‘How students created their own curriculum: Oxbridge student clubs in the age of the research university’

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Arne Schirrmacher (Humboldt-Universität, Berlin)

University histories, including those of Oxford and Cambridge, largely omit student activities when discussing the creation of the research university. In the Oxbridge tradition, a degree, did not prepare students for research but for the typical careers in education, the state or the church. Therefore, Oxford students such as Henry Moseley, Frederick Soddy and Julian Huxley complemented their studies with a student-organised ‘hidden curriculum’ to launch their scientific careers. They organised their own seminars, discussed scientific exhibits, were sometimes the first in Oxford to reproduce new phenomena, and even organised popular lectures on recent scientific findings which attracted large numbers of Oxfordians.

Student-run societies, such as the Junior Scientific Club of 1882 and the Alembic Club of 1900 at Oxford, and already earlier the Cambridge University Natural Science Club of 1872, became the social machinery that organised student-run seminars, pressured professors to grant laboratory access, invited luminaries of British and international science as role models, and thus helped to become a scientist rather than a scholar. The focus on students provides a lens through which similarities and, more importantly, differences between various aspects of the establishment and success of scientific research at Oxford and Cambridge can be seen more clearly.

The seminar in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology is convened by Alex Aylward (University of Oxford), Hohee Cho (Wolfson College), Mark Harrison (University of Oxford), Catherine Jackson (Harris Manchester College), and Sloan Mahone (University of Oxford)