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Radcliffe Humanities Official Opening

Radcliffe Humanities was officially opened on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site on 22 October 2012. The refurbishment of the building, which was formerly the Radcliffe Infirmary, was completed in August 2012. The building is occupied by the Philosophy Faculty, the Humanities Divisional Office, and the Philosophy and Theology Faculties Library.

At the opening, there were speeches in the new Ryle Room by the Head of Humanities, Professor Shearer West, by Richard Ovenden on behalf of the Bodleian Library, by Dan Isaacson on behalf of the Philosophy Faculty, and by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, after which the Vice Chancellor and the Head of Humanities cut a ribbon at the door of the building, and the newly remade Triton fountain in the courtyard was turned on.

Below is the transcript of Dan Isaacson's speech, which is based on a longer article, “Oxford Philosophy at 10 Merton Street, and before and after”. A copy of that article is available here.

Radcliffe Humanities Opening Ceremony
Photo by Rob Judges

"Oxford Philosophy has been world class, intermittently, since the 13th century, beginning with the work of Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and others. Then a lull. John Locke arrived at Christ Church as an undergraduate in 1652, and stayed on as a tutor until 1667. In 1946 Oxford became, and since then has remained, not only an internationally important centre for the development of philosophy, but for professional training in philosophy. The moving force behind the rise of Oxford Philosophy after the Second World War was Gilbert Ryle, memorialized by the naming of this room in which we are gathered. Ryle returned to Oxford from military service in 1945, as Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy. The University already had graduate degrees, awarded on the basis of a thesis. Ryle established a new graduate degree, the B.Phil. in Philosophy, which combined course work with thesis writing.

At that time Philosophy had no library, teaching space, or offices of its own. In the late 1950s Ryle established a small lending library for members of the Philosophy Sub-faculty and B.Phil. students, from books sent to him for review in Mind, of which he was for many years the editor, housed in a room in the New Bodleian. A few years later Philosophy acquired a seminar room to call its own, in the basement of the Indian Institute. Then in 1965 Ryle secured a whole building for Philosophy, 12 Merton Street, which incorporated the ad hoc library he had established, along with a seminar room, a common room, and offices for two University postholders who had no room in their colleges. At the opening ceremony for 12 Merton Street, Ryle punningly declared, “Philosophy needs premises of its own”.

Philosophy moved from 12 Merton Street to 10 Merton Street in the summer of 1976. Among the first acts of the Management Committee in the new place was to instruct the Curator to write to Gilbert Ryle: “The Management Committee has been discussing names of rooms in the new building. As you have had so much to do with getting the Graduate Library and the associated B.Phil. on their feet, it was felt that it would be a good idea that a Philosophy seminar room should be called the Ryle Room. I have been asked to discover whether you have any reasonable objection?” Ryle replied, “I’m delighted with the idea. I shall always be showing visitors over our new home & pausing for long enough for them to ask ‘And what is this room called?’”.


Daniel Isaacson




Ribbon Cutting

Philosophy remained in 10 Merton Street for 36 years, where we were very happy, except that eventually we outgrew the place. We needed more space for academic visitors, for research projects, for professors, and particularly for our graduate students, to give them a base where they could work and have ready contact with Faculty members. We wanted to add a third floor to the building, under a Mansard roof, but the University had a better idea, the Humanities Centre on the newly acquired Radcliffe Infirmary site. We spent three years in consultation with the architect designing our space in Phase 1, until it was ready to go to tender, at which point that project was put on hold for lack of funds. The Vice-Chancellor stepped in and offered the Radcliffe Infirmary building to the Humanities Division, as a stopgap.

There was a flurry of consultations over how it could be used. The Division wrote to its faculty boards suggesting that graduate students be given space in the renovated Radcliffe Infirmary. The Philosophy Faculty Board’s response was that while our concern to give our graduate students facilities in which they could work had driven much of our planning for Philosophy’s space in the new Humanities Centre, it was essential that this should be in the context of contact with the Faculty. We would welcome our graduates being given space in the RI only if the Philosophy Faculty itself also moved there. And we would only move the Philosophy Faculty if we could take our Library with us. The Division and the University accepted this package, and a year later, here we are, thanks to the commitment, hard work, and cheerful determination of highly skilled professionals, of whom I want in particular to express gratitude to Alain Torri, Matt Eaton, John Kenneally, Tom Moore, Andy Davies, and Hilla Wait, for making Philosophy’s move happen. Each one of these experts in what they do didn’t do what they did alone, but their leadership among those they worked with was crucial. I want also to express the gratitude of the Philosophy Faculty to the Vice-Chancellor and the Humanities Division, for giving us this wonderful space.

These are Oxford Philosophy’s third premises. 10 Merton Street was a lovely building and we were very happy there, but it is wonderful now to be in such a stunningly beautiful and distinguished building, beautifully renovated, and for our graduate students to have more and better space here than they did in 10 Merton Street. What we planned for the combined Humanities Centre in the ROQ will even better enable us to fulfil our objectives as a world class centre for philosophy teaching, and research. But that may be a long time coming, and in the meanwhile, we shall be, as we already are, delighted to be here."

Daniel Isaacson
Curator of the Philosophy Centre

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