Welcome to The Mustard Project, the site founded on research into the campus events and protests 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 and around the events, click here, or check out the full timeline for a detailed chronology.
The site was initially configured for the fiftieth anniversary of May ’68, which saw the publication of 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 previously. The posts can still be found on the site’s Home page, in reverse order of publication, with timeline entries interspersed to accompany and help to explain the documents as they appear.
More recent updates have focused in particular on producing ‘finding aids’ for the boxes in the collection, and producing a full timeline of the events and associated documents published so far. The timeline now has its own link in the top menu bar; it also includes links to document locations, and currently runs from the visit of MP Enoch Powell in February 1968 through to the end of the summer term.
As more documents are published this timeline will expand to include, to mention a couple of highlights, the students’ anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Colchester town centre in October 1968, and the work of two bodies established by the university administration around the same time: the Senate Group on Student Representation, and the Working Party on a Code of Conduct.
Each Box (8-18A inc.) now has some introductory text, as well as outlines of all contents which, together, represent the full range of documents digitised for this project. The outline lists contain links to all items that have been published to date from the box, as well as entries for all items that have been digitised but remain to be published. Overall these cover not only the Inch protest and ‘Free University’, but also subsequent developments both at the administrative level and in student politics at Essex (as indicated above) and elsewhere nationally and around the globe.
Users interested in developments both accompanying and emanating from the May 1968 events should be able to gain some sense of both the nature and scope of these by consulting these lists, along with any accompanying introductions and annotations. The main introduction to the archive has also been expanded to include further guidance on which events or institutional developments are covered where – the principal source for the May anniversary itself, for example, is the numbered ‘Internal Documents’ collection in Box 14 put together by the University’s Information Officer Walter E. Evans – as well as more detail on methodology and the organisation of the materials online and at Wivenhoe Park.
The ‘Timeline’ page allows readers to select and view individual timelines relating to specific date ranges, or to scroll through an amalgamated version below. In both versions, daily summaries of events are followed by links that will lead readers to the locations of any documents mentioned in that specific day’s entry.
You can also leap to all publications from a specific date using the calendar to the right of the page, select a specific category, or even click on one of the tags/metadata associated with each of the documents (or one of the tags in the word cloud) to access all documents with the same tag.
The Mustard Project has also involved conducting a series of filmed oral history/life story interviews focused around the events at Essex in May ’68, with a number of participants including two of the three suspended students, along with Lord Gifford, the Chair of the University’s Committee of Enquiry, and ‘the man from Porton Down’, Dr Inch himself. You can find out more about Mustard: Knowledge for What?, a documentary film based on these interviews and currently in production, as well as a 50-minute pilot version exploring the diverse motivations behind the protests at Essex. There is now also, finally, a link to watch the short Mustard Podcast #1: Not Waiting for Godard/Non attendant Godard (6 mins), the project’s first A/V posting on YouTube.