This podcast series celebrates the centenary of the de Osma Studentship, founded in 1920 by Guillermo de Osma, the first Spaniard to graduate from Oxford after the Universities Tests Act in 1871 opened the ancient universities of England to non-Anglicans. The studentship was from its creation open to both men and women, which was most unusual at the time, and continues to be under the exclusive remit of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. On the anniversary of Osma’s death, 7 February 2020, Spanish Studies at Oxford organized the de Osma Centenary, held at the Bodleian Libraries, which brought together de Osma Students from across countries and generations.
Known in his time as a diplomat, politician, art collector and scholar, Osma was the first president of the Board of Trustees of the Alhambra, served as Spain’s Minister of Finance and president of the Council of State, and founded the Instituto Valencia de Don Juan (IVDJ) in Madrid, a research centre and cultural treasure trove housed in his former home and showcasing items from his art collection. Yet, despite his active role in Spanish public and cultural life, his unique links with Oxford and his contribution to twentieth-century British–Spanish relations, today, Osma is a little-known figure that deserves renewed recognition.
An archival apprenticeship experience and a biographical profile of Guillermo de Osma
Introduced by Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden, Prof Duncan Wheeler speaks on his experience as a studentship holder in 2009, and art historian Guillermo de Osma shares a biographical profile of his great-granduncle. In his opening remarks at the de Osma Centenary, Bodley’s Librarian, Richard Ovenden, details the new agreement between the University of Oxford and the de Osma Foundation, of which this centenary is the first event. He also pays a special tribute to Osma Student 1956–57 and 1957–58 Dr Alan Forey, one of his former tutors at Durham, and admitted to having ‘a special reason to thank the de Osma Studentship because his [Forey’s] influence on me as a young student was transformative and really made it possible for me to envisage the career that I have been so fortunate to enjoy.’
Prof Duncan Wheeler, chair of Spanish at Leeds, speaks on his experience as a studentship holder in 2009, which allowed him to fund his first fieldwork on contemporary productions of Spanish Golden Age plays, expand his then limited knowledge of Spanish cities, develop an interest in the history of medieval Spain and learn how to do archival research. To use his own words, Wheeler learnt ‘to think outside the box’ when sourcing Spanish archival material, which has since proved extremely useful in his recent research on the cultural politics of the Spanish Transition. For him, the Studentship ‘was a great enabler’.
Great-grandnephew of the studentship founder, Guillermo de Osma is an art historian and 2016 winner of the prestigious Arte y Mecenazgo Prize for his near three decades-long career in the promotion of arts heritage and its links with the present. He beautifully recounts the family history and discusses Osma’s career in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and his orientation as an extraordinary art collector. Central to Osma’s collection and legacy was his wife Adela, a pioneer photographer and talented art curator.
Stories of past de Osma Students and a journey through the Bodleian Archives exploring the history of the studentship
Osma Student ‘93–94 Dr Bruce Taylor speaks on his experiences in Madrid and predecessors who have passed, and centenary-organiser Dr Marina Pérez de Arcos shares her archival research on the history of the first modern Spanish endowment at Oxford. De Osma Student 1993-94 Dr Bruce Taylor, biographer of de Osma Student 1934–35 Prof Sir Peter Russell, speaks on his experiences in Madrid and de Osma Student predecessors who have passed: ‘All who went before me, all who came after me, and doubtless the legion yet to come, share a special bond of privilege doubtless product of the munificence of don Guillermo.’
The munificence of don Guillermo has not reached our times without its share of dangers along the way – during the Spanish Civil War, the collection held at the Instituto in Madrid was saved from destruction by a clause that allowed Oxford to claim and bring it under the protection of the British flag.
Centenary-organiser and Osma Student 2015–16 Dr Marina Pérez de Arcos shares her archival research of previously unseen Spanish and British archival material, including documents from the Instituto Valencia de Don Juan in Madrid, the Duke of Alba’s Liria Palace, the Archivo Histórico Nacional, the Archivo de Indias, and the Oxford University Archives and Special Collections at the Bodleian Library, on the history of the first modern Spanish endowment at Oxford.
Osma Students from the past: The stories of British novelist Inez Pearn, first woman to hold the studentship ‘35–36, and Dr Alan Forey, Osma Student ‘56–57 and '57–58
Simon Deefholts and Louisa Long, grand-daughter of Inez Pearn, talk about her time in Madrid before the Civil War as a source of inspiration for her novels. Dr Alan Forey, reader emeritus at the University of Durham, recalls his studentship in the 1950s. Simon Deefholts, editor and translator, and his niece Louisa Long, grand-daughter of Inez Pearn, talk about her humble origins in Wales, Somerville College, and her time in Madrid before the Civil War as a source of inspiration for her novels. In her semi-autobiographical book Spanish Portrait she recounts her first visit to the Instituto in 1936: ‘Besides being a library, it was a museum. The building and everything in it had been left to an Institute for Research by the founder, a well-known scholar and collector. Letters of recommendation had preceded her from England and everything was prepared for her arrival. She was received with great ceremony.’
Dr Alan Forey, reader emeritus in history at the University of Durham, and author of several books on military orders in the Middle Ages, recalls his studentship in the 1950s. As Osma scholars are often connected, Forey mentions that the idea of studying the Templars for his doctorate was suggested to him by Anthony Luttrell, a previous de Osma Studentship holder who had been working on the Hospitallers in fourteenth-century Aragon.
As Forey himself acknowledged, the time spent in Madrid on the de Osma Studentship ‘set the pattern for the rest of my academic career.’ In fact, in his opening remarks at the de Osma Centenary, Bodley’s Librarian, Richard Ovenden, paid a special tribute to Forey, one of his former tutors at Durham, and admitted to having ‘a special reason to thank the de Osma Studentship because his [Forey’s] influence on me as a young student was transformative and really made it possible for me to envisage the career that I have been so fortunate to enjoy.’
Looking forward to the next 100 years of the Osma Studentship
Dr Mariam Rosser-Owen, Osma Student ‘99–00, head curator of the Arab World collections at the V&A, traces with a specialist eye the collection at the Instituto and her research there, followed by an expert roundtable on the future of the Studentship. Dr Mariam Rosser-Owen, Osma Student ‘99–00, curates one of the most significant collections of Spanish Islamic art outside Spain, the Arab World collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and has published widely on the subject.
Of her time in Madrid she said, ‘It was a truly magical year and experience and I have clear memories of sitting in that wonderful library in the Instituto browsing books and archives, even objects! They just brought me the little 10th-century Cordoban ivory casket to study at my desk!’ ‘That was a truly special experience; literally touching the history I was studying […] You couldn’t get closer to the Omayad court’.
She curated an exhibition, held at the V&A and later at the Alhambra in Granada, on the influential nineteenth-century design theorist Owen Jones’s study of, and inspiration from, the Alhambra, of which Osma was the first president of the Board of Trustees.
She concluded her talk at the de Osma Centenary commemoration with the following remark: ‘I’m exceedingly grateful to have been a recipient of the de Osma Studentship. I think my career to date has shown that the experiences there twenty years ago were important, formative, and continue to bear fruit. And I hope the Studentship is able to continue for another 100 years and give many more students access to this fantastic collection and library, and the unique experiences that we have all benefited from. Thank you, don Guillermo.’
The centenary was crowned by a roundtable discussion on the future of the Osma Studentship at Oxford. Carole Souter, Master of St Cross College, former Chief Executive of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Trustee of Historic Royal Palaces, was joined by Xenia Elsaesser, Osma Student 2009–2010 and cultural strategist based in Berlin, and Dr Miriam Alí de Unzaga, Osma Student 2000–2001 and 2001–2002, anthropologist currently working with the head curator of the Instituto, Cristina Partearroyo, on the publication of the Instituto’s textile collection.
The roundtable culminated in a heartfelt appeal to create an alumni network for the Osma Studentship, so that intergenerational connections can continue to proliferate.