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.
- A very brief summary on the Oxford website
- The Illustrated History of the University of Oxford, edited by John Prest (1993)
- The History of the University of Oxford – a multi-volume work published by Oxford University Press, general editor TH Aston:
- Volume I: The Early Oxford Schools ed. J. I. Catto, Ralph Evans (1984)
- Volume II: Late Medieval Oxford ed. J. I. Catto, Ralph Evans (1992)
- Volume III:The Collegiate University ed.James McConica (1986)
- Volume IV: Seventeenth-Century Oxford ed. Nicholas Tyacke (1997)
- Volume V: The Eighteenth Century ed. L. S. Sutherland, L. G. Mitchell
- Volume VI: Nineteenth Century Oxford, Part 1 ed. M. G. Brock, M. C. Curthoys (1997)
- Volume VII: Nineteenth-century Oxford, Part 2 ed. M.G. Brock and M.C. Curthoys (2000)
- Volume VIII: The Twentieth Century ed. Brian Harrison (1994)
- for 19th and early 20th century university and college histories, and some personal memoirs of former students and Fellows, try searching for ‘history oxford’, ‘college history oxford’ etc on archive.org.
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.
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)
available online at http://www.archive.org/details/historyofcollege02chaluoft