Student Organisations: Nations, Goliardia and Colleges

After my experience studying at Uppsala University I decided to write my History bachelor thesis on student societies from their medieval roots to modern day. The question I’m asking is whether there is a transnational connection between the different student societies and in what they are similar or differ.

Valborg in Uppsala
Valborg in Uppsala

The element of drinking and having a good time is definitely a common trait throughout history and space but I believe there is much more to it than meets the eye.

Many traditional organisations have actual rituals of initiation, some more symbolic than others, that aim to welcome the new student into the university world, leaving behind childhood in seek for knowledge and experience.

The ‘Nation’ is one of the oldest student organisations that dates back to Medieval times and was a group of students who helped each other settle-in to the university city and provided a social club for people from the same territory. This form of association was present in Italy, France, Scotland and other European countries but has now only survived in the universities of Uppsala and Lund in Sweden and some Finnish universities.

Colleges came at a later date and were formed to provide accommodation for students who lived outside the university city and were often connected to monastic orders or to pre-existent fraternities. These can be found in the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge and other UK universities.

Goliardia, the oldest of the three organisations mentioned, started in Italy in medieval times from a group of ‘clerici vagantes’, students who travelled following the lecturer to different universities that for social or financial reasons did not have the right to follow university courses.

Each student organisation has its symbols, coat of arms and traditions. One of the most common is that of wearing a student cap:

The Student Cap

In many student societies there is a traditional hat which distinguishes the members of the club and this varies from state to state. In Italy the ‘Goliardi’ wear a hat that resembles the shape of Robin Hood’s hat and each member would have small badges attached to it to symbolise different things. .The colour of the hat would vary according to the degree course studied. In Belgium the hat has a different shape but has similar badges to the Italian one and is called Calotte. The calotte originates from the skullcap worn by the Papal regiment around 1860. The calotte is cylindrical, made from velvet and astrakhan. In Scandinavia instead they wear a white cap which looks like a sailor’s hat, except for the Norwegian one which is in black velvet.

Scandinavian Student Hats. The Danish, Norwegian and Swedish (1945).
Scandinavian Student Hats. The Danish, Norwegian and Swedish (1945).

Where you part of a student organisation? Did you have any traditions in your association? If you do please get in touch! You would be of great help.

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