A History of History - Professor Eric Evans

When did you arrive at Lancaster University?

Eric left Stirling University in 1970 and was appointed at Lancaster as a lecturer in Modern British History. He studied for his BA at Oxford University and his PhD at Warwick. He chose Lancaster because the research he was doing was based in England, and he preferred the Lancaster academic system.

Are there any significant differences between what the university was like back then in the 1960s and 70s and what it is like now?

“Every academic of my generation will answer with an emphatic ‘yes’”. The single, most important change is the difference in size. We teach far more students. The workload has massively increased; the time given to teaching is taken away from research. (“We have to find time for managing a twenty six hour day!”) The level of accountability has increased dramatically. We have to be audited and regulated much more, and this has led to a rise in bureaucracy. The age profile of the staff is also very different. Back then most of us were in our late 20s, appointed straight from PhD work. Now we are all quite a bit older (we are unlikely to be taught by people close to our own age group). “These days we relatively rarely appoint people before they have done a rather long and grueling apprenticeship”. It is harder to get in; many of the posts have been filled by internal promotion. (Look at the photograph of the history department, you will find that many of the members of staff are still here).

Eric looks back fondly on the ‘old’ days. There was more time for research and collegiality (that is, the mixing of different subject academics – Lonsdale senior common room was the major meeting point). Back in the 1970s and 80s Eric reckons that he was first name terms with about 85% of the teaching staff, if he knows more than 10% now, he is lucky. (“I miss that”).

Eric has also noticed changes in the students. For example, fewer students become heavily involved in student politics. This is perhaps because the number of student jobs has not expanded with the number of students. People think of education as being more directly related to the job market. There is no distinction between education and qualification. On a positive note, students are much better at getting their essays in today than they were 30 years ago!

However, the differences are not all negative. In the 1970s we were teaching a smaller proportion of 18 to 21 year olds, and a smaller proportion of the social mix. Today, access to the University is much wider. “I’ve learnt a lot from working with students from different back grounds”. Lancaster has maintained an element of its liberal ethos.

Favourite memory:

The department only had one telephone to be shared amongst all of the history staff. This was not because the technology was too ‘primitive’ (“we did have telephones in the 1970s – honest”), it was because Austin Woolrych (the head of the department) did not want’ his “bright young things” (his young recruits) to be unduly distracted!! It was recommended that they should concentrate upon their work, rather than their social lives!!

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