October 19, 2009

St Dominic's

William Dell, not his real name, published in the early 1980s an anthropological analysis of a Cambridge college called St Dominic's. St Dominic's is a real college in Cambridge under a disguise- the clue is in the name. The point about St Dominic's as Dell portrays it is that it is a little absurd: old dons fall asleep during governing body, the bursar's committee is the only committee in college to stand above the wine committee and the gardening committee, fines for being late come in claret and teaching is done over tea or sherry depending on the time of day and the mood of the don. Oxford and Cambridge have changed since then- they are more open places, open to women in particular- and they are less conservative than they once were. They still have oddities and they still harbour eccentricities that an unkind eye would stigmatise. They still live and die by a tutorial system that is as terrifying and rigorous an education as you can get, have within them exceptionally intelligent, learned and cosmopolitan people but still function on the basis of small rules and hidden insults. They are a mixture between the mannered, the kind, the cruel and the learned. St Dominic's has changed since William Dell wrote this article, but maybe not as much as some might have expected in the early 1980s.

4 comments:

James Higham said...

fines for being late come in claret

A good principle indeed.

Gracchi said...

Unfortunately not true when I was a graduate student! or fortunately given my time keeping as both an undergrad and grad I could have become the most indebted man in the whole of England!

mercuriuspoliticus said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to this - what a wonderful article. I can't speak for Emmanuel as I presume St Dominic's goes by in real life, but reading this provoked horrific flashbacks about Peterhouse, where I was an undergraduate in the late 1990s and where the JCR fought a valiant but doomed effort to get through to the more conservative members of the Fellowship...

Gracchi said...

Yes it is Emmanuel- well spotted. The article was written by Peter Burke so it was bound to be good- as to nightmares- I've been there, having served as an officer for my graduate community I have all sorts of battle scars.