Having been established as one of Britain’s oldest colleges in the year 1263, during the year 2013 Balliol College, Oxford celebrated its 750th Anniversary. The Master of Balliol, Professor Sir Drummond Bone, organized and presided over an entire year of activities in Britain and around the world to commemorate the founding of the College and its long and distinguished history as a center of learning, reflection and debate. The energy and dedicated hard work of Sir Drummond has left an inspiring and enduring mark on the illustrative history of the College by engendering the highest level of continued exchange between students, Fellows and Alumni from all corners of the globe.
One notable advantage of a university institution with a long and continuous history is that it can leave a major mark on the evolution of human intellectual history. One example of this is evident in the importance of Balliol College in the development of human thinking about economic activity and the natural world in which we live as a human community.
Balliol was founded well before the emergence of modern states and national economies. Its scholars and students have, in turn, made major contributions to our understanding of the human role in our complex ecosystem as human social and political institutions have evolved over the centuries. Sometimes these insights have been controversial and at times quite heated . Historical accounts record that Balliol played a central role in the controversies over the ages, including the burning of “heretics” outside its gates. While it is too long and complex to explore this theme in depth in all realms of modern thought, in the realm of economics the contribution of Balliol College is quite exceptional and deserves attention.
For example, “free market” economics traces its origins in many respects to the writings of Adam Smith, an 18th century scholar at Balliol. More recent Balliol voices have offered correctives and pointed to the need of the human community to move beyond the principles of market fundamentalism if it wishes to survive in the global ecosystem.
The evolution of these ideas is of crucial importance for the future of humankind. Balliol College as an old, venerable and ever vibrant institution has, in this regard, made a substantial contribution to the evolution of the human endeavor.