Ross Anderson, Cambridge University – the Unauthorised History
Cambridge University — the Unauthorised History
Cambridge University is celebrating its 800th anniversary in 2009. The official history tells the tale of the buildings; but what about the ideas?
Down through the years, Oxford has produced many powerful men and Cambridge many iconoclasts — scientists, philosophers and revolutionaries. The polarisation is by no means total: Oxford's alumni include the reformer John Wyclif and the father of economics Adam Smith, while ours include the Prime Minister Charles Grey, who abolished slavery and passed the Great Reform Bill. But we've long produced more of the rebels; way back in the Civil War, for example, we were parliamentarian while Oxford was royalist. Why should this be?
I can't find anyone else trying to tell the tale, so I'll try. This web page explains how disruption has been in our DNA from the very beginning.
I spent two very happy years at Cambridge. But it seemed more middle and upper class than iconoclast. Still, who can resist an account that proclaims,
Just as fire regenerates the forest, so a great university regenerates human culture — our view of the world and our understanding of it. We incinerate the rubbish. And Cambridge has long been the hottest flamethrower; we're the most creatively destructive institution in all of human history.