Building on 750 years of inspiring ideas
19 January 2013

 

 

To view the video click 750 years

 

 

 

 

The Statutes of Dervorguilla of Galloway Lady of Balliol, 1282 

 

 

As we enter the New Year 2013, a new milestone in the history of the University of Oxford appears: Balliol College, where Voices from Oxford is based, celebrates its foundation in 1263. Whether expressed as three quarters of a millennium, or as 750 years, it is indeed a long time. The University itself goes back even further, possibly to around 1096. Later in this century, the university will therefore be able to celebrate its millenium.

Any visitor to Oxford can see the evidence of this longevity all around them. Merton College still has buildings and a library originating in the thirteenth century (see VOX video). Balliol has its statutes and seal from that period (reproduced here as an image from the College’s on-line archive), and those two colleges have fabulous and priceless collections of early books. You can see a VOX video of the Balliol archive centre at St Cross Church and the Centre is described the Balliol archive website.

In his latest video broadcast, the Master of Balliol, Sir Drummond Bone, takes the viewer on a tour of a few of the many famous people amongst its alumni and Fellows: the Archbishops of Canterbury, the Cardinals, the Nobel-prize winners, the Prime Ministers, Presidents, Heads of State, Poets, Economists …… the list could be extended way beyond Sir Drummond’s intriguing selection. Indeed, there were seven Archbishops of Canterbury; he mentions simply the four since the nineteenth century, and three Cardinals, one more than he mentions. The full details can be found in John Jones’ great history of the College.

But the real point of Sir Drummond’s message in this video is not just how old the College is, but how vibrant it is. Just as it forged ahead in the nineteenth century under the Masterships of Jenkyns and Jowett, it is breaking new ground in the 21st century. It is a hive of intellectual activity, continually spawning new offshoots, like the Internet Institute (which is where VOX broadcasts from), to add further jewels to the crown of academic and social activity which you can find here in Oxford. Characteristically, the College is not celebrating 750 years with new buildings: it is focussing on its intellectual powerhouse: its students, alumni and fellows, and it is taking its message around the four corners or the world in a series of Master’s seminars.

It is not easy to describe Oxford University to those who don’t know it from experience. It appears as a strange web of interacting institutions, with many people associated with more than one of them. This is what makes Oxford a naturally interdisciplinary place, and what brings it fully in line with modern thinking about what a university should be about. The word universitas (the latin for University) meant a community when it was coined in Bologna in the eleventh century. The colleges are communities where the boundaries between disciplines are naturally fuzzy. In those fuzzy cracks new ideas bubble up.

Voices from Oxford will continue to bring to our viewers some of the excitement about the social and intellectual issues being addressed in this ancient place. Our aim is to open it up to the world at large.

Denis Noble   18th  January 2013