– notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Opinions expressed are the author's own.

Posts tagged “History of the University of Oxford

Q&A Oxford University history

Q: Where can I find out more about the history of the University of Oxford?

A: Here are a few sources for the history of the University of Oxford, printed and online.


– Anna Sander

Alumni Oxonienses online

Good news for family historians and anyone else looking for information on individual former members of the University of Oxford – Joseph Foster’s Alumni Oxonienses 1500-1714 is online and searchable at British History Online, home of the digital Victoria County History and much else. The digitised volumes have been on archive.org for years, but this is certainly easier to use. Roll on 1714-1886…

Q&A: Officer cadets at Balliol during WW1

Q: The subject of my research was an Officer Cadet at Balliol during the First World War. What information does the college hold about him? Do you have any photographs?

A: During World War One, Balliol had two distinct populations. Some of the older Fellows and a much reduced student body (further reduced through each academic year as their commissions came up and they went into active service) carried on something of the ordinary academic life of the college. But Balliol’s premises, like those of most Oxford colleges, were largely given over to war work.

Balliol’s Broad Street site hosted thousands of British and Commonwealth officer cadets on short training courses. These men were not members of Balliol or of the University of Oxford; rather, the Army was in effect renting the property, and the college holds no administrative records of their time here. We have no lists of names or any other systematic records about the individual officer cadets or their activities during their few weeks staying in Balliol.

There are, however, a few isolated glimpses into the lives of officer cadets during their brief sojourns in Oxford. In 2005 an Australian bookseller wrote to us with the offer of a photo album created by one JH Brian Armstrong, a member of No 6 Officer Cadet Battalion at Balliol July – October 1917. There are no identifications of individuals in the album.

Balliol also holds copies of two numbers of ‘The Souvenir’, a journal produced by ‘A’ Company No. 6 Officers’ Cadet Battalion, of their time in Oxford: 10 Nov. 1917-26 Feb. 1918 and 5 April 1918 – 23 Oct. 1918.

We do not have copies of any other numbers of ‘The Souvenir.’ If you have copies of this invaluable resource that you are willing to share, please get in touch.

Images of the resources mentioned above and a few other pieces are available online here.

Not connected with Balliol but another publication by and for WW1 soldiers, the well-known trench magazine ‘The Wipers Times’ has recently been edited and published in full as The Wipers Times: The Complete Series of the Famous Wartime Trench Newspaper (Hardcover), Little Books, Jan 2006; ISBN 1-904435-60-2.

JM Winter’s chapter in Vol VIII of The History of the University of Oxford provides a useful survey of Oxford in the First World War.

Museum of the History of Science

The Youtube channel of Oxford’s Museum of the History of Science – here’s an introduction from the director:

… but the ones about exhibitions and objects are more interesting!

Q&A – university and colleges at Oxford

Q: I’m confused about the relationship between Oxford University and the colleges.
A: The relationship between the colleges and the University of Oxford is not obvious to anyone who has not experienced it. There is a very short summary on the Oxford website here.

Colleges are the basis of undergraduate life. Students live, eat and do their laundry in their colleges. Undergraduates use their college libraries, not the Bodleian (central University library). There are of course exceptions – department libraries, and the Radcliffe Camera of the Bodleian Library, which is the undergraduate reading room. They play sports for their college against other colleges, drink in the college bar and may worship (or attend concerts) in their college chapel. Their academic and personal tutors will be Fellows of their college, and much of their learning will take place within the college walls, though lectures and seminars may take place in university departments or lecture rooms in other colleges. Academic supervision is college-based and there are periodic college exams. Historically, the college has been a place for students to live and prepare for University examinations. The University is the degree-granting body (strictly speaking, nobody ‘graduates from’ a college) and sets the exams required to obtain a degree. It also has faculties and departments much as any other university does. Most non-academic staff in a college will be employed only by that college; academic staff may hold joint college-university posts, or be employed only by a college (lecturers) or by the University (many science research staff, Professors etc. ) Just to muddy the waters, Professors and some other university-employed academics are given membership of a college, or at least of its Senior Common Room (SCR) to provide them with a friendly social ‘home’ in Oxford. This does not make them full voting members of Governing Body… The college systems in Oxford and Cambridge are somewhat different, but they are much more similar to each other than they are to any other university.

Don’t be surprised (or discouraged) if you are still confused. There’s always wikipedia. For more information about University admissions and choosing a college, see the University’s Admissions pages, as well as the Admissions page on any college’s website.

early college education

A useful note about the early development of colleges in Oxford:

‘Before these Colleges were erected, the scholars who were educated in the Halls or Inns subsisted there at their own expence, or that of opulent Prelates or Noblemen ; but many of the youth of the kingdom, and perhaps the greater part, were educated in St. Frideswide’s Priory, Oseney Abbey, and other religious houses in Oxford and its vicinity. As the Colleges, however, increased in the number and value of their endowments, the scholars and dependents on religious houses began to decrease.

‘In Colleges, at first, none were educated but those who were admitted upon the foundation ; but when learning, and the love of learning, began to be more extensively diffused, those establishments were resorted to by independent members, under the names of Commoners, and Gentlemen Commoners.’

– Alexander Chalmers, A history of the colleges, halls, and public buildings attached to the University of Oxford, including the lives of the founders, ill. by a series of engravings (1810)
(2 vols)
available online at http://www.archive.org/details/historyofcollege02chaluoft

book link

Full transcriptions of historic statutes of Oxford Colleges, in 3 volumes. Balliol is first in the first volume. NB these are transcripts, not translations, so early documents are in Latin.

Another useful book or two

Rogers, James E. Thorold. Education in Oxford, its method, its aids, and its rewards (1861)

Pantin, WA. Oxford Life in Oxford Archives. 1972.

Brock, Peter. Against the Draft: Essays on Conscientious Objection from the Radical Transformation to the Second World War. University of Toronto Press, 2006. Partial preview available here via Google Books: http://books.google.com/books?id=5fe6gbDyDhEC&output=html

An earlier version of the chapter dealing with the formation of the Universities Ambulance Unit at Oxford is:

Brock, Peter. ‘Six Weeks at Hawkspur Green: A Pacifist Episode during the Battle of Britain.’  Peace and Change 28:2, pp271-293. Published online by Wiley InterScience, March 2003. Available by subscription (free to Oxford PCs).

Oxford and Oxford Life, ed. J Wells (2nd ed, 1899).

Helpful chronicle of the important changes in University and College admission and examination procedures in the late 19th century.