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The 100 treasures of Univ

The first Treasure was published on the Univ website in August 2013: appropriately it was the first College statutes of 1280/81. The idea of the Treasures project was and remains to highlight objects that reveal, often in unexpected ways, something of the history and life of Univ—its buildings, its collections, its people. Most but but not all of the Treasures have been from the College Library or Archive. For the occasion of the 100th Treasure, just over a decade since the publication of the first, the College Librarian and Archivist asked a number of staff members, emeritus and honorary Fellows, and Old Members to choose their favourite Treasure and comment on it. Ranging across most of the 775 years of Univ’s existence, from the early fourteenth century (a medieval bestiary chosen by Christine Ritchie) to 2014 (the year of the Clintons’ visit to the College after Chelsea’s DPhil graduation), the selected Treasures illustrate something beyond the College itself: the various religious, political, cultural, artistic, and social contexts in which its history has unfolded. Most are physical objects, but a few are events or persons. Taken together, however, they suggest powerfully that the College has existed never in isolation but always in relation to external conditions and developments, some profoundly disruptive.

The Book of Hours chosen by Helen Cooper reminds us of Univ’s foundation as a medieval religious institution, the Mercator atlas chosen by Thomas Connelley of its connection to early modern advances in knowledge. And together these two objects represent the momentous transition from a manuscript to a print culture. The photo album chosen by Robin Darwall-Smith is a valuable record of student life immediately before—and to be permanently changed by—the First World War. The SCR menus chosen by Keith Dorrington and staff Christmas party records chosen by Liz Fleetwood reveal aspects of Oxford social life and culinary tastes in the 1930s and 1940s. Bill Clinton’s visit in 1994, mentioned by both Christopher Pelling and Sir Ivor Crewe, exemplifies the College’s connections with contemporary politics, while the Civil War pamphlet chosen by Andrew Bell reminds us of Oxford’s central role in that conflict. The Treasure chosen by Sandy Nairne, the model of the rejected design for Main Quad, is a remarkable piece of British architectural history, attesting to Oxford’s conservative resistance to classical architecture. Without John Radcliffe, mentioned by Alastair Lack, there would have been no second quad, which in the event was required to be built in stylistic conformity to the first one. Arthur Stanley’s annotated classics texts, chosen by Colton Valentine, provide unusual insight into nineteenth-century pedagogical methods. And Elizabeth Adam’s choice, the Robert Ross Memorial Collection, given to Univ in 1932 after having been declined by Magdalen College, attests not only to the troubled process of Oscar Wilde’s literary canonisation, but to changing social and sexual mores in the twentieth century.

Nicholas Halmi (Fellow Librarian) — January, 2024 

Inside a Victorian lecture room

Sir Ernst Chain: Penicillin pioneer

Less study and more exercise

Bill Clinton’s Honorary doctorate, 1994

MS 120: Bestiary

Books of Hours: women’s literacy and religious lives

Eights Week 1914

Univ’s Unsung Treasure

Mercator’s Atlas

Shall We Dance?

Architectural model for the Main Quad

Bill Clinton’s Honorary Doctorate, 1994

A White Dogge Called Boye

Our heartfelt thanks to the contributors above for sharing with us their favourite Treasures and, of course, to all members of our College “Treasure Team” for their regular additions to this fascinating series of features.

When you have exhausted the suggestions made here, we invite you to explore the full catalogue of Univ’s Treasures.

Published: 31 January 2024

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