19 May 2015

Oxford Terms

Many people will know that Oxford has three terms (Michaelmas; Hilary; Trinity); each of them contains eight weeks of "Full Term", in which undergraduates are expected to be resident. Each week is a Sunday-Saturday week, and is known as First week ... etc.. Increasingly, Colleges expect undergraduates to come back before First Week so as to get geared up and write Collection Papers to prove that they did their Vacation reading; and this week has come to be called Noughth Week (I apologise to mathematicians). Technically, the terms are rather longer than that, but Full Term is what matters for most practical purposes. So the Trinity Term this year began technically on Monday April 20 and ends Monday July 6; but, within that, Full Term is the eight weeks from Sunday April 26 until Saturday June 20.

But, historically, things were much more complicated (and what follows is actually a simplification). The old Latin Statutes knew of two summer terms. There was the Easter Term: Easter Wednesday until the Friday before Pentecost; and the Trinity or "Act" term, the Saturday before Pentecost until the Saturday following the first Tuesday in July. This year, April 8 until May 22; and then May 23 until Saturday 11 July. Hope I've got that right ...

"Act Term"? During the dark days of popish ecclesiastical tyranny, and even through the oppressions of the absolutist early Stuarts, the University Act was a celebration with many ingredients but, particularly, outrageously satirical attacks upon the Mighty in Academe, Church and State: presided over by an individual called Terrae Filius [the Son of the Earth]. But, following the liberties mercifully secured to us by the Glorious Revolution, enhanced in the fulness of time by the Splendid Enlightenment, it became an occasion increasingly dangerous to the Powers that Be (something similar happened in the Convocations of the clergy of Canterbury and York) with the result that it was tamed and made very respectable and now survives as Encaenia [Commencement], the annual Latin Ceremony (Wednesday after Eighth Week) when Honorary Degrees are conferred upon distinguished visitors such as Mrs Jefferts Schori ... No; don't say it. Just don't say it.

1 comment:

Belfry Bat said...

As a mathematician, I can see little to complain of! An argument might be made that the pre-term week should be numbered "-1" and the following week "0", just because of a difference-in-kind, but never mind that for now.