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New website explores May ’68 student protests

  • Date

    Thu 3 May 18

A new website marks the 50th anniversary of student protests at the University of Essex by revealing documents from the events in real time.

The 1960s were marked by social unrest around the world and May 1968 saw protests take hold at the University. 

A demonstration against chemical and biological warfare at a lecture by government scientist Dr Inch from Porton Down resulted in three students being suspended. In protest, students voted to declare a ‘Free University’, refusing to attend teaching and organising their own lectures instead. The stand-off between students and staff continued for a week.

Dr John Haynes explored the story in his film, Mustard, and is marking the 50th anniversary by publishing digitised copies of materials from the University’s archive on the Mustard website throughout May and June. Documents will be published on the same date as they first appeared fifty years ago to build a timeline of events. 

Dr Haynes said: “People will be surprised by the volume of material generated. The students were incredibly responsive to events, producing leaflets, fact sheets, resolutions, petitions, statements, open letters and so forth to feed the discussions. 

“Then there’s the relentless output of the University’s administration, including all the formal paperwork associated with the Committee and Tribunal of Enquiry established to investigate the demonstration against Dr Inch.”

Dr John Haynes and Ana Ferrand Mediavilla)
Dr John Haynes and Ana Ferrand Mediavilla

Students Ana Ferrand Mediavilla and James Tague are helping Dr Haynes assemble the website through our Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP). 

Ana said: “When I read about this project and learned about what happened in Essex back in 1968 I thought it would be an incredible way of getting to know better how the University worked fifty years ago. 

“Some of my favourite items are articles and drawings showing how passionate – and witty – the students were. I also like newspaper articles that show how stereotypes about students haven’t changed in the last fifty years. I think my favourite quote is: ‘in many cases the feeling of lassitude is almost certainly enhanced by malnutrition. Many students are living on only sandwiches, cake and baked beans.’ from The Daily Telegraph.”

Introductory documents are available on the Mustard website now and more will follow on their anniversary dates. The 50th anniversary of Dr Inch’s visit to Essex – the trigger for much of what followed – is on 7 May.

Dr Haynes will give a free May '68 tour of Colchester Campus on Wednesday 16 May.