Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) in Oxford, England, is a programme for international students (mainly American) to study in Oxford. It was founded by Dr John Feneley in 1975. For the first thirty years of its existence, until 2006, the Centre was affiliated to Keble College, Oxford. CMRS currently works with St Peter's College, Oxford. American colleges and universities that have regularly sent students to CMRS are Biola University, The Catholic University of America, Moravian College, St. Mary's College of California, St. Mary's College of Maryland, St. Olaf College, and William Jewell College, Manhattanville College, among others.

The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (or CMRS) is located in St Michael's Hall on Shoe Lane, close to St Peter's College and Cornmarket Street. St Michael's Hall is a large building. It contains, among other things, a Lecture Hall and several other teaching rooms, a stained glass studio, a computer laboratory, offices for the CMRS administration, the Feneley Library, and several floors of student accommodation, including a kitchen, dining room, JCR and various student bedrooms.

According the CMRS website, "the emphasis at CMRS is on scholarship." The academic programme is carefully devised so that students can receive either specialized training in Medieval and Renaissance Studies or a more general course of studies in the Liberal Arts. Teaching at CMRS is provided by one-to-one tutorials, by small seminar classes, and by lecture courses. The Oxford tutorial system ensures the closest possible cooperation between teachers and pupils.

The overall aim of CMRS is to provide each student with a rigorous training in particular disciplines within the context of a broad and well-balanced academic, cultural, and social life. Certain qualities are necessary if a student is to obtain maximum benefit from an education here: an enquiring mind, a critical approach to facts and, above all, a capacity for creative as well as analytical thought. In considering each individual applicant, the greatest importance is attached to recommendations from faculty members who have personal knowledge of his or her work.


Students select two tutorial courses each semester from a wide range of options. A tutorial is a weekly meeting of one or, very occasionally, two students with the tutor responsible for a particular area of studies. The tutorial is a creative and flexible teaching method that enables the teacher to adapt a course to the precise requirements of a particular student, and to give that student individual attention and supervision.

At the weekly meeting with each tutor the student presents a formal essay, based on reading in primary and secondary sources. The tutor will point the student to the most important books and articles relevant to a topic, while also encouraging initiative and judgment in their selection.

The preparation and writing of an essay is a time-consuming and exacting process, so the student must be prepared to devote the greater part of each week to this work. The purpose of this exercise is not merely to test a student’s ability to amass facts, but to develop powers of critical analysis so that he or she can identify and interpret significant information and present facts and conclusions in a clear and precise form.


Each student attends one of the seminars offered each semester in art history, history, literature, philosophy, political thought, religious studies. These courses complement the one-to-one work of the tutorial by fostering students’ presentational skills, by encouraging students to learn from each other as well as from the tutor, and by requiring a substantial research essay produced over the whole period of ten weeks.

Considerable importance is attached to the research essay. The seminar tutor assists in the choice of topic, advises on the use of resources including the Bodleian Library, the main library of Oxford University, and monitors progress. The essay is expected to be a substantial and exemplary piece of research which should be valuable in future applications to postgraduate or professional programmes.

Seminar sessions are one and a half to two hours long, and vary in format and style according to the requirements of the subject and the needs of the participants. They range from one-hour formal lectures followed by a discussion period, to sessions where students present the points for discussion and explore them under the guidance of their tutor. Extensive and detailed reading is required each week in preparation for the seminars. Students are given reading lists, assigned weekly topics, and asked to report regularly on the development of their research essay.

Integral Courses

Each semester has an Integral Course consisting of lectures, field trips and a colloquium. In the Autumn Semester the field trips and the majority of the lectures come at the beginning of term. By tracing the background knowledge necessary for an understanding of the Middle Ages, they provide a foundation for the student’s subsequent studies at CMRS. In the Spring Semester there are fortnightly lectures during the first ten weeks of term which trace the gradual breakdown of the medieval world view and the emergence of the Renaissance. These prepare students for the lectures and field trips during the final four weeks of term which investigate the major developments from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century that transformed society and shaped the future of Europe and America. One lecture each week is devoted to the presentation and critical analysis of a text which exercised a decisive influence on the formation of European civilization. Such texts might include Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Milton’s Areopagitica. Lectures are supplemented by colloquium sessions and field trips (see below) and the course is assessed by a three-hour written examination and an essay from a choice of questions.


Students meet every two weeks with a CMRS tutor to discuss one of the seminal texts introduced in the lecture series. The small size of the classes, usually about 15 students, makes it possible to have a vigorous exchange of ideas at a high intellectual level. The aim of the Colloquium is threefold: to consolidate and enhance the information imparted in the Integral lectures; to subject traditional world views to rigorous investigation; to encourage students to discuss in and outside class their different approaches to learning and living in the modern world.

Field Trips

CMRS gives its students a thorough introduction to the colleges, museums and art galleries of Oxford at the beginning of each term. The city of Oxford is viewed as one of the historical, literary and artistic resources with which students should become familiar. There are also four field trips outside Oxford to places of historical importance, each under the guidance of a tutor with specialized knowledge of the sites. Field trips to places such as Stratford and Hampton Court are an essential part of the academic programme, and all students are expected to attend. Students may make a special study during their field trips of at least one site, and answer a question on it in the integral course examination.

Notable staff, tutors and former tutors

* Nicholas Crowe M.A., Ph.D., European Literature and Philosophy. Senior Dean and Academic Librarian
* John Feneley M.A., D.Phil., Religious Studies. Principal of CMRS
* Sandra J.K.M. Feneley B.Ed. (Calgary), F.R.S.A., Stained Glass. Librarian. Artist in Residence.
* Nigel Frith M.A., M.Litt., Drama and English Language and Literature
* Alun Thorton Jones M.A., Dip.Cl.Arch., FBCart.S., Archaeology and Art History. Emeritus Dean of CMRS
* Maurice Keen M.A., D.Phil., F.B.A., O.B.E., Emeritus Fellow in History, Balliol College, Oxford
* Brian Klug M.A., Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy, St Benet's Hall, Oxford
*Richard Cross D.Phil, Oriel College
* Leslie Mitchell M.A., D.Phil., F.R.Hist.S., Emeritus Fellow in History University College, Oxford
* Mark Philpott M.A., D.Phil., Senior Lecturer in History and Fellow of Keble College. Senior Tutor of CMRS
* Vincent Strudwick M.A., Honorary Fellow, Kellogg College, Oxford

External links

* [http://www.cmrs.org.uk/ Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies official website]

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