Photographer's Note

The ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge have long been synonymous with academic excellence. And for over 800 years they have competed in the earliest of inter-varsity rivaries, which institution came first. Years ago in producing a book of lithographs of Oxford, I wrote about this ancient sport. By AD 1167 Oxford was already a center for scholars, and by 1205, an altercation occurred between students and townsmen resulting in the death of a townsman. The townsman then turned on the students, killing a number of them. The students and scholars abandoned the city and made an exodus to another town about 160 km (100 miles) to the east, where they sowed the seeds of the other great British institution, Cambridge. But by 1209, many of the scholars returned to Oxford, the incident having left a pair of burgeoning academic institutions in their wake. The event had also given rise to what would become an animosity and suspicion between "town and gown," now seen everywhere in the world.

In 1249 the first of the colleges of Oxford, University College, was founded, and subsequently through the centuries another 40 or so colleges would follow suit. Oxford has a greater tradition of producing Prime Ministers, and Cambridge of producing great scientists, the latter if for no other reason than for launching the career of the greatest scientist of them all, Sir Isaac Newton.

I was a member of the the Department of Theoretical Physics at Oxford, accordingly, my loyalty has been more to Oxford than to Cambridge. But I have always been in awe of the scientific legacy of Cambridge, see View of the Cam and the Mathematical Bridge.

On a visit to Oxford in 2011, I was standing in front of St. Mary's Church on High Street, when I spotted a group of teenagers milling around the University of Oxford Shop across the street, shooting photos of each other, and feeling the intellectual inspiration of the setting. I certainly had felt that inspiration when I was in my early 30s and concentrating more deeply on my work than I had ever done before, or would ever do again. Certainly, my years there were during the critical time one acknowledges as peak years in creativity for a mathematician or theoretical physicist. Whereas Aristotle once identified 52 as the peak of a man's life, among mathematical scientists the age is generally accepted as 23-32.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6809 W: 476 N: 12169] (41257)
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