Imperial College London’s Acland prize foundation (1925-26)

The Acland prizes, which Imperial’s Centre for Languages Culture Communication award every year – one each for humanities and languages – are named after Sir Arthur Acland (1847-1926), a Liberal politician and MP for Rotherham, particularly well known for his work in education. In addition to involvement in central government and at Oxford University, where he contributed to expanding education to women and workers, Sir Arthur served on the governing body of Imperial College London from its foundation in 1907, including as Chairman of Imperial’s Executive Committee.

The prize dates from his final academic year, 1925-26, and its founding documents reveal the breadth of Sir Arthur’s vision. Subjects considered suitable were broad, with the official rules stating the topics allowed as follows:

Broad aspects of science, history, literature, music, the drama, sociology, philosophy, sculpture, architecture and the fine arts; but the study of any special period or of any individual writer or worker, or composer, or artist, in connexion with the above subjects will also be considered as subjects that may be sanctioned.

The first entrants rose to this challenge, with seventeen students across Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Geo-Chemistry, Mechanical Engineering, Mining, and Physics, entering essays. Topics included history (3 essays), education (3), drama (2), philosophy (1), poetry (1), art (1), sociology (1), physics (1), psychology (1), and business ethics (1), with one particularly ambitious essay addressing ‘Some aspects of the fundamental Interrelationships of Evolution, Psychology, Art and Religion’.

One essay was titled, ‘The effect of applying right thinking in Europe during the next three hundred years’. As we reflect on the tumultuous near-century which has passed in Europe since the author, N.C.B. Hay, a Chemistry student, wrote these words, one wonders what might happen in the next two centuries and how we might apply ‘right thinking’ to it.

Dr Michael Weatherburn, July 2022 


Imperial College London archives. Our thanks to Imperial's Archivist & Corporate Records Manager, Anne Barrett, for providing these sources.

Anne Ockwell, ‘Acland, Sir Arthur’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).;jsessionid=1D91F010DA6099B243392F6788716EDC

‘ACLAND, Sir Arthur Herbert Dyke (1847-1926)’. Archives Hub.