The university grew out of an association of Cambridge scholars that was formed in 1209, early records suggest, by scholars leaving Oxford after a dispute with townsfolk. The two "ancient universities" have many common features and are often jointly referred to as Oxbridge. In addition to cultural and practical associations as a historic part of British society, they have a long history of rivalry with each other.
Cambridge ranks first in the world in both the 2010 and 2011 QS World University Rankings, sixth in the world in the 2011 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and fifth in the world (and first in Europe) in the 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities. Cambridge regularly contends with Oxford for first place in UK league tables. In the two most recently published rankings of UK universities by The Guardian newspaper, Cambridge was ranked first.
Graduates of the university have won a total of 65 Nobel Prizes, the most of any university in the world (see list of Nobel laureates by university affiliation). In 2011, Cambridge ranked third, after Harvard and MIT, in The Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings.
Cambridge is a member of the Coimbra Group, the G5, the International Alliance of Research Universities, the League of European Research Universities and the Russell Group of research-led British universities. It forms part of the 'Golden Triangle' of British universities, alongside the University of Oxford and the University of London.
The official founding of Cambridge University is traced to the enhancement, by a charter in 1231 from King Henry III of England, which awarded the ius non trahi extra (a right to discipline its own members) plus some exemption from taxes, and a bull in 1233 from Pope Gregory IX that gave graduates from Cambridge the right to teach everywhere in Christendom.
After Cambridge was described as a studium generale in a letter by Pope Nicholas IV in 1290, and confirmed as such in a bull by Pope John XXII in 1318, it became common for researchers from other European medieval universities to come and visit Cambridge to study or to give lecture courses.
Cambridge's colleges were originally an incidental feature of the system. No college is as old as the university itself. The colleges were endowed fellowships of scholars. There were also institutions without endowments, called hostels. The hostels were gradually absorbed by the colleges over the centuries, but they have left some indicators of their time, such as the name of Garret Hostel Lane.
Hugh Balsham, Bishop of Ely, founded Peterhouse in 1284, Cambridge's first college. Many colleges were founded during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, but colleges continued to be established throughout the centuries to modern times, although there was a gap of 204 years between the founding of Sidney Sussex in 1596 and Downing in 1800. The most recently established college is Robinson, built in the late 1970s. However, Homerton College only achieved full university college status in March 2010, making it the newest full college (it was previously an "Approved Society" affiliated with the university).
In medieval times, many colleges were founded so that their members would pray for the souls of the founders, and were often associated with chapels or abbeys. A change in the colleges’ focus occurred in 1536 with the Dissolution of the Monasteries. King Henry VIII ordered the university to disband its Faculty of Canon Law and to stop teaching "scholastic philosophy". In response, colleges changed their curricula away from canon law and towards the classics, the Bible, and mathematics.
As Cambridge moved away from Canon Law, it also moved away from Catholicism. As early as the 1520s, Lutheranism and what was to become more broadly known as the Protestant Reformation were making their presence felt in the intellectual discourse of the university. Among the intellectuals involved was the theologically influential Thomas Cranmer, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury. As it became convenient to Henry VIII in the 1530s, the King looked to Cranmer and others (within and without Cambridge) to craft a new religious path that was different from Catholicism yet also different from what Martin Luther had in mind.
Nearly a century later, the university was at the centre of another Christian schism. Many nobles, intellectuals and even common folk saw the ways of the Church of England as being too similar to the Catholic Church and that it was used by the crown to usurp the rightful powers of the counties. East Anglia was the centre of what became the Puritan movement and at Cambridge, it was particularly strong at Emmanuel, St Catharine's Hall, Sidney Sussex and Christ's College. They produced many "non-conformist" graduates who greatly influenced, by social position or pulpit, the approximately 20,000 Puritans who left for New England and especially the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the Great Migration decade of the 1630s. Oliver Cromwell, Parliamentary commander during the English Civil War and head of the English Commonwealth (1649–1660), attended Sidney Sussex.
Pure mathematics at Cambridge in the 19th century had great achievements but also missed out on substantial developments in French and German mathematics. Pure mathematical research at Cambridge finally reached the highest international standard in the early 20th century, thanks above all to G. H. Hardy and his collaborator, J. E. Littlewood. In geometry, W. V. D. Hodge brought Cambridge into the international mainstream in the 1930s.
Although diversified in its research and teaching interests, Cambridge today maintains its strength in mathematics. Cambridge alumni have won six Fields Medals and one Abel Prize for mathematics, while individuals representing Cambridge have won four Fields Medals. The University also runs a special Master of Advanced Study course in mathematics.
- Understanding the scientific method, by Francis Bacon
- The laws of motion and the development of calculus, by Sir Isaac Newton
- The development of thermodynamics, by Lord Kelvin
- The discovery of the electron, by J. J. Thomson
- The splitting of the atom, by Ernest Rutherford and of the nucleus by Sir John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton
- The unification of electromagnetism, by James Clerk Maxwell
- The discovery of hydrogen, by Henry Cavendish
- Theory of Evolution by natural selection, by Charles Darwin
- Mathematical synthesis of Darwinian selection with Mendelian genetics, by Ronald Fisher
- The Turing machine, a basic model for computation, by Alan Turing
- The structure of DNA, by Rosalind Franklin, Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins
- Pioneering quantum mechanics, by Paul Dirac and string theory, by Michael Green
The faculties are responsible for ensuring that lectures are given, arranging seminars, performing research and determining the syllabi for teaching, overseen by the General Board. Together with the central administration headed by the Vice-Chancellor, they make up the entire Cambridge University. Facilities such as libraries are provided on all these levels: by the University (the Cambridge University Library), by the Faculties (Faculty libraries such as the Squire Law Library), and by the individual colleges (all of which maintain a multi-discipline library, generally aimed mainly at their undergraduates).
The colleges are self-governing institutions with their own endowments and property, founded as integral parts of the university. All students and most academics are attached to a college. Their importance lies in the housing, welfare, social functions, and undergraduate teaching they provide. All faculties, departments, research centres, and laboratories belong to the university, which arranges lectures and awards degrees, but undergraduates receive their supervisions—small-group teaching sessions, often with just one student—within the colleges. Each college appoints its own teaching staff and fellows, who are also members of a university department. The colleges also decide which undergraduates to admit to the university, in accordance with university regulations
There are also several theological colleges in Cambridge, separate from Cambridge University, including Westcott House, Westminster College and Ridley Hall Theological College, that are, to a lesser degree, affiliated to the university and are members of the Cambridge Theological Federation.
A tutor named William Farish developed the concept of grading students' work quantitatively at the University of Cambridge in 1792.
- Arts and Humanities
- Biological Sciences
- Clinical Medicine
- Humanities and Social Sciences
- Physical Sciences
The academic year is divided into three academic terms, determined by the Statutes of the University. Michaelmas Term lasts from October to December; Lent Term from January to March; and Easter Term from April to June.
Within these terms undergraduate teaching takes place within eight-week periods called Full Terms. These terms are shorter than those of many other British universities. Undergraduates are also expected to prepare heavily in the three holidays (known as the Christmas, Easter and Long Vacations).
The office of Chancellor of the University, for which there are no term limits, is mainly ceremonial and is held by David Sainsbury, Baron Sainsbury of Turville, following the retirement of the Duke of Edinburgh on his 90th birthday in June, 2011. Lord Sainsbury was nominated by the official Nomination Board to succeed him, and Abdul Arain, owner of a local grocery store, Brian Blessed and Michael Mansfield were also nominated. The election took place on 14 and 15 October 2011. David Sainsbury won the election taking 2,893 of the 5,888 votes cast, winning on the first count.
The current Vice-Chancellor is Leszek Borysiewicz. While the Chancellor's office is ceremonial, the Vice-Chancellor is the de facto principal administrative officer of the University. The university's internal governance is carried out almost entirely by its own members, with very little external representation on its governing body, the Regent House (though there is external representation on the Audit Committee, and there are four external members on the University's Council, who are the only external members of the Regent House).
Faculty Boards are responsible to the General Board; other Boards and Syndicates are responsible either to the General Board (if primarily for academic purposes) or to the Council. In this way, the various arms of the University are kept under the supervision of the central administration, and thus the Regent House.
Cambridge is by far the wealthiest university in the UK and in the whole of Europe, with an endowment of £4.3 billion in 2011. This is made up of around £1.6 billion tied directly to the university and £2.7 billion to the colleges. As of 2011, Oxford had an endowment valued at around £3.3 billion. The university's operating budget is well over £1 billion per year. Each college is an independent charitable institution with its own endowment, separate from that of the central university endowment. If ranked on a US university endowment table on most recent figures, Cambridge would rank fourth in a ranking compared with the eight Ivy League institutions (subject to market fluctuations).
Comparisons between Cambridge's endowment and those of other top US universities are, however, inaccurate because being a state-funded public university (although the status of Cambridge as a public university can not be compared with US or European public universities as, for example, the state do not "own" the university), Cambridge receives a major portion of its income through education and research grants from the British Government. In 2006-7, it was reported that approximately one third of Cambridge's income comes from UK government funding for teaching and research, with another third coming from other research grants. Endowment income contributes around £130 million. The University also receives a significant income in annual transfers from the Cambridge University Press, which is the oldest, and second largest university press in the world.
In 2000, Bill Gates of Microsoft donated US$210 million through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to endow the Gates Scholarships for students from outside the UK seeking postgraduate study at Cambridge. The University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, which taught the world's first computing course in 1953, is housed in a building partly funded by Gates and named after his father, William Gates.
In 2005, the Cambridge 800th Anniversary Campaign was launched, aimed at raising £1 billion by 2012—the first US-style university fund-raising campaign in Europe. This aim was reached in the financial year 2009-2010, with raising £1.037 billion.
Cambridge University operates eight arts, cultural, and scientific museums, and a botanic garden:
- The Fitzwilliam Museum, is the art and antiquities museum
- The Kettle's Yard is a contemporary art gallery
- The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge houses the University's collections of local antiquities, together with archaeological and ethnographic artifacts from around the world
- The Cambridge University Museum of Zoology
- The Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge
- The Whipple Museum of the History of Science
- The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is the geology museum of the University
- The Scott Polar Research Institute comprises the Polar Museum, dedicated to the Arctic and Antarctic exploration
- The Cambridge University Botanic Garden is the botanic garden of the university, created in 1831
Cambridge has a research partnership with MIT in the United States: the Cambridge–MIT Institute.
The application system to Cambridge and Oxford involves additional requirements, with candidates typically called to face-to-face interviews.
How applicants perform in the interview process is an important factor in determining which students are accepted. Most applicants are expected to be predicted at least three A-grade A-level qualifications relevant to their chosen undergraduate course, or equivalent overseas qualifications, such as getting at least 7,7,6 for higher-level subjects at IB. The A* A-level grade (introduced in 2010) now plays a part in the acceptance of applications, with the university's standard offer for all courses being set at A*AA. Due to a very high proportion of applicants receiving the highest school grades, the interview process is crucial for distinguishing between the most able candidates. In 2006, 5,228 students who were rejected went on to get 3 A levels or more at grade A, representing about 63% of all applicants rejected. The interview is performed by College Fellows, who evaluate candidates on unexamined factors such as potential for original thinking and creativity. For exceptional candidates, a Matriculation Offer is sometimes offered, requiring only two A-levels at grade E or above—Christ's College is unusual in making this offer to about one-third of successful candidates, in order to relieve very able candidates of some pressure in their final year.
Strong applicants who are not successful at their chosen college may be placed in the Winter Pool, where they can be offered places by other colleges. This is in order to maintain consistency throughout the colleges, some of which receive more applicants than others.
Graduate admission is first decided by the faculty or department relating to the applicant's subject. This effectively guarantees admission to a college—though not necessarily the applicant's preferred choice.
Public debate in the United Kingdom continues over whether admissions processes at Oxford and Cambridge are entirely merit based and fair; whether enough students from state schools are encouraged to apply to Cambridge; and whether these students succeed in gaining entry. In 2007–08, 57% of all successful applicants were from state schools (roughly 93 percent of all students in the UK attend state schools). However, the average qualifications for successful applicants from state schools are slightly lower than the average qualification of successful applicants from private schools. Critics have argued that the lack of state school applicants with the required grades applying to Cambridge and Oxford has had a negative impact on Oxbridge's reputation for many years, and the University has encouraged pupils from state schools to apply for Cambridge to help redress the imbalance. Others counter that government pressure to increase state school admissions constitutes inappropriate social engineering. The proportion of undergraduates drawn from independent schools has dropped over the years, and such applicants now form a (very large) minority (43%) of the intake. In 2005, 32% of the 3599 applicants from independent schools were admitted to Cambridge, as opposed to 24% of the 6674 applications from state schools. In 2008 the University of Cambridge received a gift of £4m to improve its accessibility to candidates from maintained schools. Cambridge, together with Oxford and Durham, is among those universities that have adopted formulae that gives a rating to the GCSE performance of every school in the country to "weight" the scores of university applicants.
Both the University's central Student Union, and individual college student unions (JCRs) run student led Access schemes aimed at encouraging applications to the University from students at schools with little or no history of Oxbridge applications, and from students from families with little or no history of participation in university education.
The university is also closely linked with the development of the high-tech business cluster in and around Cambridge, which forms the area known as Silicon Fen or sometimes the "Cambridge Phenomenon". In 2004, it was reported that Silicon Fen was the second largest venture capital market in the world, after Silicon Valley. Estimates reported in February 2006 suggest that there were about 250 active startup companies directly linked with the university, worth around US$6 billion.
The university set up its Local Examination Syndicate in 1858. Today, the syndicate, which is known as Cambridge Assessment, is Europe's largest assessment agency and it plays a leading role in researching, developing and delivering assessments across the globe.
Graduates receiving an undergraduate degree wear the academical dress that they were entitled to before graduating: for example, most students becoming Bachelors of Arts wear undergraduate gowns and not BA gowns. Graduates receiving a postgraduate degree (e.g. PhD or Master's) wear the academical dress that they were entitled to before graduating, only if their first degree was also from the University of Cambridge; if their first degree is from another university, they wear the academical dress of the degree that they are about to receive, the BA gown without the strings if they are under 24 years of age, or the MA gown without strings if they are 24 and over.
Graduands are presented in the Senate House college by college, in order of foundation or recognition by the university (except for the royal colleges), as follows.
|1.||King's College||8.||Trinity Hall||16.||Sidney Sussex College||24.||Darwin College|
|2.||Trinity College||9.||Corpus Christi College||17.||Downing College||25.||Wolfson College|
|3.||St John's College||10.||Queens' College||18.||Girton College||26.||Clare Hall|
|11.||St Catharine's College||19.||Newnham College||27.||Robinson College|
|4.||Peterhouse||12.||Jesus College||20.||Selwyn College||28.||Lucy Cavendish College|
|5.||Clare College||13.||Christ's College||21.||Fitzwilliam College||29.||St Edmund's College|
|6.||Pembroke College||14.||Magdalene College||22.||Churchill College||30.||Hughes Hall|
|7.||Gonville & Caius College||15.||Emmanuel College||23.||New Hall||31.||Homerton College|
- "Dignissima domina, Domina Procancellaria et tota Academia praesento vobis hunc virum quem scio tam moribus quam doctrina esse idoneum ad gradum assequendum _____; idque tibi fide mea praesto totique Academiae.
- (Most worthy Vice-Chancellor and the whole University, I present to you this man whom I know to be suitable as much by character as by learning to proceed to the degree of ____; for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole University.)"
- "Dignissima domina, Domina Procancellaria et tota Academia praesento vobis hanc mulierem quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina esse idoneam ad gradum assequendum ____; idque tibi fide mea praesto totique Academiae.
- (Most worthy Vice-Chancellor and the whole University, I present to you this woman whom I know to be suitable as much by character as by learning to proceed to the degree of ____; for which I pledge my faith to you and to the whole University.)"
- "Auctoritate mihi commissa admitto te ad gradum ____, in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.
- (By the authority committed to me, I admit you to the degree of ____, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.)"
The Cambridge University Students' Union is the overall Student Union organisation. However, the Cambridge Union serves as a focus for debating. Drama societies notably include the Amateur Dramatic Club (ADC) and the comedy club Footlights, which are known for producing well-known show-business personalities. Student newspapers include the long-established Varsity and its younger rival, The Cambridge Student. In the last year, both have been challenged by the emergence of The Tab, Cambridge's first student tabloid. The student-run radio station, Cam FM, provides members with an opportunity to produce and host weekly radio shows and promotes broadcast journalism, sports coverage, comedy and drama.
The Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra explores a range of programmes, from popular symphonies to lesser known works. Membership of the orchestra is composed of students of the university and it has also attracted a variety of conductors and soloists, including Wayne Marshall, Jane Glover, and Nicholas Cleobury. Cambridge is also home to a number of recreational outdoor societies, such as the Cambridge University Punting Society.
Perhaps most of all, the university is renowned for a long and distinguished tradition in mathematics and the sciences.
Among the most famous of Cambridge natural philosophers is Sir Isaac Newton, who spent the majority of his life at the university and conducted many of his now famous experiments within the grounds of Trinity College. Sir Francis Bacon, responsible for the development of the Scientific Method, entered the university when he was just twelve, and pioneering mathematicians John Dee and Brook Taylor soon followed.
Other ground-breaking mathematicians to have studied at the university include Hardy, Littlewood and De Morgan, three of the most renowned pure mathematicians in modern history; Sir Michael Atiyah, one of the most important mathematicians of the last half-century; William Oughtred, the inventor of the logarithmic scale; John Wallis, the inventor of modern calculus; Srinivasa Ramanujan, the self-taught genius who made incomparable contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series and continued fractions; and, perhaps most importantly of all, James Clerk Maxwell, who is considered to have brought about the second great unification of Physics (the first being accredited to Newton) with his classical electromagnetic theory.
The university can be considered the birthplace of the computer, with mathematician Charles Babbage having designed the world's first computing system as early as the mid-1800s. Alan Turing went on to devise what is essentially the basis for modern computing and Maurice Wilkes later created the first programmable computer. The webcam was also invented at Cambridge University, as a means for scientists to avoid interrupting their research and going all the way down to the laboratory dining room only to be disappointed by an empty coffee pot.
Astronomers Sir John Herschel and Sir Arthur Eddington both spent much of their careers at Cambridge, as did Paul Dirac, the discoverer of antimatter and one of the pioneers of Quantum Mechanics; Stephen Hawking, the founding father of the study of singularities and the university's long-serving Lucasian Professor of Mathematics until 2009; and Lord Martin Rees, the current Astronomer Royal and Master of Trinity College.
In the humanities, Greek studies were inaugurated at Cambridge in the early sixteenth century by Desiderius Erasmus during the few years he held a professorship there; seminal contributions to the field were made by Richard Bentley and Richard Porson. John Chadwick was associated with Michael Ventris in the decipherment of Linear B. The eminent Latinist A. E. Housman taught at Cambridge but is more widely known as a poet. Simon Ockley made a significant contribution to Arabic Studies.
Distinguished Cambridge academics in other fields include economists such as John Maynard Keynes, Thomas Malthus, Alfred Marshall, Milton Friedman, Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa, and Amartya Sen, another former Master of Trinity College. Philosophers Sir Francis Bacon, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Leo Strauss, George Santayana, G. E. M. Anscombe, Sir Karl Popper, Sir Bernard Williams, Allama Iqbal and G. E. Moore were all Cambridge scholars, as were historians such as Thomas Babington Macaulay, Frederic William Maitland, Lord Acton, Joseph Needham, E. H. Carr, Hugh Trevor-Roper, E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Niall Ferguson and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr, and famous lawyers such as Glanville Williams, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, and Sir Edward Coke.
Religious figures at the university have included Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury and many of his predecessors; William Tyndale, the pioneer biblical translator; Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley, all Cambridge men, known as the "Oxford martyrs" from the place of their execution; Benjamin Whichcote and the Cambridge Platonists; William Paley, the Christian philosopher known primarily for formulating the teleological argument for the existence of God; William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, largely responsible for the abolition of the slave trade; leading Evangelical churchman Charles Simeon; John William Colenso, the bishop of Natal who developed views on the interpretation of Scripture and relations with native peoples that seemed dangerously radical at the time; John Bainbridge Webster and David F. Ford, theologians of significant repute; and six winners of the Templeton Prize, the highest accolade for the study of religion since its foundation in 1972.
Composers Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, William Sterndale Bennett, Orlando Gibbons and, more recently, Alexander Goehr, Thomas Adès and John Rutter were all at Cambridge. Although known primarily for its choral music, the university has also produced members of contemporary bands such as Radiohead, Hot Chip, Procol Harum, Henry Cow, and the singer-songwriter Nick Drake.
Artists Quentin Blake, Roger Fry and Julian Trevelyan also attended as undergraduates, as did sculptors Antony Gormley, Marc Quinn and Sir Anthony Caro, and photographers Antony Armstrong-Jones, Sir Cecil Beaton and Mick Rock.
Important writers to have studied at the university include the prominent Elizabethan dramatist Christopher Marlowe, his fellow University Wits Thomas Nashe and Robert Greene, arguably the first professional authors in England, and John Fletcher, who collaborated with Shakespeare on The Two Noble Kinsmen, Henry VIII and the lost Cardenio and succeeded him as house playwright of The King's Men. Samuel Pepys matriculated in 1650, ten years before he began his diary, the original manuscripts of which are now housed in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College. Lawrence Sterne, whose novel Tristram Shandy is judged to have inspired many modern narrative devices and styles, was admitted in 1733. In the following century, the novelists W. M. Thackeray, best known for Vanity Fair, Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho! and Water Babies, and Samuel Butler, remembered for The Way of All Flesh and Erewhon, were all at Cambridge. Ghost story writer M. R. James served as provost of King’s College from 1905 to 1918. Modernist writers to have attended the university include E. M. Forster, Rosamond Lehmann, Vladmir Nabokov, Christopher Isherwood and Malcolm Lowry. Although not a student, Virginia Woolf wrote her essay A Room of One’s Own while in residence at Newnham College. Playwright J. B. Priestley, medievalist and fantasy writer C. S. Lewis, physicist and novelist C. P. Snow and children’s writer A. A. Milne were also among those who passed through the university in the early 20th century. They were followed by the postmodernists Patrick White, Iris Murdoch, Eudora Welty, J. G. Ballard, Sir Kingsley Amis and the early postcolonial writer E. R. Braithwaite. More recently, the university has educated the comedy writers Douglas Adams, Tom Sharpe and Howard Jacobson, the popular novelists A. S. Byatt, Sir Salman Rushdie, Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, Robert Harris and Sebastian Faulks, the successful action writers Michael Crichton and Jin Yong, and contemporary playwrights and screenwriters such as Julian Fellowes, Stephen Poliakoff, Michael Frayn, Alan Bennett and Sir Peter Shaffer.
Cambridge poets include Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene, the Metaphysical poets John Donne, George Herbert and Andrew Marvell, John Milton, renowned for his late epic Paradise Lost, the leading Restoration poet and playwright John Dryden, the pre-romantic Thomas Gray, best known his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose joint work Lyrical Ballads is often seen to mark the beginning of the Romantic movement, later Romantics such as Lord Byron and the postromantic Alfred, Lord Tennyson, classical scholar and lyric poet A. E. Housman, war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke, modernist T. E. Hulme, confessional poets Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and John Berryman, and, more recently, Cecil Day-Lewis, Joseph Brodsky, Kathleen Raine and Geoffrey Hill. In all, at least nine of the Poet Laureates graduated from Cambridge. The university has also made a notable contribution to Literary Criticism, having produced, among others, F. R. Leavis, I. A. Richards, C. K. Ogden and William Empson, often collectively known as the Cambridge Critics, the important Marxists Raymond Williams, sometimes regarded as the founding father of Cultural Studies, and Terry Eagleton, author of Literary Theory: An Introduction, the most successful academic book ever published, the New Historicists Harold Bloom and Stephen Greenblatt, and an extensive group of distinguished biographical writers such as Lytton Strachey, a central figure in the largely Cantabridgian Bloomsbury Group, Peter Ackroyd and Claire Tomalin.
The University is also known for its prodigious sporting reputation and has produced many fine athletes, including more than 50 Olympic medalists (6 in 2008 alone); the legendary Chinese six-time world table tennis champion Deng Yaping; the sprinter and athletics hero Harold Abrahams; the inventors of the modern game of Football, Winton and Thring; and George Mallory, the famed mountaineer and possibly the first man ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Notable educationalists to have attended the university include the founders and early professors of Harvard University, including John Harvard himself; Emily Davies, founder of Girton College, the first residential higher education institution for women, and John Haden Badley, founder of the first mixed-sex school in England.
Cambridge also has a strong reputation in the fields of politics and governance, having educated:
- 15 British Prime Ministers, including Robert Walpole (considered the first Prime Minister of Great Britain).
- At least 25 foreign Heads of Government, including the current Prime Ministers of India, Singapore and Jordan, and the current Presidents of Zambia and Trinidad and Tobago.
- At least 9 monarchs and a large number of other royals.
- 3 Signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence.
- Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England (1653–58)