1,000 years of intellectual history

December 24, 1999

Ancient texts reintroduced to Europe through Moorish Spain 1,000 years ago triggered an intellectual odyssey in the West that has transformed our world. Starting as a trickle, with the logical, linguistic and mathematical discourses of medieval schoolmen, the stream of ideas broadened as new technologies of printing and instrument-making encouraged wider debate and accurate observation, and grew to a flood as experimental methods and national rivalries drove the pursuit of knowledge ever faster.

This Millennium Magazine is unapologetically politically incorrect. It chronicles the intellectual path (and some of the now quaint-seeming meanders) of white European males, mostly long dead. For this has been the millennium of the West. A thousand years ago the Chinese held many of the keys but slammed the doors on independent thought. Restraint on intellectual inquiry began to loosen in the West as it tightened in the Middle East. And it has been the millennium of men. Only in the last decades has that hegemony begun to crumble, challenged by women and by other cultures who point out that the power brought by western science and technology has not necessarily been well used. The past centuries have been marked by brutal wars, pogroms, and plagues, as well as by huge gains in human mobility, health and longevity. Persecution and inspiration, beauty and barbarity have marched together. New knowledge has increased human beings' power to visit both good and evil upon each other. But the search for moral rules to match remains a challenge for the next centuries.

There is one other very specific reason for The Times Higher Education Supplement, trade paper of the universities and colleges, to mark the past millennium. The modern university, creation of the European Dark Ages, has proved to be among the world's most enduring institutions and the West's most pervasive export. Founded nearly a thousand years ago, long in the doldrums, seldom the home of the rebels and divergent thinkers who have made the conceptual leaps that bring new understanding, universities have become in this century central to social, political and economic success. As the millennium ends, these ancient institutions find themselves cast as key agents in handling the still accelerating flow of knowledge. For the next new year, which is to purists the true millennium, we plan to turn our attention to the ideas today's scholars can bring to tackling the challenges facing us as the new millennium begins. This year, the last of the old, it seems only fitting to remember the giants on whose shoulders today's scholars stand.

Auriol Stevens, Editor, THES

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