Cambridge University

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cambridge University


one of the oldest and largest of the British universities. It was founded in Cambridge in 1209. Initially it consisted of a group of houses, or “colleges,” housing students who attended lectures given intermittently by scholars. Gradually the lecturing system became more organized. As early as the 13th century the traditional courses—the humanities, jurisprudence, theology, and medicine—had been instituted.

In the 16th century T. More was one of the trustees of the university. Erasmus of Rotterdam taught there. Somewhat later Cambridge became a center of the English Reformation, and in the 17th century the university was a seat of the advanced learning of the day. Instruction was based on F. Bacon’s inductive method, a practice that led to concurrent development of the natural sciences and the humanities. From 1669 to 1702, Newton was a professor there. In 1837, C. Darwin received a master’s degree from Cambridge. The Cavendish Laboratory, in which J. C. Maxwell, P. Dirac, J. Thomson, and E. Rutherford worked, played a prominent role in the revolution in physics at the turn of the century. The Lister Biochemical Institute and the Cambridge Observatories have made a great contribution to science.

The university has retained many traditional features in its organization. As in the past, it consists of colleges that are self-governing corporations. Each college has 300–400 students in various faculties.

The university is headed by the chancellor, who is chosen from among the high-ranking officials; the actual director is the vice-chancellor, who has under him a council of the directors of the colleges. Since tuition is high, it is difficult for the children of working people to attend the university.

In 1971 the university had 28 men’s and women’s colleges and the following faculties: classics, divinity, English, fine arts, modern and medieval languages, music, Oriental studies, economics and politics, history, education, law, moral science, engineering, geography and geology, mathematics, physics and chemistry, agriculture, archaeology and anthropology, biology (two faculties), medicine, and chemical engineering. The university includes centers for African, international, Latin American, and South Asian studies; institutes for polar research and theoretical astronomy; a research group for the breeding and maintenance of domestic animals; schools for the biological and physical sciences; the Fitzwilliam Museum, a museum of classical archaeology, a museum of archaeology and ethnography, a zoological museum, a geological museum, and a museum of the history of science; an observatory; botanical gardens; and an agricultural station. In 1971 the university had a student body of nearly 11,000 and a faculty of more than 1,000, including 150 professors. Its library contained more than 3 million volumes (1971).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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