Nov 26 2019

Studying IR at LSE in the 1960s

Emeritus Professor Chris Brown, an undergraduate at LSE in the 1960s, gave this talk at the Cumberland Lodge Conference, November 2019.

 

First, some context. Although an expansion of university education began in the early 60s it was still the case that only a small minority of the age cohort were actually involved in higher education – c.10% overall, around 6% in universities. Everything was smaller. The LSE admitted around 500 undergrads per year, so there were 1500 UGs at any one time with an equal number of postgrads – but most of the latter were research students many of whom were part time and not on campus, so the effective student body was less than one fifth of the current enrolment. The School consisted of the Old Building, the East Building, and the St Clements Building; the Library was in the Old Building (the space where the Student Centre is now and above) and Houghton St was open to traffic, a rat-run popular with taxis. As against this small scale, it was also the case then that students were very conscious of the LSE being part of the University of London, which is no longer so; apart from the fact that we studied for University of London degrees, University of London Union (ULU) and the Senate House Library were very much part of student life.

Houghton Street in 1964

Houghton Street in 1964 taken from St Clements Building

 

The LSE felt more like a family than it does now, or at least seemed rather less status conscious. There was a Senior Dining Room but many of the staff ate in the refectory or the Robinson Room, a third-floor common room/eatery favoured by Postgrads but open to all. There was one Bar, the Three Tuns, in the basement of St Clements which was frequented by staff and students; faculty were on average much younger than today, many were unmarried and were more often around in the early evening not least because in those days London house prices allowed even quite junior staff to find houses or flats in the centre of the city.

Both the School as a whole and the student body were in some ways more, and in others less, diverse than is the case today. The gender make-up of the student body was close to equality between men and women, but the faculty were overwhelmingly men. The School then was a British university with a large minority of international students – a larger minority than in any other university but still a minority, whereas the School today is an international university with British students the largest contingent but fewer than one third of the total. The British undergrads then were more diverse in origins than their current contemporaries – they came from all over the country instead of being concentrated on the South-East and were mostly the product of grammar schools rather than public schools (although admittedly some of these grammar schools later became fee-paying when the comprehensive school policy really hit home). They were mostly white, because the children of the immigrants of the 1950s and 60s were not yet of university age. Means-tested maintenance grants were available to all, and School fees were low and paid by Local Education Authorities – students weren’t well off but they could survive on these grants, and, crucially, were confident that they would get appropriate professional jobs when then graduated, a confidence that was well-founded given that they represented such a small, elite, part of the age cohort.

LSE Main Entrance, Old Building 1964

 

The international students of the sixties came from different places than their current equivalents. There were many fewer Europeans, virtually no Chinese and I think more Africans and people from the sub-Continent, both Indians and Pakistanis. The General Course and taught MSc students were mostly North American, in the latter case many were avoiding military service in Vietnam, but these courses were smaller then than today.  And, on the important but often neglected intellectual dimension of diversity, although the dominant ethos of the School was left-liberal there were many more conservative faculty than there are today, including in Michael Oakeshott the most important British conservative political philosopher of the last century.

Of the 500 undergrads every year there were separate degrees for Historians, Sociologists, Social Administration students and Lawyers but 300 of the 500 (including me) were studying the BSc (Econ). The structure of the degree involved three years of History, Politics and Economics, with specialisation into one of 16 streams only taking place after the first year and being quite limited. I studied in the International Relations stream, but the Department only provided one in five of the first-year courses and four out of eight of the second and third years. The IR department was small, about 12 staff when I started, 15 when I finished, and, in keeping with the BSc (Econ) ethos was not physically concentrated in one space but spread all over the School. There was a Convenor of the Department rather than as today a Head, a post held by the only Chair, the Montague Burton Professor Geoffrey Goodwin, and the Department’s support staff consisted of his secretary, a small dynamo called Ella Stacey. The Faculty were all white British males, with only one exception to the latter two qualifications, the Australian Coral Bell.

Standing left to right: Robert Hunter, Michael Banks, Philip Windsor, Michael Donelan, Paul Taylor, Alan James. Seated: James Mayall, Geoffrey Goodwin, Coral Bell, Fred Northedge, Peter Lyon

Standing left to right: Robert Hunter, Michael Banks, Philip Windsor, Michael Donelan, Paul Taylor, Alan James. Seated: James Mayall, Geoffrey Goodwin, Coral Bell, Fred Northedge, Peter Lyon

 

Many members of the Department had been appointed by its previous head, C.A.W (Charles) Manning who had been Montague Burton Professor for 32 years before retiring in 1962, and who was still very much a presence in the Department in the 60s – not always a welcome presence it should be said. Manning was a South African who became infamous in his later years because of his defence of the apartheid regime in that country. His academic training was in International Law, though he never practiced, but his approach to IR, summarised in his first year lectures which were published as The Nature of International Society  when he retired, owed as much to sociology and social psychology as to law or political science, and was in some respects ahead of its time – there was a reactionary element to his thinking but also a kind of radicalism and he could certainly be claimed as a constructivist avant la lettre. He saw himself as a ‘gadfly’ (which had been how Socrates described himself) but was seen by many others as a less valuable irritant – he was excluded from membership of the British Committee for the Study of IR Theory, the forerunner of the English School, because of his eccentricities, and had little influence in the LSE which at the time housed major figures such as Oakeshott, Karl Popper, Richard Titmuss and Ernest Gellner in whose company Manning appeared (and I’m afraid was) insignificant.

Philip Windsor

Philip Windsor

A decidedly non-Manning influenced member of the Department was Philip Windsor who was appointed in 1965 which was also when I arrived; he was appointed to teach strategic studies but he defined the field very widely and was enormously well read in history and philosophy, a genuine intellectual who influenced a lot of people’s lives. He taught a first-year class in 1965-66 which I was a member of – it was the most interesting and challenging class of the foundation year and converted me from being a potential historian to the study of IR under the mistaken impression that the other courses in the subject would be equally stimulating. They weren’t, but there were compensations; for example, the International Institutions course was grimly empirical, but the class was taught by Robert Hunter, one of Philip’s PhD students who had as little interest as I did in the details of the UN Charter, which led to fun classes and later a lot of last-minute pre-examination nerves – Bob went on the be US Ambassador to NATO under the Clinton Administration so I guess he then had to work up the details of that particular institution.

He and Adam Roberts, another of Philip’s PhD students destined for later fame, livened up the Department as did Michael Banks, who had been one of Manning’s students but introduced us all to American political science, which, although it didn’t take in my case, was more interesting than the institutionalism that dominated the British profession.

Professor F S Northedge

Another influential figure was Fred Northedge a very traditional historian and realist who has, rather undeservedly, fallen almost completely from view, save perhaps as one of the founding fathers of Millennium. International Relations Theory was taught by Banks and Peter Lyon – the latter taught the course developed by Martin Wight in the 1950s which focused on realism, rationalism and revolutionism, famous as a central part of the thinking of the English school. Wight had left the LSE in 1960 for a Deanship at the University of Sussex, and his then-junior colleague Hedley Bull had joined the British Foreign Office in 1965, so I missed out on both the founders of the English School (though since Windsor was Bull’s replacement I won’t complain too much).

1965 to 70 were fascinating years at LSE which, along with Essex, was at the heart of the British end of the student rebellions that took place during those years – quite a few International Relations students were involved one way or another in these goings-on (including me) but the Department was not riven by the experience in the way that some other parts of the School were. Partly this was due to the calming influence of the Convenor, Geoffrey Goodwin; Goodwin was a one-time professional soldier, a product of Sandhurst in the 1930s who had contracted polio during wartime service in 1943 and walked with a stick and in considerable pain thereafter – this condition was what had projected him out of the army into academia. His ramrod straight back and military appearance correctly suggested someone who was not likely to be very sympathetic to student radicalism, but he was genuinely small-l liberal, an internationalis5t Christian with a tolerant Anglican vision of the world and an anti-racism commitment that contrasted favourably with his predecessor’s pro-apartheid views – he earned the respect of radicals and moderates alike.

All told, the Department was a good base, but I’m glad I was taking the BSc (Econ) not a BSc International Relations. Following Windsor’s lead I have never seen IR as a distinct discipline, but rather as a way of focusing on a number of important problems and puzzles, and when I got into the second and third years I put a lot of effort into gaining a wider knowledge of the social and human sciences. I was most enthused by the Political Theory course with figures such as Ken Minogue, John Charvet and, most of all, Michael Oakeshott. Oakeshott’s 20 lectures on the Greeks and Romans were a Marmite experience, hated by some, loved by others – I was in the latter camp, and whenever today I’m confronted by classical political thought, I still find I’m thinking through him. International History with James Joll and Iain Nish and International law with Cedric Thornberry (later, Assistant Secretary General of the UN) and David Johnson were almost equally stimulating – History, Law and Political Theory were my best subjects in Finals along with the International Political System course, which I approached via political theorists such as Rousseau and Hobbes rather than the official reading list. This somewhat disconcerted Goodwin, who was my personal tutor (mentor) and felt that a little more effort on the IR side might not have gone amiss but the Department was kind enough to give me a scholarship to continue my studies as a research student so they can’t have been too upset.

LSE Library encyclopedias in 1964

 

Life as a PhD student in the Department, which is how I spent the last two years of the 60s was much less stressed than life as an undergraduate – a statement that will amaze and annoy our current doctoral candidates. In those days a doctorate was not a requirement for a career as a university teacher in IR and was a rather leisurely business, there being no time limit for submission. There was also no actual training in research methods and one was free to read widely and take time to let one’s ideas germinate – I can hear the gnashing of teeth of our current PhDs who are required to finish in four years and are expected to teach, take a PG Certificate of Education and have published articles when they apply for jobs. They are right to be annoyed – I published very little for a decade after getting an academic job in 1970 and took a PhD much later than that but in those apparently fallow years I was reading widely and building up intellectual capital in a way that simply isn’t possible for young scholars today.

Student reading in the Shaw Library, 1964

 

I left the LSE in 1970 for a Lectureship at the University of Kent; Goodwin kindly remarked as I left that he looked forward to me coming back to the School after a year or two in the provinces – but the nature of the academic profession changed very quickly after the 60s and in fact, it took 28 years before I returned as a Professor in the Department in 1998. Still, it was worth the wait!

Learn more about the foundation and history of the Department of International Relations at LSE

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1 Response to Studying IR at LSE in the 1960s

  1. Craig Murphy says:

    Thank you for writing this. The thing I was most struck by was the photograph of James Mayall looking so very young and very serious.

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