Laudian Professor of Arabic
The position of Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford was established in 1636 by William Laud, who at the time was Chancellor of the University of Oxford and Archbishop of Canterbury. The first professor was Edward Pococke, who was working as a chaplain in Aleppo in what is now Syria when Laud asked him to return to Oxford to take up the position. Laud's university regulations provided that the professor's lectures were to be attended by all medical students and bachelors of arts at the university, although this seems not to have happened since Pococke had few students. In 1881, a university statute provided that the professor was to lecture in "the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee Languages", and attached the professorship to a fellowship at St John's College. Successive professors had few students until after the Second World War, when numbers increased because of the reputation of Sir Hamilton Gibb and because some British students became interested in Arabic culture while serving in the Middle East during the war. The current holder, Julia Bray, was appointed in 2012 and is the first woman to hold the position.
The position of Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford was established in 1636 by William Laud (Chancellor of the University of Oxford from 1630 to 1641 and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645). Laud wrote to Edward Pococke, who was serving as chaplain in Aleppo in modern-day Syria to improve his knowledge of Arabic language and literature, requesting his return to Oxford to become the first Laudian Professor. Pococke returned in 1636 and gave his inaugural lecture on 10 August of that year. Laud also bought Arabic books for the Bodleian Library, with Pococke's assistance. Laud endowed the chair with revenues from lands in the parish of Bray, Berkshire. When he made the endowment perpetual in 1640, the University sent him a letter of thanks, saying that he had "greatly enriched" the library "by importing Araby into Oxford", had "unlocked the learning of Barbary" (i.e. the Barbary Coast of north Africa) by provision of the professorship, and had shown "untiring munificence" in endowing the chair.
University statutes for the professorship
University regulations introduced by Laud prescribed that the professor was to lecture weekly during Lent and between university terms on Arabic grammar and literature. Although all bachelors of arts and medical students at the university were required to attend, this does not seem to have happened: Pococke only had a few students in the years that he was in Oxford. After reforms of the university during the second half of the 19th century, a university statute of 1881 set out the professor's duties and entitlements, and who should form the board appointing a new professor. It stated that "The Laudian Professor of Arabic shall lecture and give instruction on the Arabic, Syriac, and Chaldee Languages." The professor was to be appointed by a board consisting of the Secretary of State for India, the President of St John's College, Oxford, the Regius Professor of Hebrew, the Boden Professor of Sanskrit and Bodley's Librarian. The chair was attached to a fellowship at St John's College, which would contribute £450 (approximately £38,000 in present day terms) towards the professor's income. Sir Hamilton Gibb was the first Laudian Professor to be a fellow of St John's; although David Margoliouth, his predecessor, was appointed after the statute came into force, he stayed at New College where he was already a fellow. Before the 1881 statute, the professor remained at the college (if any) with which he had links before his appointment.
Changes to the university's internal legislation in the 20th and early 21st centuries abolished specific statutes for the duties of, and rules for appointment to, individual chairs such as the Laudian professorship. The University Council is now empowered to make appropriate arrangements for appointments and conditions of service, and the college to which any professorship is allocated (St John's in the case of the Laudian chair) has two representatives on the board of electors.
The professorship was suspended for two years after the death of Robert Gandell in 1887. The electoral board had met to select a successor, but were unable to make a suitable appointment, and so obtained the permission of the university authorities to adjourn. When the board resumed in 1889, Margoliouth re-applied for the position and was successful, even though none of the people recommending him made any mention of whether he knew any Arabic. As professor, Margoliouth taught the syllabus for the final examinations in lectures over two years, regardless of the stage that students had reached, and regarded it as bad luck if a student had to tackle the more difficult texts in one year and the easier texts in the next.
Between 1916—when the university introduced a Doctorate of Philosophy for research—and 1939, there were few post-graduate students, and only one or two undergraduates took Arabic in final examinations each year. The subject grew in popularity after the Second World War: Gibb had an international reputation that attracted foreign students, while others from the United Kingdom who had spent time in the Middle East during the war were interested in studying Arabic language and culture. The standard of the professors has varied. Pococke, Joseph White, Gibb, and Alfred Beeston have received high praise for their scholarship. In contrast, Thomas Hyde has been described as a "mediocre orientalist", and it was said of John Wallis that "not only did [he] give no lectures for most of his long tenure, but he did nothing to advance knowledge either."
The current holder, Julia Bray, was appointed in 2012. She is the 15th Laudian Professor, and the first woman to hold the position. She is a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, based at the Oriental Institute, and is one of about 25 faculty members in the Islamic World Subject Group.
List of professors
|Name||Professor||Education[n 1]||College as Professor||Notes|
|Pococke, EdwardEdward Pococke||1636–1691||Oxford, Magdalen HallMagdalen Hall and Corpus Christi College||Corpus Christi College||Pococke started studying Arabic with William Bedwell in 1625, and became chaplain to the Levant Company in Aleppo (in modern-day Syria) in 1630 to improve his knowledge further. He returned in 1636 at the request of William Laud, who had decided to make Pococke the first appointment to the chair. Thomas Greaves was Pococke's deputy between 1637 and 1641 when Pococke travelled to Constantinople for research and to collect manuscripts. Pococke was appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in 1648, but his refusal to promise loyalty to the Commonwealth of England led to the parliamentary committee supervising the university to order his removal from both professorships. However, the committee was persuaded to stay the order until a replacement could be found, and it was never implemented. Pococke has been described as "the finest European Arabist of his time ... and among the greatest of all time."|
|Hyde, ThomasThomas Hyde||1691–1703||CambridgeUniversity of Cambridge (King's College) and The Queen's College, Oxford||QueenThe Queen's College[n 2]||Hyde was Bodley's Librarian from 1665 to 1701 (when he resigned because of "the toil and drudgery of daily attendance in all times and weathers") and was also Regius Professor of Hebrew from 1697. His interest in oriental languages came from his father, a rector in Shropshire. He has been described as "a mediocre orientalist", who carried out little teaching despite having significant linguistic skills. He had a strong intellectual interest in oriental languages and peoples, although his inability to finish work meant that he published little. Although he carried out his work at Oxford in a "lethargic manner", a Dutch scholar described him as "stupor mundi" ("the wonder of the world") when told of his death.|
|Wallis, JohnJohn Wallis||1703–1738||Oxford, WadhamWadham College and Magdalen College||Magdalen College||Wallis was an absentee professor, holding parish posts at various times in Essex, Hampshire and Wiltshire. John Gagnier, who became Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic in 1724, was appointed as deputy to Wallis in 1718.|
|Hunt, ThomasThomas Hunt||1738–1774||Oxford, Christ ChurchChrist Church||Hart Hall||Hunt was also Lord Almoner's Professor of Arabic from 1740 to 1747 and Regius Professor of Hebrew in 1747 until his death in 1774. He published extensively on Arabic and Hebrew matters, and was a well-regarded scholar who encouraged others.|
|White, JosephJoseph White||1774–1814||Oxford, WadhamWadham College||Wadham College||White was prompted by his benefactor, John Moore (later Archbishop of Canterbury), to study Syriac, Arabic and Persian, leading to his unanimous election to the chair in 1774. His Bampton Lecture in 1784, a comparison of Christianity and Islam, was widely praised. He resigned his fellowship at Wadham in 1787 after being appointed rector of Melton, Suffolk, but retained his professorship, also becoming Regius Professor of Hebrew in 1804. His scholarship has led to him being described as one of "the major Hebraists of the century".|
|Winstanley, ThomasThomas Winstanley||1814–1823||Oxford, BrasenoseBrasenose College||St Alban Hall||Winstanley succeeded Thomas Warton as Camden Professor of Ancient History in 1790 and was elected principal of St Alban Hall in 1797. He held the Laudian chair in addition to the Camden chair. His version of Theodore Goulston's 1623 edition of Aristotelous peri poiētikēs: Aristotelis de poetica liber (1780), with a Latin version of the text and accompanying notes, was used at Oxford until sometime in the 19th century.|
|Knatchbull, WyndhamWyndham Knatchbull||1823–1840||Oxford, Christ ChurchChrist Church||All Souls College[n 3]||Knatchbull, a son of Sir Edward Knatchbull, 8th Baronet, was a clergyman of various Kent parishes from 1811 until his death in 1868. He was considered to be a possible successor to Alexander Nicoll, Regius Professor of Hebrew, who died in 1828; Edward Bouverie Pusey was appointed instead.|
|Reay, StephenStephen Reay||1840–1861||Oxford, St Alban HallSt Alban Hall||—[n 4]||Reay, a Scottish clergyman, published little: the only work that he is known to have authored was a pamphlet, "Observations on the defence of the Church Missionary Society against the objections of the Archdeacon of Bath" (1818), although he also edited a couple of Hebrew texts. Reay was appointed Under-Librarian at the Bodleian Library in 1828 by Bulkeley Bandinel, Bodley's Librarian. Reay held this post and his professorship until his death.|
|Gandell, RobertRobert Gandell||1861–1887||Oxford, St JohnsSt John's College and The Queen's College||Magdalen Hall and Corpus Christi College[n 5]||Gandell was also a prebendary of Wells Cathedral from 1874, and a canon of the cathedral from 1880. His publications included a four-volume edition of John Lightfoot's Horae Hebraicae (1859), and commentaries on some books of the Old Testament.|
|Margoliouth, DavidDavid Margoliouth||1889–1937||Oxford, NewNew College||New College||Margoliouth had a superlative academic career as a student, winning many prizes and scholarships, including awards in Hebrew, Syriac and Sanskrit. When he applied for the chair, his referees gave no indication that he knew any Arabic, but within five years of his appointment he published two important works on Arabic. Lacking regular assistance from a tutor to instruct students in elementary Arabic, Margoliouth had a heavy workload, but effectively left students to acquire the rudiments of the language themselves. He also taught Syriac and Ethiopic when needed.|
|Gibb, Sir HamiltonSir Hamilton Gibb||1937–1955||EdinburghUniversity of Edinburgh and the School of Oriental Studies, London||St John's College||Gibb was previously a professor at the School of Oriental Studies, and was highly regarded as a teacher and scholar with a wide range of knowledge. Arabic expanded as an academic subject at Oxford after the Second World War, as students returned from the war with experience of the Middle East, with international students attracted by Gibb's reputation. He left in 1955 to became James Richard Jewett Professor of Arabic at Harvard University and director of Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies.|
|Beeston, AlfredAlfred Beeston||1955–1978||Oxford, Christ ChurchChrist Church||St John's College||Beeston developed an interest in languages at school, teaching himself Arabic. After initially studying classics at Oxford, he switched to Arabic and Persian, under Margoliouth. He finished his doctorate while working in the oriental books department of the Bodleian Library, becoming Keeper of the department and sub-librarian in 1946 after his return from war service in Palestine. As professor, he expanded the Arabic syllabus (which previously stopped in 1400) to ensure that students studied all periods from pre-Islamic verse to the 20th century. He has been described as "one of the foremost Arabists of the twentieth century".|
|Madelung, WilferdWilferd Madelung||1978–1998||GeorgetownGeorgetown University, University of Cairo, and University of Hamburg||St John's College||Madelung was a cultural attaché at the West German Embassy in Baghdad between 1958 and 1960. He was a professor at the University of Chicago before moving to Oxford, holding a Guggenheim Fellowship from 1972 to 1973. Since retiring from Oxford, he has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies and a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.|
|van Gelder, Geert JanGeert Jan van Gelder||1998–2012||AmsterdamUniversity of Amsterdam and University of Leiden||St John's College||Van Gelder was Lecturer in Arabic at the University of Groningen from 1975 to 1998. He was appointed as a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997 and a Fellow of the British Academy in 2005. His interests cover a wide range of topics in classical Arabic prose and poetry.|
|Bray, JuliaJulia Bray||2012 onwards||Oxford, St HildasSt Hilda's and St Cross||St John's College||Bray, who studied Arabic and Persian at Oxford, studies the relationship between Arabic literary and social history. Before taking up the Laudian professorship, she was Professor of Medieval Arabic Literature at Paris 8 University.|
- At the University of Oxford, unless otherwise indicated
- Hyde was never appointed a Fellow of Queen's, although he was based there until appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew, to which was attached a canonry at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
- Knatchbull's fellowship at All Souls ended in 1840, and he is not recorded as being a member of a college after that date.
- Reay had an office in the Bodleian Library and is not recorded as holding a college appointment.
- Gandell was a tutor at Magdalen Hall (1848–1872) and chaplain of Corpus Christi College (1852–1877).
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