Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Colleges

So, first of all, a brief introduction to the Oxford colleges.

Oxford is a collegiate university (like Cambridge and Durham, although we don't like to talk about them), with each student belonging to a college or private hall. I can't remember how many colleges we have - it's a bit like trying to remember how many states there are in the US, the number seems to vary. If I tried naming them I'd probably get to about twenty-five, but I'm sure there are more than that. Essentially, the University is responsible for your education, while the college looks after your day-to-day life, although the boundaries between the two do get a little blurred. Lectures and laboratory sessions (if you're a scientist) are all organised by your department, but you have classes and tutorials (like traditional classes, but with a much higher tutor/student ratio) in college.

Every college is different, and each has its own character. The students at each college are often considered to belong to specific stereotypes - Merton students are said to work the hardest, for example - but in reality you typically find that few adhere to these stereotypes. There's a lot of variation in size as well, both in terms of numbers of students and physical expanse. Some colleges are tiny, tucked away down back alleys, while others have grand facades that lead to even grander quads (quadrangles - basically large, often grassed-over courtyards).

Your college is your home, and the members of it are your family. You form such a close-knit community when you arrive, that your real home can often quickly start to seem strange and foreign to you!

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Monday, 17 May 2010

Welcome to Twenty Bookes

Twenty Bookes takes its name from a line of Geoffrey Chaucer's magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. One of the stories, The Clerk's Tale, features a character called (somewhat unsurprisingly) 'The Clerk', a student at 'Oxenford' (no prizes for guessing what we call that university today).

The relevant lines from the main prologue are as follows:

...For hym was levere have at his beddes heed,
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie...

Now I'm no expert in Middle-English, but it basically translates to:

...For he would rather have at the head of his bed,
Twenty books, clad in black or red,
On Aristotle and his philosophy...

It's a pretty fair description of the bedroom of your typical Oxford student, although of course, some of the books might be colours other than black and red. And there would probably be more than twenty.

In this blog, I hope to give you an insight into the fascinating, exhausting and almost completely unique world that undergraduates inhabit here at Oxford, while at the same time trying to introduce you to some of the material and knowledge I encounter while studying here.