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Oliver Rackham, Alumnus, Fellow and Master

Born in Bungay, Suffolk, in 1939, Oliver Rackham was educated at Norwich School, matriculated at Corpus Christi College in 1957, and was elected Fellow of the college in 1964. He would later serve as Master from 2007-2008. Although he began by studying physics, as a postgraduate student he turned his attention to botany, particularly the physiology of plant growth and transpiration.

One of the distinctive features of Rackham’s work was its interdisciplinary nature, and particularly the way it related scientific observation to historic and cultural context, revealing the nature of human's interaction with their surroundings.

Rackham was a prolific historical ecologist whose prime interest was the function, history, and management of British woodlands. He kept a series of notebooks, which he began during his youth and continued until his death, in which he recorded observations on plants seen in his home surroundings and on his travels, in addition to information about the weather and his College duties.

The Notebook Project

Currently the notebooks can be viewed on the Cambridge University Digital Library alongside a sample of photos taken by Rackham. The Library has enlisted the help of volunteers to transcribe the notebooks.

“Now, when you search Cambridge Digital Library for the term “tree”, nearly as many results are returned from the Rackham Collection as from Darwin’s letters and papers!” - Andy Corrigan, Digital Library Coordinator, Cambridge University Library. 

If you would like to contribute to the transcription project, visit the crowdsourcing project website.

Oliver fell ill at Leckhampton whilst dining and passed away on 12 February 2015. He was buried in the Corpus Chapel, which is marked by a memorial stone.