100 Years of Cambridge English

We are looking forward to celebrating the centenary of the beginning of Cambridge English in 2019. As ‘Cambridge English’ did not come magically into being at one magical moment, there are some other dates that might have been chosen. The first Professorship of English, the King Edward VII Chair, still powerfully in existence, was established as early as 1910. The English Tripos was first assembled in 1916, with two parts ‘English Literature: Modern and Medieval’ and ‘Early Literature and History’, though these were designed to be combined with a part from another Tripos. 1919 was the date at which English began to be taught as a complete and independent Tripos, even if some of its most influential graduates and teachers would continue to come to it from other subjects. I.A. Richards, who was recruited to teach the new Tripos in 1919, brought a background in Moral Sciences, encompassing a mixture of philosophy and psychology; F.R. Leavis came to English from History and William Empson from Mathematics, while the Tragedy paper was intended to provide a transition into English for students who had done a part 1 in Classics. The first examinations in English Literature, which were taken in 1921, included the invitation to ‘write short notes’ on dramatists like Calderon, Voltaire, Kotzebue and Chekhov. Were we to hold off our centenary until 2026, we could please purists who would prefer to celebrate the establishment of a Tripos from which ‘Early Literature and History’, often known simply as ‘Anglo-Saxon’, had taken its leave, and in which signature exercises in ‘practical criticism’ appeared for the first time. But a centenary celebration in 2019 will allow us rather more amicably to celebrate the homecoming of Anglo-Saxon, with the establishment in 1969 under Dorothy Whitelock of the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, as part of the Faculty of English.

We are currently planning a series of events to mark our centenary. Some of these events will give us a chance to look back at the colourful, sometimes combustible, history of Cambridge English. We hope that alumni and ex-colleagues will wish to share with us their memories and experiences of studying and teaching English in Cambridge, and may also want to suggest to us ways in which we might mark the centenary and build beyond it. For we will also be looking forward. The expansion of undergraduate studies has produced a growing demand for graduate degrees and the English Faculty, along with the University in general, is ambitious about developing its MPhil and PhD numbers. In order to assist this, we would like to establish a number of Centenary Studentships. One might reckon that Cambridge English has been as influential for the ways in which it has been criticised and resisted, often by its own alumni (Williams, McLuhan, Eagleton, MacCabe), as for what it has inaugurated or secured. We want the students who are able to come to study here to continue this tradition of critical transformation. Most particularly, we would like 2019 to mark a new and richly-productive beginning in our relations with our alumni. We would be delighted for you to get in touch and let us know your ideas for how that might be achieved.