United States of America | University of Oxford
The Capitol building in Washington DC at night
The Capitol building in Washington DC at night
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

United States of America

Connections between Oxford and the United States are strong across the spectrum of the University’s activities. The USA is the largest source of students and second largest source of academic staff outside of the UK and is home to the largest number of international Oxford alumni. Oxford academics and scientists publish research with American colleagues more frequently than with any other nationality, and the USA provides the largest source of funding for Oxford research outside of the UK.

It is a sign of Oxford’s strong ties with the region that one of only three international University offices is located there. The Oxford University North American Office, based in New York, reflects and seeks to further strengthen Oxford's relationship with North America.

Oxford University Press also has deep historical links to the US: in January 2009, President Barack Obama was sworn into office on the same Bible as that used by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1853. The Oxford University Press, Inc. (OUP USA) is Oxford University Press’s second major publishing centre after Oxford, and is by far the largest university press in the USA. Set up in 1896, OUP USA was the Press’ first international office. Since it began to publish its own US books in the 1920s, the Press has been honoured with seven Pulitzer Prizes, several National Book Awards, and over a dozen Bancroft Prizes in American history. It publishes at a variety of levels and for a wide range of audiences in almost every academic discipline, furthering Oxford University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education.

American studies at Oxford

The Rothermere American Institute

The focal point for the study of the USA at Oxford is the Rothermere American Institute (RAI). Opened in 2001 by former US President Bill Clinton, it is an international centre of excellence dedicated to the interdisciplinary and comparative study of the US. Bringing together scholars, intellectuals, policy-makers, and public figures from around the world, it seeks to promote a greater public and academic understanding of the history, culture, and politics of the US. It is widely considered to be one of the best places to study the United States outside America. The Director of the RAI is Halbert Jones, an expert on US-Latin American relations and Director of St Antony’s College’s North American Studies Programme.

The Harmsworth professorship for American scholars

The annual Harmsworth Professorship makes Oxford unique amongst British institutions by enabling a distinguished American scholar to spend a year in Oxford teaching, conducting seminars, and pursuing research.

American history

The study of American history enjoys great vitality at Oxford thanks to its dynamic expansion in recent years. The Oxford Centre for Research in US History (OxCRUSH) is housed in the Faculty of History and brings together the substantial body of American historians who work in Oxford. Provision in the field is now unsurpassed within the British university system.

As a mark of the standing of Oxford’s scholars of the US, in February 2009, Professor Richard Cawardine, Lincoln biographer, former Rhodes Professor of American History, and President of Corpus Christi College, became the only non-American to receive the Order of Lincoln from the State of Illinois.

American Politics

Oxford's Department of Politics and International Relations is home to a number of America specialists. Professor Desmond King, the current Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government, is a leading scholar of American political development and the author of many works on labour markets, race, immigration, and ethnicity.

American literature

American literature is a major research area of Oxford’s Faculty of English Language and Literature, and there is also a research programme in American literature at the Rothermere American Institute. Oxford’s American literature specialists publish widely on American modernist literature, poetry and the history of American literature. The Faculty is home to specialists in the works of authors including Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, TS Eliot, and Philip Roth among others.

Studying North America in its regional context

The North American Studies programme at St Antony’s College, established in 2012 , seeks to examine the common problems and issues that transcend national boundaries in North America, the interrelationships among North American states and societies, and the relationship of the region to the wider world. It is designed to create a lively and world-class multi-disciplinary programme at Oxford to study North America as a region, defined as the area from the Arctic to Panama, including the Caribbean. It is a substantial and permanent programme for the study of North America, and was designed to build on the strong base that already exists at Oxford through our wide range of North American experts in faculties such as History and Politics and in such centres as the Rothermere American Institute, International Studies, the Environmental Change Institute and Migration Studies. The North American Studies programme also brings in leading scholars and practitioners from the UK and North America.

Studying North America in its regional context allows the programme to focus on common issues and challenges such as migration, security, trade, environment, resources, aboriginal rights and governance, which affect the continent as a whole. The programme will initially look at three main areas: the common problems and issues which transcend national boundaries in North America; the interrelationships among the states and societies of North America; and the relationship of the continent to the external world.

Libraries and Museums

Several of the University libraries and museums hold extensive collections of items relating to native and post-colonial America. For instance, the Vere Harmsworth Library at the Rothermere American Institute, part of the Bodleian Library, is the finest library of Americana to be found outside the US. Its collection focuses predominantly on the history – social, political and economic – of the United States from colonial times to the present day.

The Pitt Rivers Museum has a substantial Native American collection, including photographs and Native American clothing.

From March to July 2018, the Ashmolean Museum's America's Cool Modernism exhibition is running. Showcasing significant examples of American art produced during the roaring 1920s and depression-era 1930s, some for the very first time in the UK, the exhibition has been developed in collaboration with the Terra Foundation for American Art and curated by Terra’s Katherine Bourguignon and the Ashmolean’s director Dr Xa Sturgis. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has agreed to support the exhibition with major loans in addition to works from the Terra Collection.

Collaborations with American institutions

Research connections between the US and Oxford are strong and growing: the US is the largest source of international research collaborators and also the largest source of international research funding at Oxford, with funding from federal (government) agencies in the USA becoming an increasingly important part of the wider research funding portfolio at Oxford over recent years. In addition to funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Oxford researchers have been successful in securing grants and contracts from a range of other US federal agencies such as the Department of Defence (and its sub-agencies such as DARPA, Office of Naval Research, US Air Force) and the Department of Education and Department of Energy.

Furthermore, the USA is home to the largest concentration of Oxford’s co-authors in its academic and scientific publishing. The University collaborates most frequently with Harvard University followed by Johns Hopkins, Yale, Wisconsin and MIT. Oxford medics collaborate extensively with one of the US’s top medical research institutions, the National Institutes of Health.

Medical Sciences collaborations

Training biomedical doctoral students with the National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Programme was started in 2001 in recognition of the fact that the most innovative and exciting biomedical research is increasingly a global and collaborative process. The programme leads to an Oxford doctorate, and is designed to train outstanding students in various areas of biomedical research. Students split their time evenly between two world-class research centres – Oxford University and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland – and are supervised by leading researchers in both places. Scholars (6-8 per year) are fully funded and must be US citizens or permanent residents with a US bachelor’s degree.

Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences collaborations

Oxford and NASA

Oxford University’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics (AOPP) sub-department has a long and continuing collaboration with NASA in building instrumentation for earth observation and planetary science. This dates back to 1970, when an Oxford-built infrared radiometer, for measuring atmospheric temperatures, was launched on NASA’s Nimbus D satellite. Since then Oxford has built, in part or in whole, instrumentation for many more NASA Earth-observing satellites, notably the ISAMS instrument on NASA’s UARS orbiter, and the HIRDLS instrument on the Aura orbiter.

Oxford has also collaborated extensively with NASA in instrumentation for planetary exploration. This dates back to the launch of the Pioneer Venus Orbiter in 1978, carrying an Oxford-JPL infrared radiometer. This was followed by several generations of infrared instrumentation including the Cassini Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS), which observed Saturn and its moons from 2004 until 2017; this instrument was led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center but includes a focal plane assembly and coolers built in Oxford. Oxford has also contributed parts of infrared radiometers currently orbiting Mars (MCS/MRO) and the moon (Diviner/LRO); both of these are collaborations with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.

NASA’s InSight mission, launching in 2018, studies Mars’ internal structure through seismometry. Oxford has assembled & calibrated the short-period seismometers for this mission, which is again led by NASA/JPL. Oxford-NASA collaboration extends far beyond planetary missions, taking in also ground-based telescope observations, for example from NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility (IRTF), and collaboration with NASA’s Johnson Space Center on spectroscopy in Oxford of lunar samples.

International collaborations in astrophysics

The Astrophysics sub-department in Physics collaborates extensively with researchers, institutions and facilities around the world, with particularly strong connections with the United States. There are more than a dozen bilateral relationships between researchers working on everything from the theory of black hole mergers to observational surveys of galaxies, and Oxford’s instrumentalists are key to the development of new receivers for the Smithsonian Millimetre Array in Hawai’i and the C-BASS survey of the cosmic microwave background in collaboration with Caltech. The group are institutional members of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey whose telescope is in New Mexico, and are active in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. The latter, now under construction in Chile, is a transformative sky survey funded by the US National Science Foundation; Oxford’s role includes camera design and testing, the development of analysis techniques through citizen science and preparing for the scientific exploitation of the enormous data sets it will produce.

Oxford–MIT student exchange in materials science and engineering

Since 1996, the Department of Materials at Oxford and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT have sponsored the MIT exchange in Material Sciences and Engineering. Students can apply to attend the other university for two academic terms in either their second or final year of study.

Humanities collaborations

The digital humanities

The University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), and ProQuest Information and Learning are engaged in an exceptional partnership to create structured SGML/XML text editions for a significant portion of the Short Title Catalog of Early English books published between 1473 and 1700. ProQuest has already created digital images for more than 125,000 works, distributed under the title Early English Books Online. The Universities of Michigan and Oxford, with the support of the international library community, are creating accurately keyboarded and tagged editions of a significant portion of this culturally significant corpus. The Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP) has since 2000 been engaged in creating searchable and readable transcriptions and linking them directly to the corresponding ProQuest image files. In combination, the text and image editions of these works provide a powerful research and instructional tool of unquestioned enduring value.

The original goal of EEBO-TCP was to convert 25,000 titles: the 25,000th text was edited in January of 2009 and should be online by mid-summer. The Partnership is pressing forward with renewed momentum and gathering support for a more ambitious goal: that of producing full-text transcriptions of all the unique English-language printed books extant from before 1700, or approximately an additional 40-45,000 titles.

The literature and culture of the African Diaspora

Founded in 1976 by its editor, Charles Henry Rowell, Callaloo is a journal sponsored by Texas A&M University and College Station and published five times a year by John Hopkins University Press in Baltimore, Maryland. Callaloo was originally devoted to the literature of the Black South, but today the journal focuses on the literature and culture of the African Diaspora. Callaloo, says its editor, serves "to exhibit, preserve, critique, and promote African Diaspora literary and visual culture." Callaloo sponsors three annual creative writing workshops at the University of the West Indies (Barbados), Brown University (RI) and the University of Oxford. The workshops were originally created as an outreach programme to historically black colleges and universities in the USA, but these workshops have now expanded to serve new and emerging poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers throughout English-speaking regions of the African Diaspora. The workshops are currently led by such distinguished prize-winning writers as Fred D'Aguiar, Vievee Francis, Ravi Howard, Gregory Pardlo, and Jacinda Townsend. 

Social Sciences collaborations

Studying the changing character of conflict

The world’s security landscape is constantly changing. Each armed conflict embedded in it evolves in distinct ways. These changes range from the groups involved, the means used to the places affected. The Changing Character of Conflict Platform is a collaboration that seeks to develop a comprehensive knowledge base focused on the questions of how, when and in which direction conflict changes. Seeking to challenge unidimensional understandings of conflict that derive from adopting single disciplinary and epistemological approaches, they trace trends and directions of change in five dimensions of armed conflict. By focusing on change rather than magnitude this project goes beyond current conflict indices which create country rankings and stigmatise those countries that are ranked least. It is a collaboration between the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Leuven, the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding, Graduate Institute, Geneva, the Computational and Data Sciences Department, George Mason University, and the Program in Environmental Design, University of Colorado Boulder.

Student and staff exchanges in the social sciences

Oxford’s collaborative links are not only about academic research; student and academic staff exchange is also a key aspect of the University’s relationship with many international partners.

In 2010, Oxford University and Columbia Law School announced the Columbia-Oxford Alliance in Law and Finance exchange programme. This programme offers 3rd year Columbia law students the chance to study law at Oxford for 2 academic terms through its Masters in Law and Finance curriculum, and in exchange allows Oxford graduates to audit Law School courses and conduct research under the guidance of faculty members. In addition, faculty members from both law schools will also participate in the exchange to facilitate academic interaction and new teaching experiences.

Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies collaborates closely with the Centre for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. PCMLP provides a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the playing out of human rights debates in media systems and the impact of media changes on democratic values and economic development. The two institutions jointly host the annual Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute. This event brings together young scholars and regulators to discuss important recent trends in technology, international politics and development and its influence on media policy. Participants come from around the world; countries represented at previous summer institutes include Thailand, Kenya, China, Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria, Jordan, Italy and Bosnia, among others.

Interdisciplinary collaborations

Oxford is a member of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), an alliance between ten of the world's leading research-intensive universities who share similar visions for higher education, in particular the education of future leaders. Fellow IARU members include the American universities Yale and UC Berkeley, as well as other research-intensive universities around the world.

American students at Oxford

The USA is Oxford’s largest source of students outside the UK. There are currently over 1,600 students from the USA, the majority studying at graduate level where they are predominantly split between Humanities and Social Sciences.

Scholarships for American students

Rhodes Scholarships have been particularly instrumental in attracting talented American students to Oxford. The highly prestigious scholarships are unique to Oxford and offer the best and brightest students the opportunity to study at Oxford at postgraduate level, a taught Master’s programme, a research degree, or a second undergraduate degree (senior status). Thirty-two Rhodes Scholarships are awarded annually to Americans.

American students may also apply to the Fulbright-Oxford Clarendon Scholarships which fund US citizens to study for either a taught or research masters or a doctoral programme (DPhil), and Marshall Scholarships which provide students with two fully funded years of study, with a possible third-year extension. Although they are not specific to Oxford, the University consistently receives the largest proportion of Marshall Scholars in the UK averaging approximately 40%.

Prospective American students can also apply for a wide range of other scholarship opportunities.

American academics at Oxford

Oxford currently has just under 320 academic and research staff from the US, the University’s second largest source of international academic talent. They include:

Professor Shamita Das

Shamita Das is Professor of Earth Sciences and, since 2014, Emeritus Fellow of Exeter College. She is a leading seismologist specialising in tectonics, volcanoes and hazards and her recent work has focused on great earthquakes in Sumatra, Antarctica, and Indonesia. Her long-term research aims to contribute to the development of better earthquake prediction capabilities.

Professor Das received her doctorate at MIT in 1976.

Professor Nancy Bermeo

Professor Nancy Bermeo is Nuffield Professor of Comparative Politics and fellow of Nuffield College. She has published extensively on inequality, federalism, and the causes and consequences of democratisation and regime change, with the focus of her recent work being on post-conflict democracies. She is the founding director of the Oxford University Centre for the Study of Inequality and Democracy which is the centre for collaborative research in comparative politics of democracies. In 2011 she was awarded an Oxford University Teaching Excellence Award as nominated and voted for by her students.

Professor Bermeo studied for her BA in Political Science at Mount Holyoke College and studied for her MPhil and doctorate in Political Science at Yale University.

Oxford alumni in the United States

The US is home to by far the largest group of Oxford alumni outside the UK with more than 31,000 Oxonians. There are 26 alumni branches across the country, including some of the University’s most active alumni groups.

Notable American alumni

As would be expected, Oxford has a considerable and impressive list of prominent American alumni, including:

  • Afsaneh Beschloss, Founder and CEO, Rock Creek Group
  • Baruch S Blumberg, Nobel Prize-winning scientist
  • Cory Booker, US Senator for New Jersey
  • Justice Stephen Breyer, Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States
  • Bill Clinton, former US President and Chairman of the William J. Clinton Foundation
  • Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Economic Advisor of Allianz
  • Thomas Friedman, author and columnist in The New York Times
  • William Fulbright, politician, founder of the Fulbright Scholarships
  • Joseph Heller, author
  • Edwin Hubble, astronomer
  • Walter Isaacson, veteran journalist and CEO of The Aspen Institute
  • Bobby Jindal, former Governor of Louisiana, former US Congressman
  • Elena Kagan, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Justice and former Dean, Harvard Law School
  • Richard Levin, former President of Yale University
  • Alain Locke, philosopher and architect of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Rachel Maddow, radio and television host
  • Patrick Pichette, former CFO and Senior VP of Google Inc
  • Dr Susan Rice, former US National Security Advisor
  • Professor Oliver Smithies, Nobel-prize winning scientist
  • A. Michael Spence, former Dean of Stanford Business School and Nobel Laureate
  • George Stephanopoulos, television journalist and chief anchor of ABC News, former senior advisor to President Clinton
  • David Vitter, former United States Senator
  • Robert Penn Warren, American poet laureate