Research project: "Routes into Consumption. The Student Economy in Nineteenth-Century Oxford"

Written by SC on Wednesday, June 17th 2015 | Read 1059 times | 0 comments

(c) Sabine Chaouche
(c) Sabine Chaouche
What was it like to be an Oxford student in the nineteenth century and how did students spend their time and money, and where?
In 1877, Oscar Wilde, then student at Magdalen College, was twice summoned by the University of Oxford proctors to appear before the Chancellor's Court concerning a £30 debt. Fashionable goods such as a felt hat, a superior suit, silk scarves had been ordered from Joseph Muir, tailor and shoe maker, 34 High Street, and items such as a gold collar stud and a sword and belt from George Ormond, jeweller, 118 St Aldates. Offences by students have yet to be studied though they tell of individual lives through lifestyles, standards of living and tastes. They reflect the history of a city and more generally, the commercialization of society in C19. 

The research project goes beyond the clichés on the University of Oxford to reconstruct the students’ social and economic environment, showing how a male consumer culture developed in the nineteenth century which was intertwined not only with the rise of competition between tradesmen, but also with the university reforms which, in the second part of the nineteenth century, allowed more students to live outside College. It investigates what daily life was really like in the Victorian era for these single men who were no longer living in their secluded boarding schools or in their hometowns with their parents, and scrutinises their spending habits and the variety of goods on offer. It builds on different disciplines such as social and economic history, retailing and advertising, education, law (through personal debt and credit) and gender studies to tackle a gap in the study on student consumption in nineteenth century Oxford ―especially between 1830 when students’ debts dramatically increased and 1914 when on the contrary they practically ceased at the start of World War I. It illuminates the major aspects of the economic relationships between tradesmen, students and University.

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