Siege Diaries 7/8/2021

Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What painful things can I take responsibility for?

The sense here is to stop whining and “monkeying around”–to stop blaming others for your misery and to take control. But my tendency goes in a slightly different direction–I tend to want to take responsibility for things that aren’t on me, particularly in group situations where no one else seems to want to take responsibility–because otherwise stuff doesn’t get done, and I care.

Just finished up giving a very long speech based on the two blog posts I did around my trip to Grand Rapids in early 2020. Seems to have been well received, especially given that I decided part of the way through prepping that I wanted to do this as a level 5 speech rather than the shorter Level 3 I had been prepping.

Tomorrow is officially “full vaccine efficacy day.” I don’t like to call it “freedom day”, because I don’t believe I, or anyone, is actually “free” yet. However, I will be having a nice massage. Technically I could have continued those all through the lockdown period, but I didn’t see it as an essential thing for me, but a nice-to-have. With full vaccination status, however, I’m more willing to go ahead with it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy on Reddit this week.

What is the origin of the square caps worn for university graduation? How did the tradition spread, and when did they become so ubiquitous? I often see the claim spread online that a Quran was placed on the flat top upon graduation by scholars in Al-Andalus. However, I failed to find any sources for this. Is there any truth to that popular myth? If so, does the square cap predate this practice?

So: two parts to this answer, but the first part will help answer the second.

With the rise of universities in the 12th century, particular headgear became associated with the clothing of scholars. In particular, a type of soft, round cap called a pileus (or sometimes the calotte) was widely worn by the clergy and thus was adopted by scholars, who were by definition (at least at this stage) in clerical orders. The early pileus looks in depictions like a round beanie or skullcap with a tuft on top. (Scholars also wore hoods, eventually trimmed in fur or coloured cloth, over a voluminous gown known as the cappa clausa or closed cope). Into the 14th century, it gradually lost its close-fitting nature, becoming known as the pileus rotundus. By the late15th century, this cap was beginning to evolve in some places to a form called a pileus quadratus, or a four-pointed pileus, a hat sewn from four separate pieces of cloth or felt and thus saving considerable material from the earlier forms. The classic form of this hat, sometimes also known as a biretta, is worn by Martin Luther in his famous portrait. Eventually, in Reformation England (late 1500s), this pileus quadratus evolved to emphasize and define the angles of the cap more sharply, thus marking it clearly as the ancestor of the mortarboard. The mortarboard itself in the form we’d recognize starts to appear in the 1700s in England. It should be noted that the square, hard mortarboard is used primarily in the English-speaking world and in areas modelling their universities on the English model. The German model is a soft cap called a barett, while French scholars wear a round cap; in Spain the cap is called a birette and has eight sides (originally six).

Given this history, it should now be fairly obvious that the scholars of al-Andalus’ could not have placed their Qurans on the flat tops of their caps, as the hard, flat scholar’s cap or mortarboard did not yet exist. Western Academic dress evolved out of modes of dress originated by the Christian clergy that attended the early universities; it does not seem to have been borrowed from Islam. So what do we make of a statement like this one (from this site)?

The concept of the University is Islamic on origin. The world’s oldest University is al-Azhar in Cairo which dates from 970. Even the ‘mortar boards’ of graduates are Islamic and derive from the flat hats of the scholars there who would rest the Qur’an on the ‘mortar’ to symbolize the primacy of Scripture over the intellect. The tassel at the back of the ‘mortar board’ was for bookmarking the pages of the Qur’an.

Given that mortarboards are (at best) a couple of hundred years old, and the concept of the tassel of a similar vintage, it seems likely that this is a modern example of “back documentation”. Islamic schools and institutions of higher learning are indeed of considerable antiquity and evolved for similar reasons, but these schools were not the ancestors of Western universities (which evolved from cathedral schools), nor were they called “universities.” However, many of these institutions have survived into the modern era and taken on the name “university” and some of the traditional regalia generally associated with European (and particularly British) institutions. Who knows, maybe medieval Islamic scholars did indeed rest their Qurans on their headgear, but this headgear was not in the form of a modern mortarboard.

Here is an outstanding article on the evolution of academic dress, particularly in England. I also referred to Laura F. Hodges, Chaucer and Clothing: Clerical and Academic Costume in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.