Don's Diary

March 22, 1996

MONDAY. "Today's Monday, today's MondayI" as the monotonous 1960s song said. But in my case it is not the washing but a 9.15am lecture. I have taken over, mid-term, from a colleague on the basic British history lecture series and am set (more or less) to do riot, moral economy and disorder in Britain c.1780 - 1880.

However there is a problem. The lecture is in the biology building where I have not been. The timetable appears to indicate it is somewhere called BLT - I thought that was a kind of pre-privatisation British Rail sandwich. Fortunately I find one of the students and she leads me there. This used to be an interdisciplinary university where all arts students took a compulsory science course and vice versa. I used to know where biology was. How the mighty have changed.

Home to cook. Our kids are grown up. Herself ( my partner) holds down two part-time jobs in the university sector, and is trying to organise adult education history teaching in Surrey. Great compensation though, cheap wine and Our Friends in the North. Real social history -hooray.

TUESDAY. We, all the arts and social science schools in the university, still interview for undergraduate admissions. Many argue it is a waste of time, and produce careful stats showing that interviewing costs the history group huge amounts of articles, books, seminars and so on. I like it. I like talking to sixth-formers, I like the mature students (I was one), reliving all my enthusiasm for coming late to study. I am also always (unfashionably) enormously impressed by the products of what education journalists call inner-city comprehensives. This is especially so of the young women who are so confident and good at talking, yet not affected in their manner. Herself has meetings until 9pm and so to the bar where a long (interdisciplinary) discussion takes place starting with when the familiar usage vanished from English speech and ending with the works of Sir Edmund Chambers. This is what I thought (and think) university life is about. (I am not making this up.) WEDNESDAY. Morning. I teach two interdisciplinary seminars on postwar literature and history, end to end, with a colleague from English. This is what I love about Sussex (but see Monday). It is not cost-effective but it goes. I learn, the students learn and we all come out of the best meetings with a warm glow.

It is also what makes me furious about "audit". When we were "done" two years ago none of these seminars was observed since they were not "history", although I spend half my time teaching them and all our students spend half their degree doing them. We were told we were not innovative enough in our teaching I "pigs ears", I cry.

Home to write a lecture on enclosure. I remember E .P. Thompson reading Clare's poem about enclosure, The Mores, in my first year as a mature student. It was the reason I switched from economics to history.

THURSDAY. More postwar teaching, then MAs. Very different, one working on pre-Great War socialism, one on 19th century popular culture. Where am I? Lecture in the afternoon and I am attacked afterwards by a bright, right-wing, young woman who believes enclosure to have been a necessary and a good thing. I like fights and feel elated.

As a result I nearly miss the start of the weekly research seminar. Very challenging paper by an Indian historian attacking the "invention" of Gandhi. I was always a bit unsure about Gandhi, but some colleagues are very disturbed by the politics of the argument. Another good discussion, but leave the bar too late.

FRIDAY. Tomorrow I am talking at an open day at the Mass Observation archive and so go along to help sort out material based on my talk. Mass Observation started as an "anthropology of ourselves" in the 1930s. It closed down in the late 1940s but the archive came to Sussex. The practice of writing for M.O. was revived by the current archivist Dorothy Sheridan in the 1980s, and produces amazing material. In the middle of it all I do a recording for BBC farming radio on agricultural history - the labourers are my bit. Back to M.O. then to a well-known supermarket.

I invite a colleague and his new partner to supper. I cook, we all get drunk and listen to sentimental country and western songs. Not the sort of thing academics are supposed to do.

SATURDAY. Morning, 'orrible 'ead. Me and herself walk on the Downs to clear it (them).

Afternoon, back to Mass Observation. Smashing. All those present are involved in M.O. as writers, now or in the past. There is a long discussion about evacuation in the last war with three ex-evacuees in the group, and me talking from M.O. material collected at the time.

A (necessarily) quiet evening at home.

SUNDAY. Long walk by the sea in the morning. In the early afternoon I read two articles from a journal that I am an editor of, then write a lecture on Ireland. Evening - I decide I can write a Don's Diary which, although it does not involve moose-snaring in Alaska or fund-hunting in Brussels, has some worth. Write it.

ALUN HOWKINS Reader in history at the University of Sussex.

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