University of Oxford

As the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford is a unique and historic institution. There is no clear date of foundation, but teaching existed at Oxford in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167, when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris.

During the 20th and early 21st centuries, Oxford added to its humanistic core a major new research capacity in the natural and applied sciences, including medicine. In so doing, it has enhanced and strengthened its traditional role as an international focus for learning and a forum for intellectual debate.

Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

The collegiate system is at the heart of the University’s success, giving students and academics the benefits of belonging both to a large, internationally renowned institution and to a small, interdisciplinary academic community. It brings together leading academics and students across subjects and year groups and from different cultures and countries, helping to foster the intense interdisciplinary approach that inspires much of the outstanding research achievement of the University and makes Oxford a leader in so many fields.

TORCH | The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities

What is TORCH?

Research Community | Connections | Collaborations

TORCH is a nucleus of intellectual energy for the humanities and a place to develop new ideas and collaborations both within and beyond academia.

Since its creation, TORCH has raised over £14 million in grants and philanthropy to support the work of students, scholars, and researchers across the Humanities and Social Sciences. Launched in May 2013, TORCH provides an important opportunity for Oxford’s humanities scholars to collaborate both with researchers from other disciplines, and with public institutions and artists beyond the University. TORCH works with academics across all stages of their academic careers; develops partnerships with public and private institutions; engages with wider audiences; and brings together academic research, diverse creative and heritage industries, and the performing arts. Public engagement with research is at the heart of TORCH’s aims, and is central to the new Humanities Cultural Programme, which sets performance and the rich and challenging connections between research and the creative arts at its core.

In pursuit of these aims, TORCH supports the following strategic areas:

  • Research Networks and Programmes
  • International Engagement
  • Knowledge Exchange
  • The Humanities Cultural Programme

TORCH is led by an academic Director: Professor Wes Williams (Professor of French Literature), 2020-2023.

The previous TORCH Directors were Professor Philip Bullock (Professor of Russian Literature and Music) 2017-2020; Professor Elleke Boehmer (Professor of World Literature in English) 2015-2017; and Professor Stephen Tuck (Professor of Modern History) 2013-2015.

TORCH is supported by an administrative team, led and overseen by Dr Victoria McGuinness (Head of Cultural Programming and Partnerships).

Since 2013, TORCH has supported 400 researchers each year; 62 Knowledge Exchange Fellowships; over 50 seed-funded research networks and 10 research programmes. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, we have reached local, national, and global audiences of around 1.5k each year, as we continue working to keep the flame of Humanities research burning both within the University and in the wider world.

The TORCH Director, Professor Wes Williams (, welcomes questions about the centre and suggestions for research and wider engagement activities.