New accommodation for the Eastman Professor

Tuesday 18 July

The Eastman Professorship is ‘one of the world’s most respected visiting professorships, which brings a distinguished American scholar to Oxford each year’. It was established in 1929 by George Eastman, founder of the Eastman Kodak Company, who was ‘inspired by the positive and transformative impact the Rhodes Scholarships had on American scholars’ and ‘sought to promote greater understanding between the United States, Britain and other countries’. [1] The professorship is always awarded in conjunction with a Balliol Visiting Fellowship. It is administered by the Association of American Rhodes Scholars and the Rhodes Trust has brought many outstanding scholars to Oxford, including 12 Nobel Laureates.

There is a full list of Eastman Professors here; some of them are described further below. 

Eastman HouseTo provide a home in Oxford for the Eastman Professor (earlier accommodation having proved unsuitable), Eastman House was built at the corner of Jowett Walk and St Cross Road. Construction began in 1959 and it was first occupied in Michaelmas Term 1961. At a party to celebrate 50 years of Eastman House, Eastman Professor Edward A. Fisher described how a British architect, Sir Edward Maufe, designed the exterior, ‘to make it fit graciously into its location on Jowett Walk, and the role of American architects in shaping the interior design, helping to make it a comfortable home in which an American family could live’. Further details about the house – how it ‘could not have had a more desirable site … within a short distance of the Bodleian, and in a green quiet spot’’, and ‘the intricacies of furnishing’ - are given in this commemorative booklet produced by the American Oxonian.

Now in 2017, with the development of the Master’s Field Project, Eastman House is being demolished and brand-new accommodation is to be built for the Eastman Professor. The substantial Eastman archive – a library built up over the years by the Eastman Professors - is to be moved temporarily to the King’s Mound in Mansfield Road; in due course it will be housed in the new Eastman accommodation. As this distinguished professorship enters another phase, Balliol looks forward to welcoming future Eastman Professors to their new, modern Oxford home.

Some Eastman Professors (reproduced from Floreat Domus 2006):

Linus_Pauling_1962 by Nobel Foundation, via Wikimedia CommonsThe impressive list of previous incumbents [of Eastman House] includes twelve Nobel Laureates, although the number of Nobel Prizes awarded to the Eastman Professors is actually thirteen as this list includes Linus Pauling (Eastman Professor, 1947/8), the only person ever to have been awarded two unshared Nobel Prizes, winning the Prize for Chemistry in 1954 and the Peace Prize in 1962. It was while he was ill with a cold in Eastman House in 1948 that Pauling made a breakthrough in his work on the structure of proteins that would lead to his first Nobel prize: taking a piece of paper, he folded it over at sites where it was known that the polypeptide chain could bend and discovered in this way that sequences of amino acids would coil into the distinctive structure he named the alpha helix.

Other notable scientists to hold the Eastman Professorship include: Melvin Calvin (1967/8; he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1961 for his work on the path of carbon in photosynthesis); another chemist, Martin Karplus (1999/2000, a former research student of Linus Pauling, he developed the Karplus Equation); and Philip W. Anderson (1993/4; his Nobel prize for Physics, won in 1977 for theoretical investigations into the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems, was shared with John H. Van Vleck, Eastman Professor, 1961/2) …

It is not only Balliol’s scientific community that has benefited from the long association with this Chair - the Professorship has been held with distinction by classicists, philosophers, lawyers, historians, and economists. Many eminent literary scholars have spent time in Eastman House, including the very first incumbent, John Livingston Lowes (1930, author of The Road to Xanadu, 1927), Roger Sherman Loomis (1956), Lionel Trilling (1964), Harry Levin (1982), A. Walton Litz (1989), Natalie Zeeman Davis (1994), and Peter Brooks (2001).

[1] Website of Rhodes House, to whom we are grateful for help with the preparation of this article and for permission to include the commemorative booklet.