Principia is a largely unexplored but exciting genre which corresponds to a mandatory complex exercise imposed by the statutes of the medieval universities throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries. Although almost completely neglected by modern scholarship, the academic practice of Principia was successful, long-lived, and widespread in the late Middle Ages. The candidates for the title of doctor should begin their defence with a public debate in which they have to reveal their scientific interests, display their erudition, and demonstrate their intellectual prowess in the presence of a large audience. Before and during their lectures of Principia, each candidate for the degree of doctor chose a topic that would exhibit his knowledge and innovation and, through debate with his colleagues in front of the staff and students of the faculty of theology and other members of the university or reputable persons (in Vienna the chancellor and the duke could participate in the debate), he was expected to employ new methods and explore new paths. In the majority of cases the topic exceeded the confines of theology strictly speaking and allowed the bachelors to indulge their interdisciplinary interests, since the debaters (the authors) combined science, mathematics, ethics, politics, astrology, literature, and so on in their polemics. In this respect, Principia (beginning) or principial debates represent the cutting-edge method to promote research in late-medieval universities.
The ambition of the DEBATE project is to establish authorship and to attribute to various authors some hitherto neglected texts, open new perspectives on authors whose works were thought lost, and illuminate the academic system from which these writings derive. The interpretation of this new material will help excavate and evaluate a hidden part of the intellectual production of medieval universities. DEBATE project will provide (by building up a unique corpus that will put together all the extant texts of Principia produced in different cultural contexts) an extremely rich material (prosopographical, doctrinal and historical) that will highlight a big change in the present understanding of the rise of new methods and topics associated with the academic knowledge in medieval universities all around Europe. Principia thus reveal the cutting-edge method of fostering science in later medieval universities.
The DEBATE team intends to identify new manuscripts, edit the texts, establish authorship for anonymous fragments and propose an interpretation that will help explain how innovation was a primordial target in medieval academia. Putting together all the surviving texts of Principia produced in various cultural contexts, this project will provide a wealth of material that will bring about a basic change in our understanding of the mechanism of the production of academic knowledge in the early universities all around Europe. The project is designed to promote erudition by combining a palaeographical, codicological, editorial and hermeneutical approach, aiming to open an advanced area of inquiry focusing on an intellectual practice that bound together medieval universities from different geographical and cultural regions: Paris, Bologna, Vienna, Prague, Krakow and Cologne.