Cambridge, University of
CAMBRIDGE, UNIVERSITY OF
The origins of the University of Cambridge go back to the 13th century. There may have been schools in the town before 1200, and scholars may have come from Oxford in 1209. The university is certainly mentioned in documents of 1231.
Development. The University of Cambridge was recognized as a studium generale by Pope John XXII in 1318. The medieval masters and students were mostly secular clerks, but the regular clergy, both Franciscans and Benedictines, were important until the Reformation. The first college, Peterhouse, was founded by the Benedictine monk, Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, in 1284, although few students were members of colleges until the 16th century. Among the more important college foundations were King's (1441), St. John's (1511), and Trinity (1546). By 1600, however, all teachers and students were members of one of the 16 colleges then existing. In fact, between that date and the 19th century the university was little more than a loose federation of colleges.
The chief promoter of the "new learning" in Cambridge was its chancellor, John fisher (d. 1535), who probably brought erasmus to Cambridge. The Reformation was strong there, for English Protestantism was preeminently a Cambridge movement. Under Elizabeth I theology played a more prominent part in university studies than it had done in the Middle Ages. Puritanism was flourishing, and in the following century Cambridge men played an important part in the foundation of New England and of Harvard College. During the English Civil Wars (1642–52) the sympathies of the university were largely Royalist and many of the heads and fellows of colleges were expelled by the victorious Parliamentarians. In academic studies Aristotelian and scholastic ideas remained predominant all through this period, until a new interest in scientific and mathematical studies appeared, the greatest name here being that of Isaac Newton, who was working on the theory of gravity in the 1660s. In the following century the ancient disputations were gradually replaced as the means of qualifying for a degree by a written examination in mathematics, later called the mathematical tripos.
The 18th century was not a prosperous period in Cambridge. There were, however, some distinguished men, such as the classical scholar Richard bentley. After 1815 reforms were gradually introduced, although pressure from Parliament was necessary to bring about radical changes. After the appointment of a royal commission of enquiry in 1850 and the consequent reform of the university and college statutes a new age of expansion began. Numbers rose; new studies, in particular the natural sciences, were fostered; colleges for women were founded (Girton 1869, Newnham 1871), though women did not become full members of the university until 1948. The main obstacle to expansion in the later 19th century was lack of money, for although the colleges had large endowments, these were fully committed and the university had very little available for new developments. Eventually the university (and indirectly the colleges) came to depend on government grants, the first general grant being given in 1919–20. As a result another royal commission of enquiry was appointed, and new university and college statutes were made between 1926 and 1928, by which Cambridge is still governed.
Organization. The university is a common-law corporation by prescription, consisting of a chancellor, masters, and scholars. Its incorporation was confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1571. Each of the colleges is itself a self-governing body, the control of its affairs resting in the hands of its own head and fellows. There are now 20 colleges—18 for men and 2 for women. Churchill College (1960), which ranks as an approved foundation, and Fitz-william House for noncollegiate students (1869) both approximate very closely colleges of the normal type as does New Hall (1954), a recognized institution for women. The self-government of both university and colleges is limited only by the fact that the authority of the Queen-in-Council must be obtained for the amendment of their statutes. The interconnection between the university and its colleges is so close that one cannot be thought of without the other. It is in general not possible to be a member of one without being a member of the other, and many university officers hold college offices and vice versa. All undergraduates and research students must first obtain admission to a college; this control over admissions gives the colleges their distinctive position in the structure.
After 1871 when all religious tests for the university degree were withdrawn, residences for Catholic students attending the various colleges were established. Among these were Fisher House, named in honor of St. John Fisher, the martyred bishop of Rochester, which serves as the Catholic chaplaincy and provides a program of religious and social activities for Catholics associated with the university; St. Edmund's House, a residence for secular priests, seminarians, and laymen attending the university; and Benet House, reserved as a residence for members of the Benedictine Order. Other religious orders maintain residences for their own members, and Lady Margaret Hall is a hostel for Catholic women students, mainly foreign students residing in the city.
Administration. The ultimate governing body of the university is the senate, which consists of doctors and masters in all faculties, and of bachelors of divinity, whether resident or not. The senate has the right to confer degrees and to elect the chancellor, who is the supreme university officer but whose position is largely formal. The effective government of the university lies in the hands of the Regent House, which decides major matters of policy and consists of university and college teachers, and administrative officers who are resident in Cambridge. There is no permanent executive head like an American university president. One of the heads of colleges acts as vice-chancellor for a period of two years, and as such presides over the three main administrative bodies: the council of the senate, the general board of the faculties, and the financial board. The first, elected by the Regent House, is responsible for the general oversight of affairs and for the presentation of reports on matters of policy on which the Regent House may subsequently vote. The second is responsible for advising the university on educational policy, teaching, and research; and the third, for the regulation of expenditure.
Research and teaching are handled by 20 faculties and other independent departments. The most ancient chair, the Lady Margaret professorship of divinity, was established in 1502. Other chairs, since introduced, cover the humanities, sciences, classical and modern languages, agriculture, engineering, medicine, and Oriental and veterinary studies. In the 1850s the teaching of undergraduates was done by the colleges and private tutors, but since the early 1900s it has become more and more centralized in the university itself, particularly as a result of the rapid growth of the scientific departments. The colleges retain responsibility only for the individual teaching of their own members by college supervisors, a system that was developed during the 20th century. Many of these supervisors, but not all, are fellows of colleges, who may often hold university lectureships. The most important college officials from the undergraduate point of view are the tutors who are responsible for the welfare and discipline of the men under their charge. Although in modern times the university has become more important at the expense of the colleges, college tutoring and supervision are still regarded as very important parts of the Cambridge system.
Degrees and Examinations. All students in all subjects take the B.A. as their first degree. In the 1850s less than half the undergraduates took honors, the only road to which was through the mathematical tripos (the word "tripos" refers to a three-legged stool used in university ceremonies, and the word came eventually to be applied, by a devious course of events, to the honors examinations themselves). In the 19th century new tripos examinations were created in classics (1822) and in moral and in natural sciences (1848), and subsequently new triposes have been founded which cover all the main subjects of academic study, including music, architecture, and fine arts. For the B.A. degree nine terms' residence is required, and for an honors degree the appropriate standard must generally be reached in two tripos examinations. The majority of the triposes are divided into two parts, the first being taken at the end of the 1st or 2d year and the second at the end of the 3d year after a course of more specialized study. It is possible, unlike the system in most British universities, for the two tripos examinations to be taken in different subjects. Honors are classified into first, second, and third class. Within each class the arrangement is alphabetical; until 1909 mathematical honors were graded in order of merit, the first man on the list bearing the ancient title of senior wrangler. Almost all undergraduates now take honors degrees; pass degrees still exist, but they are of very little importance.
Until the 1890s there was no organized provision for graduate study. Any B.A. may be admitted to the M.A. degree without further examination after six years have elapsed from the end of his first term. The M.A. confers membership of the senate and certain privileges in the use of the university library and other institutions, but it does not represent any additional academic qualification. In the later 19th century the university began to give graduates of other universities certain credits toward the B.A. degree (at present graduates of many other universities may obtain the B.A. after obtaining honors in one tripos examination and keeping six terms' residence). In 1895 it was for the first time made possible for graduate students from other universities to obtain the B.A. by thesis, a step that inaugurated the "research student" in the modern sense. The Ph.D. degree was established in 1919, its supporters urging that after World War I many students, especially Americans, who had previously gone to Germany for their research work would come to England if a doctorate were available for them. The graduate studies of the university developed with great rapidity after World War II, especially in the scientific departments. Graduate students come to Cambridge from all over the world. Among the chief university institutions is the university library, which contains more than 3,000,000 works. There are other faculty and departmental libraries, and each college has a library of its own, many of these containing important manuscripts and printed collections. The university and college buildings are scattered throughout the city.
Bibliography: The Student's Handbook to the University and Colleges of Cambridge, 1962–63 (1963); The Annual Register, 1962–63 (1963); Statutes of the University of Cambridge …(1961); The Historical Register of the University of Cambridge… to the Year 1910, ed. j. r. tanner (1917), with suppls.; Alumni Cantabrigienses, comp. J. and j. a. venn, 10 v. (1922–54). a.b. emden, Biographical Register of the Scholars of the University of Cambridge before 1500 (Cambridge, Eng. 1963). Cambridge University Reporter (1870–), weekly in term. (All published by Cambridge University Press.) j. p. c. roach, ed., The City and University of Cambridge (Victoria History of the County of Cambridgeshire …, v. 3; London 1959). c. h. cooper, Annals of Cambridge, 5 v. (Cambridge 1842–1908). r. willis, The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge …, ed. j. w. clark, 4 v. (1886). d. a. winstanley, The University of Cambridge in the 18th Century (1922); Unreformed Cambridge (1935); Early Victorian Cambridge (1940); Later Victorian Cambridge (1947). (All published by the University Press.) t. d. atkinson, Cambridge Described and Illustrated (London 1897).
[j. p. c. roach]