The History of the University of Oxford, published between 1980 and 2000, in 8 volumes, may seem daunting but the indexes are good, chapter headings usually self-explanatory, and the coverage immense. If your interest is in aspects of the curriculum, the development of the collegiate system, student life, the impact of the university on national politics ..... begin here! Most large libraries should either hold a copy or be able to obtain one for you. The earlier three volume history of the university by C.E. Mallet is still excellent. There is also the single volume The Illustrated history of Oxford University by John Prest (ed.), (1993). For a volume on a single, and often mis-represented period of the University’s history, try Graham Midgley’s University Life in 18th century Oxford (1996)
Joseph Foster, Alumni Oxonienses. Foster transcribed, edited, and added to the university’s matriculation register to compile a list of most members of the university between 1500 and 1886. The volumes are not 100% reliable, partly because not all students formally matriculated, and partly because Foster occasionally made mistakes. However, as a first port-of-call for information on alumni, it is a tremendous resource. Foster published a follow-on volume, Oxford men and their colleges, which covers the period 1880 to 1892. Emden’s Biographical Registers of the University of Oxford, are more modern and deal with the years up to 1540. Many colleges have produced their own biographical registers, particularly of the period post-Foster. From the early 19th century until 1971 , the names of all members of the University were recorded in the annual University Calendar. Since then, there have been occasional Lists of Members.
Venn’s Alumni Cantabrigienses, again in 8 volumes, is the companion publication for Cambridge.
Unfortunately no longer in print, but tremendously useful, is C. Hibbert, The encyclopaedia of Oxford, (1988). The book contains brief histories of the colleges and departments, short biographies of significant Oxford men and women, and facts and figures about shops, businesses, clubs, and all other aspects of life in and around the city.
Other University publications which are useful, but may be difficult to find outside academic libraries, are the Oxford University Handbook, the Oxford Historical Register and its supplements, the annual volumes of decrees and regulations, and The Catalogue of Oxford Graduates. Accounts and anecdotes of university life were written by Anthony Wood, the 17th century antiquarian, and Thomas Hearne, in the 18th century. These were published by the Oxford Historical Society which continues to produce editions of material from the university and college archives.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004), contains biographies of around 50,000 men and women who have impacted on British life. The ODNB should be available in hard copy and on-line at most libraries.
Who’s Who and Who was Who are familiar volumes giving brief biographical details of significant people from 1849.
Crockfords and its predecessor, the Clergy Lists, published annually from the mid-19th century, include the names of all Church of England clergy in the UK and world-wide. The volumes are organised by name and by parish, and include the name of a parish’s patron.
British Archives, edited by Foster and Sheppard, is now in its 4th edition. This lists all UK archives by location but also has subject lists if you are interested in tracking down a particular type of archive. The volume gives contact details and a brief description of the archive together with opening hours and access condition. You may find it easier to use an on-line resource such as the National Register of Archives or ARCHON (see Links).
Topographical and architectural information on Oxford and the University can be found in volumes 3 and 4 of the Victoria History of the County of Oxford (the VCH). Volume 3 deals with the university and volume 4 with the city. Most of the counties of England have at least a few volumes in the VCH series so it is well worth seeking out for information on the colleges’ landed estates as well. Other useful texts are Geoffrey Tyack’s Oxford: an architectural guide, (1998), and Pevsner’s Buildings of England series. The latter is also available on CD-ROM.
The fees paid by students for board and lodging.
An attendant to the Vice-chancellor on official occasions.
The highest sporting achievement of the university given to members of certain sports clubs who compete in the annual Varsity match for their sport.
A member of the university police - recently disbanded.
A type of insurance payment against breakages or defaulting paid at the beginning of one’s time at college, and repaid on going down.
A Christ Church term for the senior members of the academic staff who take on an administrative and disciplinary role for a limited period.
A category of an honours degree, in the sense of ‘first class’, etc.
Informal, internal examinations to test a student’s progress.
At Oxford and Cambridge, the colleges are independent institutions which provide teaching, and board and lodging. The title of first college is fought over by University, Balliol, and Merton Colleges. Among the most recent is Kellogg College which specialises in graduate courses for part-time mature students.
To arrive at Oxford, either for the first time or at the beginning of each term.
The Senior Common Room of each college is a type of club for the fellows and invited guests. Most colleges also have a Junior Common Room (for undergraduates) and a Middle (or Graduate) Common Room for post-graduate students.
The legislative body of the university.
Until recently, Convocation was the collective name for all MAs. Now all graduates of the university are members of Convocation. It dates, along with Congregation, from the 13th century.
Any inter-Collegiate competition for a prize, and not just sporting events (there are Drama Cuppers, for example).
At all colleges but Christ Church the dean is the senior academic responsible for discipline. The term is also used for the senior cleric in any Anglican cathedral and so, as Christ Church is both cathedral and college, the dean there is both the master of the college and the head of the cathedral.
A scholar at Magdalen College (pronounced dem-I, like rely).
A university tutor.
The rowing races held during the summer for the title Head of the River.
The ceremony in the Sheldonian Theatre in June at which honorary degrees are presented.
An undergraduate in receipt of an exhibition, or prize, towards his or her fees.
A university department administering the examination of each subject.
A celebratory meal to bring together graduates by matriculation years on a fairly regular basis.
To leave the university, either for the vacation or permanently.
Occasionally a student could be let off certain academic exercises necessary for a degree. There are also the graces said before and after meals which are often peculiar to an individual college.
The final examination in classics, or Literae humaniores.
Head of House
There are a number of titles used by the heads of each college including ‘Rectors’, ‘Presidents’, ‘Principals’, ‘Provosts’, ‘Masters’, ‘Wardens’, and one ‘Dean’.
Spring term, running from January to Easter.
Christ Church, from its Latin title, Aedis Christi, House of God.
If a student moves from Oxford, Cambridge, or Trinity College in Dublin to one of these three, his or her status is automatically confirmed at the new institution. This is known as incorporation.
Junior Common Room. A social club for students studying for an undergraduate qualification.
The manciple was originally the chief purchaser of food (except for beer, bread and butter) in a college. The title is still used in some colleges for a senior member of staff involved in the catering; perhaps the domestic accountant or the Head Chef, for example.
The ceremony which formally admits a student as a member of the university. Particularly during the early modern period, and into the 19th century, matriculation did not always occur at the same time as admission to a college. It was not uncommon for matriculation to take place some time before or after their admission to a college. Neither did all students matriculate, although it was necessary to be a matriculated member of the University before one could take a degree.
Winter term, running from October to Christmas.
Middle Common Room. Sometimes known as the GCR, or Graduate Common Room.
Moderations. The first public examinations sat by un undergraduate. In some subjects these are known as Prelims.
NOT the Students’ Union! The Oxford Union Society was formed in 1825 out of the Oxford United Debating Society. The Union has proved itself a training ground for political debate. Presidents have included Lord Hailsham, Michael Foot, Edward Heath, Tony Benn, Peter Jay, Tariq Ali, Benazir Bhutto, and Boris Johnson.
The lodge keeper in any Oxford college. Supplier of useful information to all new arrivals and long-term residents alike, and usually in charge of the mail.
A scholar at Merton College.
Disciplinary and administrative officer of the university, elected annually in rotation by the colleges.
Originally an examination in Greek, Latin, Logic, and Geometry which had to be passed before a student could sit for a BA. During the middle part of the 20th century, Responsions became, in effect, an entrance examination for Oxford. It was abolished in 1960.
Temporarily expelled from the university.
An undergraduate in receipt of a scholarship towards his or her fees.
The faculties, final examinations, and the building in which examinations are held.
A college domestic assistant. Originally scouts performed all sorts of duties for undergraduates including preparing breakfast, laying fires, arranging travel tickets, etc. but now the term applies to those who clean a student’s room.
Senior Common Room. A social or gentleman’s club for the senior members of a college.
The lowest order of undergraduate. Servitors usually received tuition in return for performing menial tasks around college such as waiting on table. Servitors were abolished during the nineteenth century, although some colleges did have tasks that could be done by an undergraduate in return for tuition until relatively recently.
In most colleges, the person in charge of the college bar. At Christ Church, the Steward is the Domestic Bursar in charge of all matters relating to bed and board, conferences, catering, etc.
The Christ Church equivalent (always spelt with an upper-case ‘S’) of a Fellow.
The ‘uniform’ required of any member of the university for official occasions including examinations. Usually a dark suit, white shirt, and white bow tie, worn with an academic gown and cap. Women wear a black skirt or trousers, a white blouse, and usually a black ribbon in place of a bow tie.
The Other Place
The Bird and Baby
The Eagle and Child pub on St Giles which was once the meeting place for the Inklings, a writing society whose members included JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.
The High Street
Rowing races which take place in February. The term ‘torpid’ originally referred to a college’s second VIII. The races were less highly considered than the summer Eights.
Summer term, running from April to July.
All the older colleges have a Visitor to whom the Governing Body may turn in cases of insoluble dispute. This is often a successor to the founder. At Christ Church and Oriel College, for example, as Royal foundations, the Visitor is the reigning monarch. The Queen is also Visitor at University College. At All Souls, Keble, and Merton it is the archbishop of Canterbury; at Queen’s, the archbishop of York; Corpus Christi, Brasenose, Exeter, Lincoln, Magdalen, New, St Anne’s, St John’s, St Peter’s, Trinity, and Wadham have bishops; Hertford, Lady Margaret Hall, Pembroke, St Edmund Hall’s, and Somerville colleges have the Chancellor of the University as their Visitor; St Catherine’s College is visited by the Duke of Edinburgh. Other colleges are visited by the Lord High Steward of the University, or by a senior politician, or a distinguished alumnus selected by the college. The predominance of clergymen reflects the religious origins of the University