Professor William Whyte

Redbrick: A Social and Architectural History of Britain's Civic Universities (OUP Oxford, August 2016).

In the last two centuries Britain has experienced a revolution in higher education, with the number of students rising from a few hundred to several million. Yet the institutions that drove - and still drive - this change have been all but ignored by historians. 

Drawing on a decade's research, and based on work in dozens of archives, many of them used for the very first time, this is the first full-scale study of the civic universities - new institutions in the nineteenth century reflecting the growth of major Victorian cities in Britain, such as Liverpool, Manchester, and Birmingham - for more than 50 years. Tracing their story from the 1780s until the 2010s, it is an ambitious attempt to write the Redbrick revolution back into history. 

William Whyte argues that these institutions created a distinctive and influential conception of the university - something that was embodied in their architecture and expressed in the lives of their students and staff. It was this Redbrick model that would shape their successors founded in the twentieth century: ensuring that the normal university experience in Britain is a Redbrick one. 

Using a vast range of previously untapped sources, Redbrick is not just a new history, but a new sort of university history: one that seeks to rescue the social and architectural aspects of education from the disregard of previous scholars, and thus provide the richest possible account of university life. 

It will be of interest to students and scholars of modern British history, to anyone who has ever attended university, and to all those who want to understand how our higher education system has developed - and how it may evolve in the future.

As professor of social and architectural history I am very glad to discuss graduate supervision with anyone whose interests fall within these categories. In the past, I have supervised doctoral theses on science in the nineteenth century, theology in the twentieth, and architectural history over both periods. Current DPhil projects in architectural history include work on the Gothic and Italianate Revivals, workers' housing in nineteenth-century France, and gentlemen's clubs in Victorian New York. In the the field of social history, I am working with graduate students on history of universities, the Victorian champagne industry, and the history of touch. 

To get a sense of the sort of work I have supervised, it is worth looking at the publications of previous doctoral students. These include Ursula De Young, whose DPhil thesis was published as A Vision of Modern Science
John Tyndall and the Role of the Scientist in Victorian Culture (London, 2011) and Daniel Inman, whose thesis was published as The Making of Modern British Theology: God and the Academy at Oxford, 1833-1939 (Minneapolis, 2014). Sam Brewitt-Taylor's Christian Radicalism in the Church of England, 1957-71 will be out with OUP very soon.

I encourage my students to publish whilst working on the DPhil, and they have been very successful in so doing. Sam Brewitt-Taylor won the Duncan Tanner Prize for his essay 'The invention of a "secular society"? Christianity and the sudden appearance of secularization discourses in the British national media, 1961-64', which was published in Twentieth Century British History 24 (2013). Philip Aspin won the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain essay prize for his article '"Our ancient architecture": contesting cathedrals in late-Georgian England', Architectural History 54 (2011). Edward Gillin won the same award in 2015 for his 'The Stones of Science: Charles Harriot Smith and the importance of geology in architecture, 1834-1864', as well as the Society for the History of Technology's Usher Prize for his "Prophets of Progress: Authority in the Scientific Projections and Religious Realizations of the Great Eastern Steamship" in Technology and History 56 (2015). 

I am a convener of the Modern British History Seminar and of the Architectural History Seminar, and also teach graduate papers on theory and methods and on global religion in the twentieth century.

  • General introduction to 'The English Parish Church through the centuries: daily life and spirituality, art and architecture, literature and music [Sections 5 & 6: 1689-1945, and 1945-present]'

  • Which elite? Whose university? Britain’s civic university tradition and the importance of place

  • Architecture

  • 'Only Connect': Learned Societies in Nineteenth-Century Britain

  • "The school of the wide street ... the advocates of the narrow road": the international town planning conference in London in 1910

  • Neo-Georgian: the other style in British twentieth-century university architecture?

  • The Gentleman's House in the British Atlantic World, 1680-1780

  • "The home of lost causeways": Oxford, experts, and the Motor Age

  • 'Some dreadful buildings in Southwark’: a tour of nineteenth-century social housing

  • Octavia Hill: the practice of sympathy and the art of housing

  • More

Restoration Man, Channel 4:

The architecture of Keble College:


The architecture of the Oxford mathematical institute:

The Long View, policy reversals:


List of site pages