[Cover note to Committee of Enquiry report]
Welcome to The Mustard Project, the site dedicated to research into the campus events of 1968 at the University of Essex. This page starts with a short history of the events themselves, with a bit more information about the site and how to navigate it below.
To cut a long story short…
After a spring term marked by protests over the disciplinary procedures brought against seven students who had disrupted a talk by MP Enoch Powell, the University’s Wivenhoe Park campus had come to a standstill by the middle of May. Early in the summer term, the founding Vice Chancellor Albert Sloman suspended (or ‘rusticated’) three students who had been involved in a sizeable protest against a visiting government research scientist, a Dr Inch from Porton Down, on Tuesday May 7th.
The demonstration was to have taken the form of a ‘war crimes tribunal’, with an ‘indictment’ against Porton Down’s involvement with research into Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW) read out by a series of protestors in turn. Things became more disorderly when attempts to escort Dr Inch out of the room met with opposition, including the throwing of a tin of mustard powder over the visitor (to symbolise ‘mustard gas’), and the police were called to deal with the disruption.
Sloman’s decision, announced on Friday 10th, appeared to involve arbitrarily singling out three ‘ringleaders’ and suspending them without allowing them the opportunity to give their side of the story. This sparked outrage among students and staff alike. For a number of days the students organised a ‘Free University’, with teach-ins and discussions on a variety of topics, ranging from protesting CBW to the structure, functioning and purpose of universities themselves.
Students and staff campaigned vigorously for the full reinstatement of the three rusticated students on campus, but were also fundamentally concerned with the war in Vietnam and the lack of public knowledge and understanding of CBW. The protesting students wanted more of a say in the direction of their new university (the campus was barely five years old when the events erupted), and saw themselves as part of a much broader set of shifts in Higher Education at the time. Essex students forged connections with the national and wider global student movements, with a number of them crossing the English Channel to march in solidarity with striking students and workers on the streets of Paris. For more on the history of the events, click here.
[Wyvern 38 (21st June 1968)]
The site is currently configured for the fiftieth anniversary of May ’68, and will be publishing archival documents associated with the May events at the Wivenhoe Park campus, on a rolling basis, on the days they were originally produced or issued fifty years ago. Timeline entries will also be published, to accompany and help to explain the documents as they appear.
Over the coming weeks and months it will expand to include a full outline of the digitised collection, taken from the University of Essex’s ‘University Collection’, housed in the Special Collections Department of the Albert Sloman Library. The principal source for the May anniversary is the numbered ‘Internal Documents’ collection (University Collection, Box 14) put together by the University’s Information Officer at the time, Walter E. Evans. Further links to digitised archival documents relating to the disturbances will also be added, along with a complete timeline of the events, notes on the print sources, and extracts from filmed oral history interviews with participants and other witnesses to the student protests of 1968, at Essex and elsewhere. Ultimately, visitors to the archive will be able to navigate around using the tables of contents, the timeline, or the tags/metadata associated with each of the documents.
There is also, finally, information about the production of Mustard: Knowledge for What?, a documentary film currently in production, as well as a 50-minute pilot version exploring the diverse motivations behind the protests at Essex. A screening in London has been arranged for June – check back after 14th May to find out more…