A Sunny Day in Oxford

May2013 539This past May I had the double good fortune of being invited to give a paper at Oxford, and having it be an actually beautiful sunny day.  So, since travel has prevented me from finishing my next historical post on time (it is half finished, and will address a question from the comments about why pre-modern European judicial systems used so much torture, and also why they stopped), I thought I would fill the gap by sharing some of my photography of Oxford at its most stunning. I visit universities and their libraries all the time, including very important ones and very ancient ones, but visiting Oxford always feels different.  Intimidating.  Special.  The builders of the great universities set out to convince the world that they were the masters of culture and learning.  Oxford and Cambridge succeeded.  I know rationally how they rank relative to other universities: strong in some areas, weak in others, struggling from the effects of recent economic and political policy changes; but they still get me with their historical charisma, reinforced throughout my childhood in literature and film.  Part of it is that I grew up Anglophone, and reading many British books.  Part is that I grew up watching much too much BBC, since for most of childhood PBS was the only channel we got, and BBC mysteries and dramas are still just about the only entertainment both my parents and I will sit through.  That combination left Oxford and Cambridge with an ineradicable cachet that no amount of modern awareness of university rankings can erase.  I had expected that visiting the truly ancient Italian universities would diminish the effect: Bologna’s medieval classrooms, Padua’s operating theater, Galileo’s employment records.  It didn’t.  It remains true that “I’m giving a talk at Oxford” has a thrill unmatched by “I’m giving a talk at [frankly much more important venue]” for no reason except that those who worked to entrench Oxford at the heart of the Anglophone definition of “learning” did their work well.  It’s more powerful at Oxford than at Cambridge too.  Both give the thrill, but Oxford wins at one of the most visceral and permanent forms of propaganda: architecture.  Enjoy!

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This courtyard, in St. Edmund’s College, demonstrates perfectly how the university architecture developed gradually, with older constructions on the left, added on to in subsequent centuries, so Medieval gives way to neoclassical, then post-Renaissance, with a touch of modern in the back.

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The path to an old church (now library) paved with gravestones from the churchyard. The church is Norman on the back end with new additions toward the front, and the gateway quite late, 17th century I think.

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And as a super bonus, Spot the Saint!

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5 Responses to “A Sunny Day in Oxford”

  1. My compliments on some of the finest colour photos of Oxford I’ve seen. I’m an old Oxonian (Exeter 1962) and go back fairly often as my daughter is Chaplain of Magdalen College School. I also sympathise with your blog as I’m a retired Renaissance professor (literature, but lots of history too) from York University in Toronto, but now living in the South of France. If I were on your tenure committee, I would mark this blog as a large plus!

  2. Jon Radin said:

    Thank you. I just returned from visiting my daughter at Oxford. She is completing her DPhil and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see her there before she finished. Your pictures are beautiful, entirely accurate, convey the look and feel of that magical place.
    “And that sweet city with her dreaming spires.”
    Thank You

  3. What stunningly beautiful photography!! Is there no end to your talents, Ex Urbe? My sister is a keen budding photographer and she was very impressed by them! Thanks for sharing them. I hope your lecture was well received. 🙂

  4. What an incredible place! All the detail work in the reliefs and the architecture…clearly a place worth visiting!

  5. Keller Scholl said:

    Thank you. I will be going up in a few weeks to begin studying for my BA there. What are your recommendations for the sights, architectural and otherwise?

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