Samuel Alexander Building

The building named for Samuel Alexander, Professor of Philosophy (1893–1925), was opened in 1919 to accommodate the Faculty of Arts.

The neoclassical building was originally named the Faculty of Arts Building
The neoclassical building was originally named the Faculty of Arts Building

The Samuel Alexander Building now houses most of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, the approximate equivalent of the old Faculties of Art, Music and Theology.

Samuel Alexander (1859–1938) was a saintly philosopher and Manchester celebrity. He grew up in Melbourne, Australia, studied philosophy in Oxford and visited Germany to learn about psychology, then a new discipline. He was the first Jewish fellow of an Oxbridge college and was later Professor of Philosophy in Manchester from 1893 to 1925. He remained active, and in Manchester, until his death. His writings connected classical and German philosophy with the biological and physical sciences of his time, especially evolutionary theories. His great work Space, Time and Deity was published in 1920; his last article was on 'The Historicity of Things'.

Alexander supported education for and by women, together with the inclusion of technical education and the regional role of universities. He saw the University as a provider of training to men and women for professional vocations – but with a critical independence. He was wonderfully intellectually convivial, and for many years, on Wednesday evenings, his home was open house for colleagues young and old.

His many friends in the University included the physicists Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr; the Russian fermentation chemist and Zionist Chaim Weizmann; the leading historian Thomas Tout; the noted anatomist, anthropologist and Egyptologist, Grafton Elliot Smith; and Marie Stopes, the academic palaeobotanist who turned to the promotion of birth control. But all staff and students, as well as lots of other Mancunians, recognised the big man with the long beard and untidy clothes who cycled daily between the University and Withington.

Samuel Alexander
Samuel Alexander

In 1930 his distinction was recognised nationally by the Order of Merit. 'Sammy's bust', made by Jacob Epstein in 1925, was placed in the foyer of the Arts building and became a campus landmark.

The Arts Building was designed c. 1911 by Percy Scott Worthington but completed after the war. It was later extended to the west and then, considerably, to the south.

There are many famous professors and lecturers who worked in the building, including: the philosopher Dorothy Emmett, who knew Alexander and taught Alistair McIntyre; the medievalists Thomas Tout, James Tait and Maurice Powicke; the pioneering economic historians George Unwin, Thomas Southcliffe Ashton and Arthur Redford; the political historians Lewis Namier and Alan John Percivale Taylor; and the educational historian and Americanist Isaac Kandel. Manchester's best-known early geographer was Herbert John Fleure, a cosmopolitan and egalitarian ex-zoologist who studied human variety. Professors of English included Lionel Charles Knights, Frank Kermode and Brian Cox; the most famous student of English was perhaps the novelist, musician and critic Anthony Burgess.

Noted experts on other languages included Eugene Vinaver (French), Walter Bullock (Italian) and Winfried Georg Sebald (German). The first female professor was Mildred Pope in French (1934), followed by Eliza Butler in German literature (1936). Manchester was well known for classics, including Roman archaeology. The Theology and Near Eastern Studies sections have been recognised for Comparative Religion and for a series of distinguished researchers on the Dead Sea Scrolls.