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The title of an 1848 book is The Organization of Industry, Explained in a Course of Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge in Easter Term 1844.

The cover page of this 1864 book states that William Edward Hearn is "Professor of History and Political Economy in the University of Melbourne".

But according to the answer here, it should be at the university. Was this just some archaic 19th century thing and we now always use "at the university" rather than "in the university" in these contexts? Or was there something special about the above contexts?

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    These were written in 1848 and 1864. Look at this Google Ngram. Usage has changed in the last 150 years. – Peter Shor Dec 20 '17 at 3:21
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    Oh my goodness @Peter Shor thanks for bringing to my attention the Google Ngram! What an amazing tool – MotherBrain Sep 17 '18 at 2:14
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"lectures delivered in the University of Cambridge": Here we are talking about the location. Where were the lectures delivered? Answer: In the University of Cambridge. Here we know that the venue for these lectures was the University of Cambridge.

"lectures delivered at the University of Cambridge": Here the focus is on the institution. These lectures might or might not have been delivered in the university campus. But they were facilitated by the institution (University of Cambridge) as maybe a part of their curriculum or special lecture series or some other similar program.

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The universities of Cambridge and Oxford are rather peculiar in the British education system, in that they are associations of independent colleges, rather than unified bodies. This may be why the preposition in was used, rather than at. However, writing styles change over the years. Also, it may just have been the author's preference, rather than a matter of convention. You are right, though: today, at would be used for any university, including Oxford and Cambridge.

Note, however, that we still (sometimes) use the term "going up to Cambridge/Oxford, and being "sent down" if you are expelled for bad behaviour. The only explanation for this that I am familiar with is that you travelled to Oxford/Cambridge from London on an "up train", and returned to London on a "down train" (both common terms in the past, but out of use today).

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    But it's not just Oxbridge. I gave the example of Melbourne. I can easily find many more examples if you want. – Kenny LJ Dec 20 '17 at 3:38
  • @KennyLJ Oh, well! That blows my theory out of the water. I hadn't noticed your reference to Melbourne. Let's see if anyone can dispatch my explanation of up/down. – Mick Dec 20 '17 at 3:41
  • The comment by @PeterShor coincides with my experience of the language. Preposition usage changes over time. People in the USA used to be born at a city (at New York, for example). Nowadays it's in a city. If you read something 150+ years old don't expect to find the same usage as today. – AmE speaker Dec 21 '17 at 0:02
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    @Clare Oddly enough, I was listening to a lecture last night, and the speaker referred to another academic as "Dr (name) out of (university)". Now all I have to do is remember what lecture it was. – Mick Dec 21 '17 at 0:12
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    @tautophile The place where you stop going down and begin going up is, at least metaphorically, the low point on your route. Calling such a place High Wycombe is surely a nefarious attempt to drive me insane. – Andreas Blass Aug 18 '18 at 2:19
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My take here is that it was a nonpublic forum. In other words the people that delivered the lecture were of the institution, whether they be faculty or students, for other people of the institution.

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As noted in the question you link to, "professor (of field or subject) at (school)" has become the prevailing usage. The change in preferred preposition happened over time. It isn't clear why the shift happened.

Professor in was once more common than professor at.

The Google NGram search suggested by one commenter does suggest that "professor in the university" was once a more common collocation than "professor at the university." However, the Book search results yield nothing in the time ranges where the usage was supposedly most common, so its results are hard to verify. (Two pages of responses before 1906 does not make for compelling support.)

To find a denser cluster of academic samples, I did a JSTOR search for both "professor in the university" and "professor at the university" for before 1950. The results are virtually equal: 2,528 for the former and 2,535 for the latter. Note that the total results are no contest: 3,833 for in, 27,680 for at. So something big changed after 1950, supporting the general recommendation today.

When the same time range is restricted to before 1900, "professor in the university" has 728 results and "professor at the university" has 239 results. Skimming the first few pages of results suggests that the search terms were solid. Names link to sources:

the late Dr. J. J. Hofmann, extra-ordinary professor at the university of Leyden

AUGUST MEITZEN, PH.D., PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF BERLIN.

M. de Wreden, Professor at the University of St. Petersburg

Charles Flint McClumnpha, acting associate professor in the University of the City of New York

JOSEF MAYER, M.D., Professor in the University of Cracow.

Dr. N. Archer Randolph, professor in the University of Pennsylvania

Results for "in" go back to 1742; results for "at" go back to 1820. This suggests that "Professor in" came first in academic publications, but "professor at" grew in usage in the 19th century and surpassed its partner in the 20th century.


They sometimes coexisted.

180 JSTOR results exist for the use of both expressions. 32 results are from before 1900. Here is the list of relevant people from one source from 1888, The American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts. Most uses are "in," two are "at," and one uses a comma without preposition:

L'Abbe L. DUCHESNE, Professor of Christian Archaeology, Catholic Institute, Paris.

Dr. A. FURTWA(NGLER, Professor of Archaeology in the University of Berlin.

Dr. G. HIRSCHFELD, Professor of Archaeology in the University of Koenigsberg.

Dr. F. X. KRAUS, Professor at the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau.

Prof. G. MASPERO, former Director of Antiq., Egypt; Prof. at College de France, Paris.

Prof. F. PIPER, Professor of Christian Archaeology in the University of Berlin.

Mr. W. M. RAMSAY, Professor in the University of Aberdeen.

Dr. FRANZ v. REBER, Professor in the University and Polytechnic of Munich, etc.

Dr. TH.SCHREIBER, Prof. of Archaeology in the Univ., and Director of Museum, Leipzig.

There's no strong difference between the prepositions here. So it was possible for publications to not care about the distinction between the two.


What changed?

One hypothesis is that universities themselves changed. (For a quick reference I suggest the book A Brief History of Universities by John Moore.) As universities grew through the 19th and 20th centuries, lots of conversations were held within and between universities about the best practices of everything from admissions policies to core curricula to credentialing and hiring faculty. This long process of standardization, sped up by the internet, is why many institutions ask for similar materials in both student and faculty applications. Over time, it is possible that the language used to describe a professor's institution has similarly standardized, either deliberately (professors liked the sound of being "at" a place rather than "in" it) or not (professors felt pressure to give the right answer for a publication or hiring document, which led to standardizing at arbitrarily).

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