The Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library

   I S A I A H   B E R L I N
1 9 0 9 - 1 9 9 7

      I S A I A H    B E R L I N    A N D    W O L F S O N    C O L L E G E 

Sir Isaiah Berlin, OM, CBE, MA, FBA

Isaiah Berlin died on 5 November 1997.  As Wolfson College’s Founder President, he held office from 1966 to 1975.

The College came into existence in its present form, and under its present name (it began as Iffley College), only as a result of his efficacy as a fund-raiser and a charismatic inspirer of new institutional forms, traditions and loyalties.

The generosity of the Foundations that financed the building and the endowment of the College was in direct response to his personal involvement.  And the College’s unusually open and democratic structure, unique in Oxford, is a vivid expression of his liberal and pluralist beliefs.  If Wolfson is especially unstuffy, multicultural and intellectually heterogeneous, this is in large part his achievement, which was well captured by Joshua Cherniss, an expert on Berlin, in a talk in 2002: ‘visit Wolfson, witness its friendliness and openness, its lack of pretence and snobbery and cruelty, its commitment to advancing and supporting learning, as well as the magnificence of its settings – and you’ll see before you how Berlin made a tangible and enduring difference’.

Even the glass-fronted rooms seem to bespeak his own memorable encapsulation of the pluralist outlook:

'Life can be seen through
many windows,
none of them necessarily
clear or opaque, less or more distorting
than any of the others’
© Copyright Wolfson College 1998