Building the Bodleian

Commentary
Building the Bodleian

Description: At the centre of seventeenth-century Oxford was the Bodleian Library and the Schools Quadrangle. Together, they represent the concrete manifestation of a whole series of attitudes and assumptions underlying the academic approach to learning in the first years of the century. So a virtual tour of these buildings provides a valuable introduction to many of the often unstated presuppositions structuring the pursuit of knowledge around 1600. 

But the Bodleian was not built in a day: the construction of this complex began in the 1420s and only reached its final form in 1637.  Indeed, to contextualise it still further, we must move backward to the construction of the first university library in St Mary's Church around 1320 and forward to the building of the Sheldonian and the Old Ashmolean as late as 1683.  So an introduction to the building of the Bodleian can also serve as a chronological survey of most of the seventeenth century.

The Plan of the Bodleian Library reproduced here provides the best guide to the stages in which the Bodleian and Schools Quadrangle were constructed. To aid study, the sequence (indicated in the legend at the lower left) has been reproduced in the annotations.

At the outset, however, we must return to the period before the first of these buildings were constructed, to consider the origins of these buildings in the University Church and the state of central Oxford before Bodley's intervention.

SourceAn Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Oxford, published by His Majesty's Stationery Office (London, 1939): http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/oxon/pp1-10.

Further detail: Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner, Oxfordshire (London, 1974; repr. New Haven and London, 2002), 257-63. Credits: Howard Hotson (October 2016)