Wednesday-Thursday July 11-12

Merton College libary

Wednesday, July 11th was our final class day.  The topic was ‘place’ and how the students had experienced Oxford as place and in what ways their experiences changed.  Each student contributed his or her insight into the way in which Oxford-as-place affected them.  Some of the ideas shared included:

  • from unfamiliar to familiar: getting one’s bearings
  • same but different: how Oxford and its people challenged us to see the world through different eyes but in many ways they found a core of the familiar
  • insiders and outsiders:  tourists and ‘natives’; St. Hilda’s as ‘home’
  • place through food:  longing for American comfort food but finding alternatives here
  • finding one’s place in the group:  moving from strangers to friends
  • connecting with locals through shared love:  football for one!

We end the session by encouraging them to consider carefully what kind of capstone project they would want to undertake as a summary of their experiences.

Thursday we left Oxford and drove around the Costwolds, a rural area in England with picturesque villages.  Our theme this day was nature as place.  Our visit to a Falconry Center included a demonstration of birds of prey and how they negotiate their own ‘spaces’ and ‘places.’  Every imaginable bird of prey was there in the aviary and the guide assured us life was far better there than in the wild.


We also visited a number of small town, bustling with visitors where those who live there try to make their way through the many transient tourists, like us.  I felt a certain degree of sympathy for them, even as we recognized the financial boom their lovely villages have brought them.  Where is the tipping point when a genuine community becomes a tourist destination and thereby loses its soul?  –A question for another day.

July 10th-Tuesday

At St. Hilda’s

A slightly cooler day, if still sunny, which raised everyone’s spirits.  The lack of air conditioning on a grand scale has been noted more than once by our crew!   Today we explored the story of the “Oxford Martyrs” as well as the area around St. Giles Street as our geographic area.  The presenting students had written a well nuanced play which a group of them performed.  The students explored a range of historical topics:


  • the nature of a conversion expereince, its orgins (the story of St. Paul) and the varied reasons for such
  • the meaning of tolerance and its limits
  • the relationship between the legal and moral limits regarding free speech
  • how to speak across different viewpoints without silencing one
  • the fascination with public executions as entertainment and the modern day replacement of reality TV as both signally a dark side of human nature
  • the power of belief, and its expression as integrity

where Cranmer was burned

Later our team took us on a tour which included a visit to St. Mary’s University Church to witness where Cranmer was charged and tried to defend his beliefs, the cross on Broad Street that represents where he was burned at the sake, and the Martyrs Memorial on St. Giles.

Afterwards we all visited the Ashmolean where the students could engage in a scavenger hunt for a number of art works and artifacts found around the museum. Tomorrow is our final class meeting.

At the Martyrs Memorial

July 9th-Monday

After a weekend of independent activities, spanning visiting Paris to participating in London Pride day to shopping in Oxford to working on class (the last was me), we all came back to class this morning.  Well, two of the students got stuck in Paris.  Poor them, right?

Holy Trinity Church-Headington Quarry

Our chapter theme was C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein and the quadrant of the city was just east of us up St. Clemens Road to Headington.  C. S. Lewis is buried in Holy Trinity Church in Headington Quarry and I had visited the site early last week on my own.  It is a quiet place and quite moving. 





photo of shark in roof This chapter told the story of the Headington Shark, a full size model of a shark which sticks out of a house in Headington.  When first “installed” there was a huge uproar but over time the ruckus died down and now there is a movement to save the shark.  The fascinating question that did capture the students attention was whether this was art and if yes, did that give it a sacred status of some sort?  That is, versus an eyesore that we would argue should be pulled down for the good of the community and property values.  From there our conversations ranged afield:



  • What is the difference between art and propaganda?
  • Can anything be art?
  • How do we judge the quality of historical accounts, past and present?
  • How have corporations taken over so many aspects of our culture in places and activities that eveything has a logo promoting that company?
  • What is the difference between overbearing corporate sponsorship and philanthropy?
  • What do we need to be able to make clear judgements as to the quality of the information given us by the media, scholars, anyone?
art from RA Summer Exhibit

art from RA Summer Exhibit

I may have been alone in advocating for some notion of truth or standard for truth claims–and claims about art and beauty.  Somebody has to be the rationalist in the group. Despite the delightfully lively discussion, I fear we may not have made any progress.  I think that may be a theme for tomorrow:  when has a discussion brought about more clarify, changed minds, or simply seemed productive in the end?  How can we construct those?  Clearly this issue is not one simply for our SJC class but is sorely needed at every level of community and organization.