If undergrads seem an irresponsible bunch these days, excelling in the extra-curricular subjects of dorm-hopping, beer-swilling, and the squandering of parental cash, they pale in comparison to their medieval ancestors at Oxford. The accounts from England’s first and most hallowed University read like Animal House in Latin.

The university had sprung up during the medieval intellectual explosion of the early 10th century in the model of Europe’s first great academies, Paris and Bologna. We don’t know exactly when the first classes were given, but by the early 11th century, the university was an indelible feature of Oxford, then a busy riverside market town. It had none of the grand ivy-covered buildings we associated with the university today; the lectures were not held in purpose-built theaters but in… More…