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Behind the bust

Humanities students have three things in common. The first thing is a vague awareness of a bronze bust in the Samuel Alexander building. The other two things: procrastination and an urge to giggle at the word ‘bust’. This column is about the first thing. The statue is of Samuel Alexander, by Epstein. I know what you’re thinking: if only I knew all about Alexander’s life and work!

Fortunately for you, I googled him. He was worth it. Alexander impresses: a broke Australian Jew who came to England in 1877, who then managed to get a scholarship to an anti-semitic Oxford, before producing some of the most influential philosophical works of the twentieth century.

He became a legendary professor at Manchester (I hope you notice the connection here!), won an Order of Merit, became a prominent Zionist and feminist, and left all his money to universities, not having troubled to get married.

And why the bust in the humanities foyer? Here are my theories: first, of course, because it’s valuable/interesting (likely); second, because there was nowhere else to store it (possible/
unlikely); and third, so that Alexander’s intimidating overachievement (which we now know all about) would inspire procrastinating students to stop laughing at the word ‘bust’, and get some work done.