A History of the Department

The Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford traces its origins to 1860, when George Rolleston became the first Linacre Professor. This coincided with the opening of the University Museum, where zoological research and teaching was then based. Rolleston had responsibility for the zoological collections at the Museum, other than the entomology collections. There have been ten subsequent holders of the Linacre Chair since Rolleston, the current being Professor Peter Holland FRS. As the Department expanded and diversified, additional Established Chairs were created: the Hope Professorship (currently held by Charles Godfray CBE FRS), the Professorship of Zoology (held by Paul Harvey CBE FRS), the Luc Hoffmann Chair of Field Ornithology (held by Ben Sheldon) and the Tasso Leventis Chair of Biodiversity (held by E.J. Milner-Gulland). Professor Ben Sheldon is the current Head of Department.

Heads of Department: Past and Current

Name Birth-Death Head of Department Name of Department
George Rolleston 1829-1881 1860-1881 Anatomy & Physiology
Henry Nottidge Moseley 1844-1891 1881-1891 Human & Comparative Anatomy
E Ray Lankester 1847-1929 1891-1899 Comparative Anatomy
W F R Weldon 1860-1906 1899-1906 Comparative Anatomy
G C Bourne 1861-1933 1906-1921 Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
E S Goodrich 1868-1946 1921-1945 Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Alister Hardy1 1896-1985 1945-1961 Zoology
J W S Pringle2 1912-1982 1961-1979 Zoology
T R E  Southwood3 1931-2005 1979-1993 Zoology
Roy M Anderson 1947- 1993-1998 Zoology
Paul H Harvey4 1947- 1998-2011 Zoology
Peter W H Holland 1963- 2011-2016 Zoology
Ben Sheldon   2016- Zoology

11961-1963 Prof of  Zoological Field Studies

2Responsible for planning new Department in South Parks Road, into which zoology moved, in 1971.  Building later named “Tinbergen Building” (ca. 1999).

3Vice-Chancellor 1989-1993, when CF Graham (1989-1991) and CM Perrins (1991-1993) were Acting Head

4Previous Heads of Department had been the Linacre Professor

Since its origins in 1860, members of the Department have been responsible for some major advances in zoology, as well as the training of many of today’s prominent research scientists. For example, it was in this Department that ES Goodrich undertook his research on vertebrate and invertebrate structure and function, JZ Young investigated the giant nerve fibres of cephalopods, Alister Hardy undertook revolutionary research on marine plankton, Peter Medawar started his Nobel Prize-winning research work on the immune system, Charles Elton initiated the analysis of population and community ecology, Niko Tinbergen founded the subject of ethology (for which he won the Nobel Prize), EB Ford and colleagues tracked microevolution in the peppered moth and other species, David Lack established modern scientific ornithology, John Gurdon cloned the first vertebrate and Richard Dawkins proposed the selfish gene. Julian Huxley, Gavin de Beer, Richard Southwood and WD (Bill) Hamilton are amongst many other influential zoologists to have been based in the Department of Zoology.

The Department of Zoology has research strengths spanning from evolution to ecology, behaviour to biomechanics, and development to disease, and despite its traditional name includes research on animals, environments, plants, bacteria and viruses. Within the Department are several ‘research institutes’, including the Edward Grey Institute (EGI), the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the Biodiversity Institute (BIO) and the Institute for Emerging Infections. The EGI, founded in 1938, conducts research into the ecology, conservation, behaviour and evolution of birds, and is well known for its long-term population studies. It also manages the comprehensive Alexander Library with its extensive specialist collections. Professor Ben Sheldon is the current EGI Director and Luc Hoffmann Professor in Field Ornithology. The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), directed by Professor David Macdonald CBE, is based at Tubney House eight miles from Oxford, and seeks solutions to conservation problems through scientific research. The Biodiversity Institute (BIO), directed by Nat Seddon, is an interdisciplinary research institute focussed on the challenges facing global biological diversity in the 21st Century and the translation of science into policy, planning and strategy. The Institute for Emerging Infections, co-directed by Professor Angela McLean FRS, is a multidisciplinary team of biologists, mathematicians and clinicians conducting research into the processes that drive the emergence and spread of novel human infectious diseases. The Biodiversity Institute and the Institute for Emerging Infections are members of the Oxford Martin School, an interdisciplinary research initiative at Oxford University that aims to tackle global 21st Century challenges.