"These unassuming ads can tell us a great deal about the Cambridge of yesteryear"Varsity Archives

We live in an age of Facebook groups and Instagram pages. Even Varsity, a print newspaper, is largely consumed online. It therefore becomes difficult to imagine how previous generations of Cambridge students may have organised their events in the absence of groupchats and posts on the society Instagram. Vaguely, we can imagine fliers and posters akin to those that currently pepper Great St Mary’s and Burrell’s Walk. The Varsity archives, instead, reveal a now largely lost art form: the student advert. Each occupying limited space (and limited colour before the 1990s), these unassuming ads can tell us a great deal about the Cambridge of yesteryear.

"There is, however, a boring conformity to these listings"Varsity Archives

There’s something to be said for a conveniently located, multi-page spread of fun and activities being posted each week; not having to rely on following two dozen society pages to maintain your social life has a certain allure. There is, however, a boring conformity to these listings. Where are the vibrant term cards and ironic graphics we have come to expect? At most, students were being treated to a ‘fun’ black and white society logo. Reading entry after entry, your eyes do start to glaze over.

"Our predecessors were clearly made of stronger stuff"Varsity Archives

Perhaps most striking across the years is the ubiquity of Film Socs advertising across Cambridge well into the 2000s. The sheer volume of listings reveals a thriving culture of cinephiles. Robinson College in fact had two Film Socs, one independent and the other run by the Robinson Ents Officers. Having done this role myself, I have no clue where they found the time. Our predecessors were clearly made of stronger stuff. ‘Cambridge Raising and Giving’ also have a much stronger presence across the listings – not that we would insinuate Cambridge students have become less charitable.


Mountain View

Vintage Varsity: Cambridge’s ‘other’ boat club

Regrettably, much of what is contained on these pages eludes me. What, for instance, was the “Aural Stimulation” that was being offered on the 14th November in 1992? What exactly is a “Cupboard Soc Cupboard Crawl”? Why do the Union no longer offer “free whiskey” at cellars events? Your guess is as good as mine.

These cursory glimpses into the student life of days-gone-by reveal what we have lost in our shift to the digital age. The costs of student advertising, however, (upwards of twenty pounds per ad in 2005!) suggests that perhaps that students’ wallets are just that bit better off for their decline.