Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Oxford University

Our class and those in Prof. Meera Nair’s “Writing London: Outsiders in the City” donned our best and headed to Oxford for a tour of Prof. Hornbeck’s alma mater. We dressed for dinner, but did not feel overdressed during the day. Our trip coincided with final examinations for Oxford students. During these exams, students are expected to appear in academic dress known as subfusc that includes a gown and white bow tie for men and thin black tie for women . Variations indicate academic status, and the colors of the carnation corsages reflect what stage of examinations the student is in that day. Oxford takes tradition very seriously, and students who do not show up properly dressed are not permitted to take their exams.

After some discussion about the medieval foundations of the university system, which went partially toward explaining the often quirky way Oxford still structures its education, we took a tour of the world-class Bodleian library. Access to the collections is highly restricted, but we were able to go into rooms most students do not visit including the Convocation House and the Chancellor’s Court. The 17th century Convocation House is a somewhat hidden and guarded space which King Charles I used to hold Parliament during the English Civil War and is still used to grant high level honorary degrees requiring tight security. The Chancellor’s Court next door, where misbehaved former students like Oscar Wilde were tried, is even more remote and leads to the Oxford prison below, now used to store computer equipment and wine for receptions.

The afternoon was spent at Christ Church, the largest of the colleges. Christ Church was founded by Cardinal Wolsey in 1524 on the site of the dissolved Augustinian monastery of St. Frideswide with funds taken from several other dissolved religious houses. He originally named the school Cardinal College in honor of himself. Not to be outdone in modesty, King Henry VIII suppressed and refounded the college a few years later as King Henry VIII’s College. The present name, Christ Church, was settled upon in 1546. The monastic cloister of St. Fridewide’s has been well maintained and counts as the fourth medieval monastery our class has visited in our last three meetings! Most of us opted to attend the beautifully done liturgy of Evensong at 6:00pm sung by the cathedral boy’s choir.

Much of the conversation during the day that was not about places filmed in Harry Potter had to do with the place Oxford has occupied in Britain’s social and cultural imagination. Oxford has long been perceived as a gate to the aristocracy, and Oxford’s symbols, traditions, and even architecture are associated with prestige, authority, and success and mimicked in institutions of higher education throughout the world. Not to be outclassed by Oxford, however, our Fordham students concluded the day with a fantastic dinner served in a private dining room next to the main dining hall, now better known as Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We will spend the next two days outside of class visiting various medieval churches in London and preparing presentations on them.


1 comment:

  1. This is positively brilliant! Keep up the fine news briefs!