Wolfson College, Oxford: Wikis


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Colleges and halls of the University of Oxford

Wolfson College

River quad
College name Wolfson College
Motto "Humani nil alienum" (Homo sum, humani nil alienum a me puto) (A quote from the Roman playwright Terence: I am a human being and I consider nothing that concerns human beings alien to me
Named after Sir Isaac Wolfson, Bt., FRS
Established 1965
Sister college Darwin College, Cambridge
President Professor Hermione Lee
Undergraduates none (graduate-only college)
Chair of General Meeting Alan Ross
Graduates 614 (2008)

Wolfson College is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Located in north Oxford along the River Cherwell, Wolfson is an all-graduate college with over sixty governing body fellows, in addition to both research and junior research fellows. It caters to a wide range of subjects, from the humanities to the social and natural sciences. The diversity of the college is reflected in its deeply international character and vibrant student body.

The current president of Wolfson College is Hermione Lee. The liberal philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin was the college's first president, and was instrumental in its founding. The college houses The Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust and the annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture.

As of 2006, the college had a financial endowment of £33.5 million.[1]


History and character

Forecourt and entrance

Wolfson's first president Sir Isaiah Berlin, the influential political philosopher and historian of ideas, was instrumental in the college's founding in 1965.

The college began its existence with the name Iffley College, which offered a new community for graduate students at Oxford, particularly in natural and social sciences. Twelve other colleges of the university provided grants to make the establishment of Iffley possible. As of 1965, the college had neither a president nor a building. Berlin set out to change this, eventually securing support from the Wolfson Foundation and Ford Foundation in 1966 to establish a separate site for the college, which included 'Cherwell', the former residence of J.S. Haldane and his family, as well as new buildings built around it. Isaac Wolfson generously contributed to the foundation of the college. In recognition of his contribution the college's name was changed to Wolfson College.

But Berlin's work as the president of the college was far from over. Formally taking over the reins of the college in 1967, he envisioned Wolfson to be a centre of academic excellence but, unlike many other colleges at Oxford, also bound it to a strong egalitarian and democratic ethos.[2] In Berlin's words, the college would be 'new, untrammelled and unpyramided'.[2]

His ideals were largely achieved. Wolfson is perhaps the most egalitarian college at Oxford, with few barriers between students and fellows. There is no high table, only one common room for all the members of the college, and gowns are worn only on special occasions. Graduate students serve on the college's governing body and participate in General Meetings. Berlin's reputation and presence in the early years also helped shape the intellectual character of the college, attracting many distinguished fellows like Niko Tinbergen, who won a Nobel Prize for his studies in animal behavior in 1973. Berlin's own prominence in the humanities helped attract many graduate students like Henry Hardy, interested in political philosophy and the history of ideas.[2]

Buildings and grounds

Berlin quad
Tree quad

The college owns land on both sides of the River Cherwell. It has one of the most modern buildings of all the Oxford colleges. The construction of the main building of the college was completed in 1974. It was designed by the Powell and Moya Architects. The college's main building has three quadrangles: the central quadrangle named the Berlin Quad after Isaiah Berlin, as well as the Tree Quad built around established trees, and the River Quad into which the Cherwell has been diverted to form a punt harbour. One of the distinctive features of the grounds is the preservation of mature trees around and within the buildings.

The college has student accommodation in the main college building, in three child-friendly courtyards surrounded by family housing, and also has similar accommodation in a scattering of purpose-built blocks, including the Robin Gandy Buildings, and in existing houses on Linton Road, Chadlington Road and Garford Road. The college also owns the adjacent house and orchard which is currently occupied by the Bishop of Oxford.


Being a graduate college, it had, as of 2008, 614 students, 454 of whom were DPhils. The remainder were studying for the MPhil, MSc, MSc by Research, MSt, MSt by Research, MBA, EMBA, MLitt, MLitt by Research, BPhil, and Cert degrees. The college does not accept MJur or LLB candidates. It is also home to Oxford's Centre for Korean Studies and the International Association of Tibetan Studies. It was also home to the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, Oxford,[3] which has now moved to an independent location of the city.


The college library, which occupies both the floors of one wing of the college's main building, has the main library on the first floor, approachable from the side of the dining hall and the lodge, and two other collections, called the Floersheimer Room and the Hornik Memorial Room on the ground floor. A mezzanine floor in the main library has books as well as carrels for individual use of graduate students of the college. The library has already emerged as an extensive collection of books and journals.

Common room and hall

Dining hall

The college has one common room for fellows and graduate students. The common room has two floors: the upper common room, with an attached terrace overlooking the punting harbour, which has a bar and a coffee counter, and the lower common room, which has magazines and newspapers. The college's hall is one of the few in the university to have common table. The 'Haldane Room', a hall adjacent to the dinning hall proper, is where formal meals, especially the convocation lunch, are held.

The gardens

The college owns grounds on both sides of the river, including two meadows on the opposite side, towards Marston. It has a small but well maintained garden behind its main building, and beside the river. The garden is landscaped well on the river-bank, with a flight of steps leading up to a green-house and a sundial. The college also has a smaller garden beside the Robin Gandy building, which stands on the banks of the river.

Sports and punting harbour

Wolfson's punting harbour and island

The college own a squash court and has facilties for playing Table Tennis. Members of the college also go to the Summertown Community Centre to play badminton. The college participates in all other sporting events organised by the university, including cricket and soccer. The college also participates in the inter-university rowing events every year.

The college is one of the few in Oxford with its own punting harbour, with a well maintained fleet of punts for use by all members of the college community. There is a boat club on the ground floor of the 'C' Block, for this purpose, which is under the supervision of the Admiral of Punts, who is selected annually from the existing student body of the college. The college also has a croquet lawn.

Notable alumni






  • Simon Upton, formerly Minister of Health, Environment and Science and Technology and member of the National Party
  • Mike Woodin, former principal speaker for the Green Party of England and Wales (later Fellow of Balliol)

See also Former students of Wolfson College, Oxford

Notable fellows

See also Fellows of Wolfson College, Oxford

Notes and references

  1. ^ Oxford College Endowment Incomes, 1973-2006 (updated July 2007)
  2. ^ a b c Ignatieff, Michael (2000). Isaiah Berlin: A Life. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-026857-x.  
  3. ^ "Official website". http://www.csls.ox.ac.uk/.  

See also

External links

Coordinates: 51°46′16″N 1°15′19″W / 51.770977°N 1.255263°W / 51.770977; -1.255263


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