To help prepare us for our upcoming advance we received an email from Cliff that provided us with an overview of the intentions behind the “I AM HERE” day. This message suggested that to appreciate our time in this revered town, we might consider the concept of Terroir, or a sense of “somewhereness.” It stated:
“Certain wines have characteristics unique to the specific areas or regions they are from. It has to do with the makeup of the soil, the micro climates, the traditional farming practices in that area, etc…How might experiencing and analyzing the terroir of Oxford help you to do the same in your own location, or other locations?”
The concept of terroir is an intriguing one as I think about the reading we were assigned for this first week of our second year in the DLGP program. I see an interconnectedness in learning about the history of a place such as Oxford and in how Oxford has in turn played a role in shaping education in today’s society. How might analyzing the terroir of such a place help me in thinking about my own academic journey? In considering the concepts of terroir that influences education, I have a few observations:
- It appears that Oxford’s considerable influence extends all the way to how modern governments are organized.
“The Provisions put their rights and powers on a firm legal footing and have been described as England’s first written constitution. The new deal introduces a powerful council of twenty-four nobles – half selected by the King, half by the Barons. This was the first elected chamber in Europe…”
This little nugget of the history, or terroir of Oxford gives insight into the cultural character of Oxford. I wonder about the impact of such a legacy may have on the community of Oxford. I am also reminded of the brevity of my own nation’s history and left in awe of the global impact of this little town.
- My summer reading around higher education uncovered an interplay between education, religion and culture and its broader implications on society. For example, take the following two examples of how education has created division between people groups:
- In Oxford, students were religious leaders, and were separated from society to protect them. “The university was exempt from the laws that applied to laymen: the origin of the famous ‘town versus Gown’ divide. Students were originally clerics…. Herded into halls, under a master or Principal, the intention was to spare them the many temptations of the Oxford streets.”
- Women’s Colleges in the United States were often designed with the intention of reducing the students’ ability to interact with the outside world out of fear that they may become corrupted or lose some of their ‘femininity.’
Aside from obvious questions of equity, this potential pattern of segregation leaves me with other questions: Does the field of academia have a history of a belief that education was or should be somehow sterile, or untainted from the influence of the world? Was that a justified aspiration? What sort of “world germs” would pose a threat to the goals of education? With a legacy of division between the uneducated and educated as well as the barriers we put between various groups and educational endeavors, how does that impact the terroir or character of the education we are all pursuing?
Still, there are more considerations for our upcoming trip to Oxford and the terroir of education. Two memoirs I have read in in recent memory touch on the impact of education on the lives of the authors. One could go so far as to say that education provided the makeup of the “climate” that provided the terroir for their lives. Tara Westover retells the saga of her childhood beginning in a restrictive, dysfunctional, and abusive environment and her pathway to escaping such a dangerous setting by way of education. Her compelling book Educated: a Memoir outlines her radical transformation that happened as a student at BYU and Cambridge. The impact her university experience had on her life paints a broader representation of higher education as a dependable, altruistic hero of her story.
In his memoir Surprised by Joy: the Shape of My Early Life, CS Lewis also writes of the impact that education had on his life. However, his recounting has another, more nuanced view. While Westover found a respite from her perilous childhood by moving to school, as a child, Lewis was introduced to a dysfunctional and abusive environment via his education in various boarding schools. Lewis ultimately attends Oxford and, in that community he discovers a new educational environment that provides him an intellectual stimulus that leads to a different kind of salvation. Westover and Lewis have two very different experiences; each one highlighting the life-changing impacts of academia.
So, on the one hand, I am discovering paths of insular isolation and discrimination within education while also reading accounts of the transforming power of the same endeavor. As our trip to Oxford draws closer, I find that I have no conclusions to draw from all of this information except a deepening attitude of awareness and curiosity regarding the impact Oxford has had on academia at large, and an excitement to discover more insights.
 (Sullivan, p23)
 (Sullivan, p24)