World-first for 600-year-old Cambridge library

02 December 2019

rising tide exhibition poster

For the first time, members of the public can do a 3D virtual reality tour of an exhibition at the University of Cambridge’s 600-year-old library.

Cambridge Assessment sponsored The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge exhibition on behalf of its Women in Leadership staff network.

Presented in two parts, the display in the library’s Milstein Exhibition Centre focuses on the experience of being a woman at The University of Cambridge over the past 150 years. The tour enables viewers to ‘walk’ between the library’s ground floor display cabinets and wall displays featuring artefacts and stories depicting life for women as they fought for equality at the University.

Stories from the fight for equality

Surviving fragments of eggshells and fireworks illustrate the violent opposition to giving women degrees during the vote on the subject in 1897, as does a note written by undergraduates apologising for the damage that had been done to Newnham College during the riot of 1921. 

By telling the story of women at Cambridge, this exhibition also tells the story of how a nineteenth-century institution transformed into a modern university


Upstairs, along the University Library’s ‘Royal Corridor’, virtual visitors can view portraits of notable women associated with the University, including Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who spoke at the exhibition’s official opening.

The exhibition was co-curated by Dr Lucy Delap, who said: “Through The Rising Tide we hope to illustrate an all-encompassing picture of the incredible fight for gender equality within the University, while portraying the fascinating journeys of some of the militant, cussed and determined women of our institution too.”

How the university transformed itself

Dr Delap’s co-curator Dr Ben Griffin added: “By telling the story of women at Cambridge, this exhibition also tells the story of how a nineteenth-century institution, which served mainly to educate young men for careers in the church, transformed itself into a recognisably modern university devoted to teaching and research.”

Cambridge Assessment, a non-teaching department of the University, sponsored the exhibition on behalf of its Women in Leadership staff network.

Network chair Ashley Capaldi explained: “The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge is such a great fit for our staff network and we’re so pleased that Cambridge Assessment is committed to diversity and inclusion, which has been hard fought-for by women during the history of the University of Cambridge, as the exhibition highlights. We’re so proud to be part of such a prestigious University but we’re also an international organisation with learners and staff all over the world, so it’s brilliant to be able to share this ‘Cambridge’ experience with them in this way.”

The Rising Tide: Women at Cambridge officially opened to the public on the 150th anniversary of the founding of Girton College, the first women’s college in Cambridge, and will run until March 2020.

Take the virtual tour

Access this link on a smartphone to enable virtual reality cardboard headset gaze. Simply hit the cardboard glasses icon in the bottom right hand of the screen.

Research Matters

Research Matters 28: Autumn 2019

Research Matters is our free biannual publication which allows us to share our assessment research, in a range of fields, with the wider assessment community.