Cambridge’s age and tradition infects students’ minds

Jon Booth 31 October 2013

So, you’re at a college that the Tudors would call ‘established’, and you tread the same footpaths as great thinkers once trod; you are part of something special, seemingly proved by the hordes of tourists all year round. This is why you’re here, supposedly, to be ‘surrounded by history’.

Quite simply, Cambridge is one of the best universities because of current academics, current students, and current resources. Its age only becomes meaningful when put in the longer picture of the Oxbridge duopoly, when analysed historically as opposed to lazily romanticising the past as something to gawp at.

This country encourages such asininity. Organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage happily take public funds and visitors’ money so that middle-class families can feel content with themselves as they roam around mansions and castles, looking at antiques and believing they’re ‘learning’ without having to do the strenuous task of thinking. Internationally, museums are full of old items for visitors to stand in awe before, without putting them in any context and understanding their purpose.

The point of history is to understand why things were the way they were and are the way they are. Cambridge’s age, along with the endemic belief that history is ‘looking at old stuff’, infects students’ minds, distracting them from more difficult questions. They play pathetic games of college Top Trumps, naming alumni, and obey and worship Cambridge tradition. Formal halls with protracted Latin graces, and bedders who clean up after us like children, are the tip of the iceberg of Cambridge quirks that are never quite understood, but followed anyway.

Appreciate the architecture, but without thinking it makes your degree better than anyone else’s. Just don’t tell the tourists: the overpriced food and fictional punt commentaries contribute to the lucrative, meaningless heritage industry of UK PLC.