A History of the University of Cambridge. Volume III: 1750-1870

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PETER SEARBY. A History of the University of Cambridge. Volume III: 1750-1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Pp. xviii + 797, appendices, bibliography, index. $125.00.

This volume is one of four comprising A History of the University of Cambridge, which is being produced under the general editorship of Christopher N.L. Brooke, Dixie professor of ecclesiastical history emeritus and fellow of Gonville and Caius College. The series is on a much more modest scale than its ongoing Oxford counterpart, The History of the. University of Oxford, whose massive volumes with chapters by many authors seem to justify the confident use of the definite article. By contrast, each of the Cambridge volumes is written by a single individual, who is thus given the opportunity to produce a unified interpretation of a period in the history of the university. The aim has been to create not only works of reference, but accounts that can be read by non-specialists, making accessible to them in readable form the development of Cambridge from its medieval origins to its present-day status as one of the world's great universities.

Both the Oxford and Cambridge approaches have obvious strengths and weaknesses. It is a formidable task for a single individual to synthesize even a century of an institution such as Cambridge, with its complex collegiate structure and role in national life, as well, of course, as its historic position as one ofEngland's two centers of learning. Peter Searby's volume gives the reader much useful information; he does not, however, succeed in bringing together the various themes in his story to provide a satisfying account of how the Cambridge of 1870 had moved from its torpid state in 1750 to being on the verge one hundred and twenty years later of becoming a great center of research. He approaches his subject in topical form, beginning with the physical development of the university and its colleges. This, like his succeeding chapters, is both interesting and well written, but each chapter tends to be a discrete entity, giving the reader an idea of how change occurred in relation to a limited topic, but without a satisfactory integration of the parts into the whole. …