Cambridge University — the Unauthorised History

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.

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4 Responses to Cambridge University — the Unauthorised History

  1. Rainborowe says:

    The positions of the two universities in the Civil War were probably because Oxford was the training ground and home of the High Church clergy (cf. Archbishop Laud whose actions helped precipitate the Civil war), while Cambridge was in the Fens. Charles’s action in having the Fens (low-lying common land) drained destroyed the lifestyle and only economic support of the people who lived there in order to sell off the drained land to cronies for cash he couldn’t get from Parliament. Oliver Cromwell was nicknamed “Lord of the Fens” when he was MP for (variously) Cambridge and Huntingdon. On the whole the East of England was parliamentarian and the West (except the “West Country”–i.e. the South-West of England) was Royalist.

  2. Roderick Anderson Read says:

    I am interested in Edward Powell aka ‘Anderson of the Fens’ born 1608 d 1642?? Protester, & revolutionary I suspect. I cannot afford the dictionary of national biography £200.00 can anyone forward me any details?
    I too had two merry and iconoclastic years at Cambridge,
    Rod

  3. Roderick Anderson Read says:

    email about Anderson of the Fens to oldfentiger@hotmail.co.uk (I thought address would show).

  4. michael says:

    The address shows as a hyperlink from the name.

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