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Living History

Open UniversityTo some extent we are all part of history – we interact with the past from the present, we are shaped by past experience, and so on, and in the future we will be a part of it as members of a demographic group, or perhaps in relation to particular events. Nonetheless it is quite an odd feeling top find oneself being asked about an historical event/development as I was this week when I took part in a filmed interview for the Open University to contribute to a documentary celebrating the OU’s 40th anniversary.

I was asked about my experience and memories as the first Open University History PhD and their first PhD to take part in a graduation, and I recalled being seated next to Jennie (later Baroness) Lee who as Minister of Education had helped establish the university. The ceremony took place at Alexandra Palace in an event that was broadcast live on BBC with commentary by Richard Baker.  The interview reminded me of the significance of the OU and its impact on higher education, part of the explosion of HE at the end of the 1960s that was such a major part in changing British society.

The History department at the OU had its own impact especially in developing film and history and also in its famous War and Society course that was such an influence on other history courses elsewhere.  I feel very lucky to have been there as one of the first full-time postgraduate students and then as a member of staff, and to have worked with Arthur Marwick, Clive Emsley, Chris Harvie, Bernard Waites, and people in the Arts Faculty Like many others, the OU gave me an opportunity I might never have had and led to my career as an academic historian writing about other people’s pasts!

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