Britain in the 1970s: History of Warwick Students

Students in the History Department have been making use of the Modern Records Centre in their research for long essays and dissertations on the history of Britain in the 1970s. Here is a sample of what they have been doing:

Andrew Burchell

Since my dissertation deals primarily with students at the University of Warwick, the MRC and its extensive holdings have been an indispensable help in the research process. My project is focused on the university’s student newspaper, the Boar, whose first issue appeared in October 1973, and I hope to analyse the development of the student community here at Warwick, its politics and its relations with the outside world through the prism of the student print culture.

What is particularly appealing, if not also challenging, about working with a resource as complete and vast as a newspaper archive is how it can highlight both changes and continuities over a given period and challenge one’s own prejudices as a researcher. Indeed, in the light of my preliminary and more detailed work with the MRC, my own aims and ideas have evolved considerably as the research process progressed. They have, it is fair to say, substantially departed – I hope for the better – from what were my original proposals.

My attention was gradually focussed on the ways in which these students negotiated their involvement in university life; the indiscriminate use of the word ‘apathy’ as a sweepingly denunciation of apolitical individuals, for example, or how the student culture appears to develop as both engaged with, but also highly sceptical and even afraid of, the outside world. How could a university in which students occupied key buildings in 1970 to demand, in part, the creation of an independent Union building and an end to the segregation of staff and student facilities (most notably canteens), propose, in 1978, to impose another form of segregation and ban young people from the Coventry and Kenilworth area from attending events in the said Union building (finally granted despite hostility from the institution’s administration)?

Today’s Warwick students frequently lament that the campus feels like a ‘bubble’, cut off from both Leamington and Coventry, and it has been intriguing to note, as a current student, how views such as these have a much longer historical context. Yet whether or not this modern sense of ‘isolation’ and ‘apathy’ bears any relation to that experienced by their forebears remains to be seen…

 

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