The History of Oxford University

The alumni of Oxford University are justifiably proud of their Alma Mater. It is one of the most respected universities in the world. It has produced some of the greatest and most respected thinkers and academics on the globe during its illustrious history.

People like Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Adam Smith are alumni of the university – in fact, the list of luminaries that have trodden its hallowed halls is almost too long to mention.

It is no wonder that some of the greatest minds that have shared wit and wisdom over the centuries have found their home at Oxford – the history of this, the oldest university in the English-speaking world is characterised by the intellectual output of these giants of thought. DPH Legal are a firm of solicitors who also have an office in the area.

Oxford has been a centre of learning for centuries. there is evidence that some form of education was taking place there as far back as the early 11th century.

One of the first recorded instances of scholarly activity was in 1188 when Gerald of Wales gave a presentation to the assembled dons of the university. The first chancellor was elected in 1214 and by 1231 the masters of the institution were recognised as being part of an “Universitas” (a ‘corporation’ at that time).

It was in the 13th century that the first ‘halls of residence’ were established – in part due to ongoing clashes between the townspeople and the students at Oxford. The oldest of the established ‘houses’ are University, Balliol and Merton Colleges. These came into being between 1249 and 1264.

Within a century Oxford was recognised as one of the greatest seats of learning in the world. It received accolades from royalty, great thinkers and even the pope himself.

Oxford had become a shining beacon of thought – but one that was to stir controversy even in its early days. The 14th-century Master of Balliol – John Wyclif campaigned for the translation of the Bible into English – a campaign that did not sit well with the church.

The university was a lodestone for independent thinkers. In the dying years of the 17th century, Oxford philosopher John Locke was forced to flee England after being accused of treason. He was not to be the last of the Oxford alumni who would battle against commonly held beliefs – or the will of those in power.

The 18th century saw Oxford alumni begin to cement the universities reputation as a great seat of learning. It was during this period that scientists and philosophers such as Newton began to redefine our understanding of the universe and our place in it. Edmund Halley, who was at that time Professor of Geometry predicted with startling accuracy the timelines for the return of the comet that still bears his name. The Methodist church was established due in no small part to prayer meetings held by John and Charles Wesley.

By the Victorian era, the university found itself once again embroiled in religious controversy. In 1860 the University Museum set the stage for one of the most famous debates between the church and adherents of science when Thomas Huxley championed evolution while debating Bishop Wilberforce.

By the late 19th century society was changing and this was reflected in the establishment of the first women’s halls in 1878. It took some time but by 1920 women were finally admitted to the university as full members. By 1974 5 formerly male-only colleges were admitting women – and finally, all colleges would follow – today all the colleges at Oxford admit women. The reverse of the male-only colleges also applied to all female colleges – St Hilda’s College which was formerly set aside for women finally admitted to men in 2008.

Today Oxford is recognised as a shining beacon of research and applied sciences – lately also including medicine. It remains one of the most elite universities and its history would indicate that it will continue on its path to providing a firm footing for those who want to explore the upper reaches of thought and academia. Today the university welcomes students from across the globe and this international culture of academic exploration will stand this institute of higher learning in good stead as it plots its path forward into a new millennium and beyond.


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    We can be contacted 24 hours a day.
    Our Reading Head Office address is:

    Davidson House
    Forbury Square
    RG1 3EU
    0118 914 5622
    07850 952245