University of Oxford

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University of Oxford
Latin: Universitas Oxoniensis

Dominus Illuminatio Mea
"The Lord is my Light"

Oxford,
Oxfordshire

Oxford - Bridge of Sighs- Hertford College, Passes over New College Lane.jpg
The Bridge of Sighs on New College Lane
Coat of arms of the University of Oxford.svg
Founded: 1096
Chancellor: Chris Patten
Endowment: £4,355 million (inc. colleges), 2014
Website: ox.ac.uk
Location

The University of Oxford is a collegiate research university located in Oxford, its colleges spread all across the heart of the city, and shaping the city around them. While having no known date of foundation, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096,[1]</ref> making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world, and the world's second-oldest surviving university.[1][2]

The university grew rapidly from 1167 when King Henry II forbade English students from attending the University of Paris.[1] After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled northeast to Cambridge, where they established what became the University of Cambridge.[3] The two "ancient universities" are frequently jointly referred to as "Oxbridge".

The university is made up of a variety of institutions, including 38 constituent colleges and a full range of academic departments which are organised into four divisions.[4] All the colleges are self-governing institutions as part of the university, each controlling its own membership and with its own internal structure and activities.[5] Being a city university, it does not have a main campus; instead, all the buildings and facilities are scattered throughout the metropolitan centre.

Most undergraduate teaching at Oxford is organised around weekly tutorials at the self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work provided by university faculties and departments. Oxford has several notable scholarships available, including the Rhodes Scholarship, founded by Cecil Rhodes and which has brought graduate students from the Commonwealth and the United States to read at the university for more than a century.[6] and the Clarendon Scholarship, which was launched in 2001.[7]

The university operates the Oxford University Press, the largest university press in the world, and the largest academic library system in the United Kingdom.[8]

Oxford has educated many notable alumni, including 27 Nobel laureates (60 total affiliations), 28 British Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom (including four of the last five, from Tony Blair to Boris Johnson) and many foreign heads of state.

History

Foundation

Balliol College – one of the university's oldest constituent colleges

The University of Oxford has no known foundation date.[9] Teaching at Oxford existed in some form in 1096, but it is unclear at what point a university came into being.[1] It grew quickly in 1167 when English students returned from the University of Paris.[1] The historian Gerald of Wales lectured to such scholars in 1188, and the first known foreign scholar, Emo of Friesland, arrived in 1190. The head of the university was named a chancellor from at least 1201, and the masters were recognised as a universitas or corporation in 1231. The university was granted a royal charter in 1248 during the reign of King Henry III.[10]

After disputes between students and Oxford townsfolk in 1209, some academics fled from the violence to Cambridge, later forming the University of Cambridge.[3][11]

Aerial view of Merton College's Mob Quad

The students originally associated together on the basis of geographical origins, into two "nations", representing the North (Northern or Boreales, which included Englishmen from north of the River Trent and Scots) and the South (Southern or Australes, which included Englishmen from south of the Trent, the Irish, and the Welsh).[12][13] In later centuries, geographical origins continued to influence many students' affiliations when membership of a college or hall became customary in Oxford. In addition, members of many religious orders, including Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians, settled in Oxford in the mid-13th century, gained influence, and maintained houses or halls for students.[14] At about the same time, private benefactors established colleges to serve as self-contained scholarly communities. Among the earliest such founders were William of Durham, who in 1249 endowed University College,[14] and John Balliol, father of a future King of Scots; Balliol College bears his name.[12] Another founder, Walter de Merton, a Lord Chancellor of England and afterwards Bishop of Rochester, devised a series of regulations for college life;[15][16] Merton College thereby became the model for such establishments at Oxford,[17] as well as at the University of Cambridge. Thereafter, an increasing number of students forsook living in halls and religious houses in favour of living in colleges.[14]

In 1333–34, an attempt by some dissatisfied Oxford scholars to found a new university at Stamford in Lincolnshire was blocked by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge petitioning King Edward III.[18] Thereafter, until the 1820s, no new universities were allowed to be founded in England, even in London; thus, Oxford and Cambridge had a duopoly, which was unusual in western European countries.[19][20]

Renaissance period

Magdalen College, founded in the mid-15th century

The new learning of the Renaissance greatly influenced Oxford from the late 15th century onwards. Among university scholars of the period were William Grocyn, who contributed to the revival of Greek language studies, and John Colet, the noted biblical scholar.

With the Reformation, recusant scholars, those who refused to renounce the Roman Church, left for Europe, settling especially at the University of Douai.[21] The method of teaching at Oxford was transformed from the mediæval Scholastic method to Renaissance education.

In 1636, Chancellor William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, codified the university's statutes. These, to a large extent, remained its governing regulations until the mid-19th century. Laud was also responsible for the granting of a charter securing privileges for the University Press, and he made significant contributions to the Bodleian Library, the main library of the university. From inception until 1866, membership of the church was a requirement to receive the B.A. degree from Oxford, and "dissenters" were only permitted to receive the M.A. in 1871.

The university was a centre of the Royalist party during the Civil War (1642–1649), while the town favoured the opposing Parliamentarian cause. (The University's view appears to have prevailed, as Oxford served as King Charles's capital during the war, and the city in which he summoned a Parliament, until the city was surrendered fell to Roundhead forces in 1646.) From the mid-18th century onwards, however, the University of Oxford took little part in political conflicts.

Modern period

An engraving of Christ Church, Oxford, 1742

The mid-19th century the Oxford Movement within the Church of England (1833–1845) began at Christ Church, Oxford. At about the same time the influence of the reformed model of German university reached Oxford through key scholars such as Edward Bouverie Pusey, Benjamin Jowett and Max Müller.

The system of separate honour schools for different subjects began in 1802, with Mathematics and Literae Humaniores.[22] Schools for Natural Sciences and Law, and Modern History were added in 1853.[22] By 1872, the latter was split into Jurisprudence and Modern History. Theology became the sixth honour school.[23] In addition to these B.A. Honours degrees, the postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) was, and still is, offered.[24]

Brasenose Lane in the city centre; Brasenose, Lincoln and Exeter Colleges back onto it

Administrative reforms during the 19th century included the replacement of oral examinations with written entrance tests, greater tolerance for religious dissent, and the establishment of four women's colleges. 20th-century Privy Council decisions (for example the abolition of compulsory daily worship, dissociation of the Regius Professorship of Hebrew from clerical status, diversion of colleges' theological bequests to other purposes) loosened the link with traditional belief and practice. Furthermore, although the university's emphasis traditionally had been on classical knowledge, its curriculum expanded in the course of the 19th century to encompass scientific and medical studies. Knowledge of Ancient Greek was required for admission until 1920, and Latin until 1960.

The mid-20th century saw many distinguished continental scholars, displaced by Nazism and Communism, relocating to Oxford.

The list of distinguished scholars at the University of Oxford is long and includes many who have made major contributions to British politics, the sciences, medicine, and literature. More than 50 Nobel laureates and more than 50 World Leaders have been affiliated with the University of Oxford.

Women's education

Somerville College

The university passed a statute in 1875 allowing its delegates to create examinations for women at roughly undergraduate level.[25] The first four women's colleges were established due to the activism of the Association for Promoting the Higher Education of Women (AEW). Lady Margaret Hall (1878)[26] was followed by Somerville College in 1879;[27] the first 21 students from Somerville and Lady Margaret Hall attended lectures in rooms above an Oxford baker's shop.[25] The first two colleges for women were followed by St Hugh's College (1886),[28] St Hilda's (1893)[29] and St Anne's College (1952).[30] In the early 20th century, Oxford and Cambridge were widely perceived to be bastions of male privilege,[31] and it was not until 7 October 1920 that women became eligible for admission as full members of the university and were given the right to take degrees.[32] In 1927 the university's dons created a quota that limited the number of female students to a quarter that of men, a ruling which was not abolished until 1957.[25] However, before the 1970s all Oxford colleges were for men or women only, so that the number of women was limited by the capacity of the women's colleges to admit students. It was not until 1959 that the women's colleges were given full collegiate status.

In 1974, Brasenose, Jesus, Wadham, Hertford and St Catherine's became the first previously all-male colleges to admit women.[33][34]

In 2008, the last single-sex college, St Hilda's, admitted its first men, so that all colleges are now co-residential. By 1988, 40% of undergraduates at Oxford were female;[35] the ratio was about 46%:54% in men's favour for the 2012 undergraduate admission.[36]

The detective novel Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, herself one of the first women to gain an academic degree from Oxford, is largely set in a (fictional) women's college at Oxford, and the issue of women's education is central to its plot.

Buildings and sites

Main sites

Atrium of the Chemistry Research Laboratory
The Sheldonian Theatre

The university is a "city university" in that it does not have a main campus; instead, colleges, departments, accommodation, and other facilities are scattered throughout the city centre. The Science Area, in which most science departments are located, is the area that bears closest resemblance to a campus. The ten-acre Radcliffe Observatory Quarter in the northwest of the city is currently under development. However, the larger colleges' sites are of similar size to these areas.

Iconic university buildings include:

  • The Sheldonian Theatre, built by Sir Christopher Wren between 1664 and 1668. It hosts the university's Congregation, as well as degree ceremonies and some lectures and musical recitals
  • The Bodleian Library
  • The Examination Schools, where examinations and some lectures take place.
  • University museums (see below)
  • The University Church of St Mary the Virgin (which was used for university ceremonies before the construction of the Sheldonian).
  • Christ Church Cathedral, which uniquely serves as both a college chapel and as a cathedral, for the Diocese of Oxford.

Parks

Autumn in the Botanic Garden

The University Parks are a 70-acre parkland area in the northeast of city. It is open to the public during daylight hours. As well as providing gardens and exotic plants, the Parks contains numerous sports fields, used for official and unofficial fixtures; and also contains sites of special interest including the Genetic Garden, an experimental garden to elucidate and investigate evolutionary processes.

The Botanic Garden on the High Street is the oldest botanic garden in the United Kingdom. It contains over 8,000 different plant species on 4½ acres. It is one of the most diverse yet compact major collections of plants in the world and includes representatives of over 90% of the higher plant families.

The Harcourt Arboretum is a 130-acre site six miles south of the city at Harcourt, that includes native woodland and 67 acres of meadow. The 1,000-acre Wytham Woods in Berkshire are owned by the university and used for research in zoology and climate change.

There are also various collegiate-owned open spaces open to the public, including Bagley Wood and most notably Christ Church Meadow.[37]

Organisation

As a collegiate university, Oxford is not a single institution but a federation, comprising over forty self-governing colleges and halls. Its central administration is headed by the Vice-Chancellor.

Academic departments are located centrally within the structure of the federation; they are not affiliated with any particular college. Departments provide facilities for teaching and research, determine the syllabi and guidelines for the teaching of students, perform research, and deliver lectures and seminars.

Colleges arrange the tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and the members of an academic department are spread around many colleges. Though certain colleges do have subject alignments (for example Nuffield College as a centre for the social sciences), these are exceptions, and most colleges will have a broad mix of academics and students from a diverse range of subjects. Facilities such as libraries are provided on all these levels: by the central university (the Bodleian), by the departments (individual departmental libraries, such as the English Faculty Library), and by colleges (each of which maintains a multi-discipline library for the use of its members).

Colleges

Tom Quad, Christ Church in the snow
Chapel of Keble College

There are 38 colleges of the University of Oxford and six Permanent Private Halls, each controlling its membership and with its own internal structure and activities.[5] Not all colleges offer all courses, but they generally cover a broad range of subjects.

The colleges are:

Arms Name Website
Coat of arms of the University of Oxford.svg The University of Oxford
All-Souls College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg All Souls College
Balliol College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Balliol College
Brasenose College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Brasenose College
Christ Church Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Christ Church
Corpus-Christi College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Corpus Christi College
Exeter College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Exeter College
Green-Templeton College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Green Templeton College
Harris-Manchester College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Harris Manchester College
Hertford College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Hertford College
Jesus College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Jesus College
Keble College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Keble College
Kellogg College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Kellogg College
Lady-Margaret-Hall Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Lady Margaret Hall
Linacre College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Linacre College
Lincoln College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Lincoln College
Magdalen College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Magdalen College
Mansfield College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Mansfield College
Merton College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Merton College
New College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg New College
Nuffield College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Nuffield College
Oriel College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Oriel College
Pembroke College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Pembroke College
Queens College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg The Queen's College
Somerville College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Somerville College
St-Anne's College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Anne's College
St-Antony's College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Antony's College
St-Catherines College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Catherine's College
St-Cross College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Cross College
St-Edmund-Hall College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Edmund Hall
St-Hilda's College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Hilda's College
St-Hughs College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Hugh's College
St-John's College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St John's College
St-Peters College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Peter's College
Trinity College, Oxford.svg Trinity College
University College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg University College
Wadham College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Wadham College
Wolfson College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Wolfson College
Worcester College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Worcester College

The Permanent Private Halls were founded by different Christian denominations. One difference between a college and a Permanent Private Hall is that while colleges are governed by the fellows of the college, the governance of a hall resides, at least in part, with the corresponding Christian church. The six current Permanent Private Halls are:

Arms Name Website
Blackfriars Hall Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Blackfriars, Oxford
Campion Hall Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Campion Hall
Regent's Park College Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Regent's Park College
St Benet's Hall Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Benet's Hall
St Stephen's House Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg St Stephen's House
Wycliffe Hall Oxford Coat Of Arms.svg Wycliffe Hall

The colleges and halls join together as the Conference of Colleges, which represents the common concerns of the several colleges of the University, and to discuss policy and to deal with the central University administration.[38][39] The Conference of Colleges was established as a recommendation of the Franks Commission in 1965.

Teaching members of the colleges (which is to say fellows and tutors) are collectively and familiarly known as 'dons', although the term is rarely used by the university itself. In addition to residential and dining facilities, the colleges provide social, cultural, and recreational activities for their members. Colleges have responsibility for admitting undergraduates and organising their tuition; for graduates, this responsibility falls upon the departments. There is no common title for the heads of colleges: the titles used include Warden, Provost, Principal, President, Rector, Master and Dean.

University institutions

Libraries

The University maintains the largest university library system in the United Kingdom;[8] and, with over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles of shelving, the Bodleian group is the largest library in the United Kingdom after the British Library. The Bodleian is a legal deposit library, which means that it is entitled to request a free copy of every book published in Britain. As such, its collection is growing at a rate of over three miles of shelving every year.[40]

The buildings referred to as the University's main research library, The Bodleian Library, consist of the original Bodleian Library in the Old Schools Quadrangle, founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1598 and opened in 1602, the Radcliffe Camera, the Clarendon Building, and the New Bodleian Building. A tunnel underneath Broad Street connects these buildings, with the Gladstone Link connecting the Old Bodleian and Radcliffe Camera opening to readers in 2011.

The Clarendon Building, home to many senior Bodleian Library staff

A new book depository opened in South Marston near Swindon in October 2010,[41] and current building projects include the remodelling of the New Bodleian building, which will be renamed the Weston Library when it reopens in 2014–15.[42] The renovation is designed to better showcase the library's various treasures (which include a Shakespeare First Folio and a Gutenberg Bible) as well as temporary exhibitions.

The Bodleian engaged in a mass-digitisation project with Google in 2004.[43][44]

Museums

Oxford maintains a number of museums and galleries, open for free to the public:

  • The Ashmolean Museum, founded in 1683, is the oldest museum in the UK, and the oldest university museum in the world.[45] It holds significant collections of art and archaeology, including works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Turner, and Picasso, as well as treasures such as the Scorpion Macehead, the Parian Marble and the Alfred Jewel. It also contains "The Messiah", a pristine Stradivarius violin, regarded by some as one of the finest examples in existence.
  • The University Museum of Natural History holds the University's zoological, entomological and geological specimens. It is housed in a large neo-Gothic building on Parks Road, in the University's Science Area.[46][47] Among its collection are the skeletons of a Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, and the most complete remains of a dodo found anywhere in the world.
The interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum
  • The Pitt Rivers Museum, adjoining the Museum of Natural History, was founded in 1884. It displays the University's archaeological and anthropological collections, currently holding over 500,000 items. It recently built a new research annexe; its staff have been involved with the teaching of anthropology at Oxford since its foundation, when as part of his donation General Augustus Pitt Rivers stipulated that the University establish a lectureship in anthropology.
  • The Museum of the History of Science is housed on Broad Street in the world's oldest-surviving purpose-built museum building.[48] It contains 15,000 artefacts, from antiquity to the 20th century, representing almost all aspects of the history of science.
  • The Bate Collection of Musical Instruments, in the Faculty of Music on St Aldate's is, a collection mostly of instruments from Western classical music, from the mediæval period onwards.
  • Christ Church Picture Gallery holds a collection of over 200 old master paintings.

Publishing

The Oxford University Press is the world's second oldest and currently the largest university press by the number of publications. More than 6,000 new books are published annually,[49] including many reference, professional, and academic works (such as the Oxford English Dictionary, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the Oxford World's Classics, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and the Concise Dictionary of National Biography).

Traditions

An undergraduate in subfusc for Matriculation

Academic dress is required for examinations, matriculation, disciplinary hearings, and when visiting university officers. A referendum held amongst the Oxford student body in 2006 showed 81% against making it voluntary in examinations – 4,382 voted in the poll, almost 1,000 more than voted in the previous term's students' union elections.[50] This was widely interpreted by students as not so much being a vote on making subfusc voluntary, but rather a vote on whether or not to effectively abolish it by default, as it was assumed that if a minority of people came to exams without subfusc, the rest would soon follow.

Other traditions and customs vary by college. For example, some colleges hold formal hall six times a week, but for others happens on an irregular basis. At most colleges such meals require gowns to be worn and a Latin grace is said.

Balls are major events held by colleges, The largest, held triennially in 9th week of Trinity term, are called Commemoration balls and the dress code is usually white tie. Many other colleges hold smaller events during the year that they call summer balls or parties. These are usually held on an annual or irregular basis, and are usually black tie.

Punting is a common summer leisure activity.

Oxford in literature and other media

The University of Oxford is the setting for numerous works of fiction. Oxford was mentioned in fiction as early as 1400 when Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales referred to a "Clerk [student] of Oxenford". By 1989, 533 novels based in Oxford had been identified, and the number continues to rise.[51] Famous literary works range from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, to the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which features an alternate-reality version of the University.

Other notable examples include:

  • Gaudy Night, a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers (who was herself a graduate of Somerville).
  • The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter, and its spin off Lewis, are set in Oxford and frequently refer to the University (although most of the college names are fictional).
  • Zuleika Dobson, by Max Beerbohm
  • Brideshead Revisited (1981), based on Waugh's novel; a miniseries enormously popular in Britain and America, the film has sometimes been seen as drawing unwanted attention to Oxford's stereotypical reputation as a playground of the upper classes. It stars Jeremy Irons, and most college shots are of Christ Church and Hertford.
  • True Blue (1996), about the mutiny at the time of the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race of 1987
  • The Golden Compass (film) (2007)
  • The Riot Club (2014)

Outside links

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Books

  • Annan, Noel, The Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics and Geniuses HarperCollins (London, 1999)
  • Batson, Judy G., Oxford in Fiction, Garland (New York, 1989).
  • Betjeman, John, An Oxford University Chest, Miles (London, 1938).
  • Brooke, Christopher and Roger Highfield, Oxford and Cambridge, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 1988).
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