Social Capital, Memory, and Collegiate Inheritance
9 January 2005 (collegiateway.org) — A residential college is a body of people, not a building, and though it may have buildings, the people occupying the buildings are not the college’s residents, they are its members. In the language of sociology, the membership relations in a collegiate society generate a great deal of “social capital.” If we accept the metaphor of social “capital,” then we might also acknowledge that social capital is something that can be stored and even inherited from one generation to the next in institutions that persist over time.
In this context I’d like to recommend a remarkable and moving book called Sons of This Place: Commemoration of the War Dead in Oxford’s Colleges and Institutions by Patricia Utechin (Oxford: Robert Dugdale, 1998; ISBN 0946976074). It is a collection of photographs and transcriptions of memorial tablets and sculptures in the Oxford residential colleges, including translations of inscriptions that are in Latin or Greek. The book may take some effort to acquire, but it is well worth it. It is listed as a special order on Amazon.co.uk, and the webpage of the small press that published it gives a postal address for orders.
The most remarkable inscription that is included in the volume is the memorial tablet in New College to three graduates who fought on the German side in World War I:
In memory of the men of this College who, coming from a foreign land, entered into the inheritance of this place, & returning, fought & died for their country in the war 1914–1919.
A residential college should be a society, of whose members it may be said, that they “enter into the inheritance of the place.” If we can establish more such places, and can invite more people from foreign lands to enter into their inheritance, then perhaps we will need fewer war memorials in the future.