From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Let no one ignorant of geometry enter" --Plato
The word comes from the akademeia just outside ancient Athens, where the gymnasium was made famous by Plato as a center of learning. The sacred space, dedicated to the goddess of wisdom, Athene, had formerly been an olive grove, hence the expression "the groves of Academe".
By extension Academia has come to connote the cultural accumulation of knowledge, its development and transmission across generations and its practitioners and transmitters. In the seventeenth century, English and French religious scholars popularized the term to describe certain types of institutions of higher learning. The English adopted the form academy while the French adopted the forms acadème and académie.
Ancient Greece and early Europe
In ancient Greece, after the establishment of the original Academy, Plato's colleagues and pupils developed spin-offs of his method. Arcesilaus, a Greek student of Plato established the Middle Academy. Carneades, another student, established the New Academy. In 335 BC, Aristotle refined the method with his own theories and established the Lyceum in another gymnasium.
Medieval Western Europe
In western Europe, the academy dates to the ancient Greeks and Romans in the pre-Christian era. Newer universities were founded in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the European institution of Academia took shape. Monks and priests moved out of monasteries to cathedral cities and other towns where they opened the first schools dedicated to advanced study.
The seven liberal arts — the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic), and the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy) — had been codified in late antiquity. This was the basis of the curriculum in western Europe until newly available Arabic texts and the works of Aristotle became more available in Western Europe in the 12th century.
It remained in place even after the new scholasticism of the School of Chartres and the encyclopedic work of Thomas Aquinas, until the humanism of the 15th and 16th centuries opened new studies of arts and sciences.
Academic societies or learned societies began as groups of academics who worked together or presented their work to each other. These informal groups later became organized and in many cases state-approved. Membership was restricted, usually requiring approval of the current members and often total membership was limited to a specific number. The Royal Society founded in 1660 was the first such academy. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences was begun in 1780 by many of the same people prominent in the American Revolution. Academic societies served both as a forum to present and publish academic work, the role now served by academic publishing, and as a means to sponsor research and support academics, a role they still serve. Membership in academic societies is still a matter of prestige in modern academia.
Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
During the Age of Enlightenment in 18th-century Europe, the academy started to change in Europe. In the beginning of the 19th century Wilhelm von Humboldt not only published his philosophical paper On the Limits of State Action, but also directed the educational system in Prussia for a short time. He introduced an academic system that was much more accessible to the lower classes. Humboldt's Ideal was an education based on individuality, creativity, wholeness, and versatility. Many continental European universities are still rooted in these ideas (or at least pay lip-service to them). They are, however, in contradiction to today's massive trend of specialization in academia.