The History of the University of Oxford, Volume VI: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1

By Ellens, J. P. | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview

The History of the University of Oxford, Volume VI: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1


Ellens, J. P., The Catholic Historical Review


The History of the University of Oxford, Volume VI: Nineteenth-Century Oxford, Part 1. Edited by M. G. Brock and M. C. Curthoys. (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 1997. Pp. xxxviii, 806. $145.00.)

This book, part of the official history of the University of Oxford, is indispensable for understanding the modernization of nineteenth-century Oxford. It consists of a collection of essays, some of which trace the narrative of the reform of the university culminating with the passage of the University Tests Act in 1871 and topical chapters that include the university's finances, changing curriculum, including the development of its classical emphasis ("Greats") and the natural sciences, as well as essays on university institutions up to 1914.

The narrative line in the book traces the transformation of the university from a confessional (Anglican) university to a substantially national (secular) one. Anyone who has pondered the themes of Ex Corde Ecclesiae would benefit from reading in this volume. To its credit, this study takes seriously the claims of the older confessional university while pointing to many areas in teaching and scholarship greatly in need of reform, although it does ultimately accept the secular liberal article of faith that free intellectual inquiry and a religious confession for the university are incompatible.

M. G. Brock pictures an Oxford in 1800 in which the colleges, the true centers of the university, were controlled by clergymen, as were the institutions that controlled the university (p. 9). Fellows of the colleges were expected to remain unmarried (although college heads could marry), giving colleges a monastic feel (p. 28). In an age of revolution, Oxford had adopted classics in 1800 "as a bulwark against the jacobins" (p. 14). The role of divinity in the curriculum was actually small, but what there was, the study of the Gospels in Greek, the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, and Butler's Analogy ofReligion, was basic and required. The linchpin of the confessional university was the requirement that no student could matriculate in a college without subscribing to the Thirty-Nine Articles (subscription in Cambridge was reserved as a condition of graduation) (p. 11).

In a splendid chapter, L. W B. Brockliss places Oxford in the context of European universities in the revolutionary era from 1789 to 1850. He points out that Oxford and Cambridge were anomalies in Europe in retaining their emphasis on the arts (p. 81). Oxford in 1800 was what universities had been from 1200 to 1600. Each of the subjects of study had been united, since the Renaissance, through the "same analytical tools: humanist exegetical techniques and Aristotelian verbal logic. …

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