyers, administrators, inspectors, teachers, preachers and pastors needed in order to reform the everyday standards of knowledge, virtue and piety in their communities was . . . [a] basic set of practical tools which could be applied to the analysis of any text, to the development and organisation of any argument on any subject. In Ramist dialectic they found a basic organon [tool] well adapted to these needs. (Hotson, 1994, p. 36)


While a handful of highly accomplished lawyers, theologians and rhetoricians were undoubtedly necessary to bolster the exposed position of these Calvinist states in imperial [German] law, academic theology and literary polemics, these could be provided by a tiny elite prepared by advanced study at some distant university. The practical purposes for which academies such as Herborn were established were closer to home; and for these purposes Ramist pedagogy, emended perhaps to repair its most important defects, was perfectly adequate. (Hotson, 2000, p. 24)

 Such a mission became evident in the statutes of the ‘ first and most important’ of the German academies founded in 1584, Herborn. Its professors were required to use the Ramist method to teach grammar, rhetoric and dialectic, an approach that spread to other reformed academies and gymnasia in Germany and elsewhere. In the early 1580s -- while awaiting the opening of the Herborn academy -- one of its professors Johannes Piscator ‘systematically emended and republished’ Ramus’ scholia (class-books) on grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, physics and metaphysic. After the academy opened, Lazarus Schöner prepared a revised edition of Ramus’ mathematical works; Johannes Althusius published a series of Ramist textbooks on ethics, politics and law between 1586 and 1603; and Piscator added a complete course of exegetical theology ‘founded on ramist principles’ between 1591 and 1621 (Hotson, 1994, pp. 37-39).

Moreover, these differences between Melanchthon’s aristotelianism and Ramus’ pedagogical juggernaut were also inscribed in differences between lower and upper schools in Germany. Gymnasia had adopted Ramism, whereas teaching in the German universities was more Aristotelian -- insofar as logical analysis was deemed important to the theological and political debates of the day. An undesirable consequence of this separation of gymnasium and university was, however, that students entering the universities were regarded as ill-prepared for contemporary debate. There was an expressed need, therefore, to find a curriculum that would reposition and reframe gymnasium students for the turbulent world of 16th-century politics (cf. Oestreich, 1982). What was sought, Hotson suggests, was a ‘method of exposition’ that would avoid the serious deficiencies of, on the one hand, Aristotle’s ‘archaic and disorganised texts’ and, on the other hand, Ramus’ ‘wilfully oversimplification and tendentious alternative’ to scholasticism (Hotson, 1994, p. 42).

A popular solution to this educational tension was offered by Bartholomäus Keckermann, then working in Heidelberg. Around 1600, Keckermann offered a solution which, in short, entailed ‘recasting Peripatetic [i.e. Aristotelian] substance in semi-Ramist form. Keckermann’s reconciliation, it seems, proved popular:

The doctrine he expounded was essentially that of Aristotle, but the orderliness, clarity and systematic coherence with which he expounded it were strongly reminiscent of Ramus. (Hotson, 1994, p. 42)

 Thereafter, Keckermann rapidly applied his method of exposition to grammar, rhetoric, metaphysics, physics, ethics, politics, economics, mathematics, astronomy and geography, the sum total of which he called a systema. Keckermann’s efforts received an ‘enthusiastic reception both in the universities which had refused to abandon Aristotle and in the academies which had embraced Ramus’ (Hotson, 1994, p. 43). His collected works were published in 1614, five years after his death (and one year after the first appearance of the word didactic; and various parts of Keckermann’s systema logicum went through more than 40 editions between 1599 and 1656.

 Keckermann’s initiative was also taken up elsewhere. Johann Heinrich Alsted, one of Comenius’ teachers at Herborn, performed a meta-analysis of Keckermann’s work; that is, he applied Keckermann’s thinking to the organisation of Keckermann’s works. In the process, he created a 3500-page Systema systematum (system of systems) in 1613. In 1620 Alsted published the first edition of his Encyclopaedia to be followed in 1630 by another edition which, variously, included ‘didactica’ as one of its subjects, offered descriptive and prescriptive definitions of didactic as doctrinam de studio disciplinarum (i.e., teachings on the study of the disciplines) and de ratione recte discendi disciplinas (i.e., on the right scheme of teaching the discipines) and, not least, included the words didactica and curriculum on the same page.


 From the above sketch, chronological as well as conceptual links can be discerned among elements of the infrastructure of modern schooling. It is possible, therefore, to go beyond the dates offered in dictionaries and to establish a schematic yet plausible linear narrative linking the emergence of syllabus, curriculum, and didactic thinking. Moreover, this narrative can also be understood in terms of contemporary ideas, notably the use of places within the structures of classical argumentation (viz. logic, dialectic and rhetoric).

 Thus, between 1450 and 1650:

• A syllabus identified a series of places (or topics);

• A curriculum was a series of places disposed, on the one hand, according to dialectical/rhetorical assumptions about persuasion and, on the other had, post-Gutenberg assumptions about visual communication; and

• Didactic related to the overall systematisation or schematisation of instruction.

This narrative in this analysis is linear because it is written as a series of sentences, one after the other. And this narrative is also schematic because it relies heavily on a small number of secondary sources. Indeed, I am very conscious that the selection of sources has been affected by my overall thesis -- that the instructional turn also took place between 1450 and 1650. I have self-consciously sought the places that would link -- and strengthen -- my earlier argument about the instructional turn. Nevertheless, I am also conscious that, having set out to find links, I have not been disappointed. In short, this paper suggests there is sweetness, if not truth, in the thick undergrowth of ideas relating to educational change between 1450 and 1650.


1. E. Benoiste & H. Goelzer (1892 onwards). Nouveau Dictionnaire Latin-Français (Paris, Garnier); K.E. Georges (1879-80) Lateinischedeutsches Handworterbuch (Leipzig: Hahn).

2. ‘Curriculum’ does not appear in the original Latin. The phrase ‘possessing the way to the principles of all curriculum subjects’ is a translation of ‘ad omnium methodorum principia viam habens’.


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