Early Days In the late 16th and early 17th century, Colchester received a stream of refugees escaping from religious persecutions in the Netherlands. One family, called Rebow, prospered and acquired the land that is now Wivenhoe Park, and they built Wivenhoe Hall as an imposing mansion. By the end of the nineteenth century it had fallen into disrepair and was bought and renovated by the Gooch family.

1959 Essex County Council accepted a proposal that it should inquire into the possibility of establishing a university in the county of Essex.

The 1960s: Formation – Idealism and Conflicts

1960 Proposal for a University of Essex drawn up and submitted to the University Grants Committee.

1961 The University Grants Committee agreed the proposal. Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, was selected as the site for the new University of Essex.

1962 In July, Dr. Albert Sloman (aged 42) is appointed as first Vice-Chancellor and works with Noel Annan, Provost of King’s College, Cambridge and Kenneth Capon from the Architects Co-Partnership, on the design and nature of the University. He continues as Vice-Chancellor until his retirement in 1987. The University Library was named after him in 1987. R. A. Butler, author of the 1944 Butler Education Act, and MP for Saffron Walden, accepted the invitation to be the University’s first Chancellor.

1963 Peter Townsend was appointed as first sociology (Foundation) professor (at the age of 35) and the first chairman of the Department. Sloman gives the Reith Lectures: A University in the Making, which outlined his vision of the new university

1964  The first appointments to the Department were made: Geoffrey Hawthorn, Paul Thompson and Herminio Martins. 
Ernest Rudd is appointed as Reader in Methods of Social Investigation and Head of the Unit for Research into Higher Education. Adrian Sinfield is appointed but doesn’t start until 1965. In October, the first students arrive (only 122 in toto). In December, work commences on first residential tower (Rayleigh Tower). Teaching takes place in Wivenhoe House and adjacent huts. The first issue of Wyvern was published (originally a student paper). The ‘Sociology Wives Group of 64’ set up a very early Reading Group (that is still running today).

1965  Roland Robertson appointed as lecturer and teaches social theory (he leaves in 1968, and subsequently holds professorships at the University of Pittsburgh, the University of York and the University of Aberdeen). Peter Townsend initiates discussions on setting up the Data Archive.

1966  Professor Alasdair MacIntyre appointed to the second chair in sociology; he stays for only three years. First woman lecturer appointed: Dorothy Smith (1966-69).

1967  David Lockwood is appointed the third professor in the Department. First undergraduate degrees awarded. The Lecture Theatre Building (LTB) was opened. The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) Data Archive was established (the SSRC was founded in 1965 and chaired by Michael Young). Opening of the first phase of the Social and Comparative Studies Buildings. Alison MacEwan (Scott) appointed to develop Latin American Studies. Jane Murfitt (Marceau), Peter Abell and Geoff Winn appointed. By now, there were 17 members of academic staff – large for a new department. Peter Townsend organised a major International Conference on Poverty Research (supported by the Joseph Rowntree Memorial Foundation).

1968  Colin Bell, Joan Busfield, Roy Enfield and Dennis Marsden appointed as lecturers or assistant lecturers. The post-qualifying MA in Social Service Planning is introduced to help provide broader perspectives on social planning for people already working in the social services. Pauline Morris is awarded the first PhD in the Department (published as Put Away; she becomes Head of Sociology at South Bank Polytechnic). There were 31 postgraduate students, and 58 third year students (45 in social studies and 13 in comparative studies).

International student protests in which Essex features. Vietnam was a core focus but the protests spread to many areas of discontent. Notable features at Essex were:

In March 1968, a demonstration against a visit to the University by Enoch Powell received national publicity. Seven students were summoned to disciplinary hearings but student sit-ins prevented these hearings taking place.

On Tuesday, 7th May 1968, Dr. Inch from Porton Down came to give a lecture at the University. In a carefully planned demonstration, an indictment was read out as he attempted to speak, citing chemical and biological warfare activities at Porton Down. University authorities called in police with dogs.

On Friday, 10th May 1968, three students, Pete Archard, Raphael Halberstadt and David Triesman (now Lord Triesman) were suspended and ordered off the campus. The University’s magazine, Wyvern, reported that on Monday, 13th May, “Students picket all entrances to the University from early morning distributing leaflets calling all students and staff to meeting to discuss suspension of the three students. A huge meeting, attended by nearly all the University population, voted overwhelmingly to refuse to participate in the University. In its place a Free University was declared.” After a week the three students were re-instated.

In 1968, the full complement of staff now included Peter Abell, Colin Bell, Joan Busfield, Susan Cone, Ioan Davies, Patrick Doreian, Ronald Fletcher, Johan Galtung, Geoffrey Hawthorn, Valerie Hewett, Elliott S. Isenberg, David Lane, David Lockwood, Alison MacEwen (Scott), Alasdair MacIntyre, Dennis Marsden, Herminio Martins, Jane Marceau, Ernest Rudd, Adrian Sinfield, Dorothy Smith, Paul Thompson, Peter Townsend and Frank West. Research staff included Max Atkinson, Melanie Bartley, Oliver Boyd Barrett, Roy Cox, Michael Lane, Elizabeth McGovern, Hannah Mitchell, Rennate Simpson, Elizabeth Sloan, Andrew Tudor, Jeremy Tunstall, Sylvia Tunstall, Fred Twine, Vera West and Geoff Wynn. The secretaries were Susan Best, Marion Haberhauer, Assumpta McEvoy, Anita Schofield, Jean Smith, Barbara Warner and Brenda Watkinson.

  By October, there were 26 members of the academic staff. David Lee is appointed. Professor MacIntyre leaves for Brandeis. Dorothy Smith leaves. Mary Girling appointed as secretary, and becomes Departmental Secretary in 1970 when Barbara Warner leaves. Oral History starts as a newsletter in December 1969, typed by Mary Girling (Pink Floyd and Stockhausen played in the dance hall!).

The 1970s: Ideals Transformed – a little

1970  David Lockwood becomes the second chairman of the Department. Ted Benton, Michael Lane and Michael Mann appointed. Peter Abell leaves. In October, the total student population numbered 1,934 (1,570 undergraduates and 364 graduates). There were 162 undergraduates in sociology; 25 taught graduates; and 16 researching for a PhD. Conference on Social Mobility organised by Michael Lane (3rd-5th July). Benda Corti starts to work in the Department, becoming Departmental Administrator in 1972. (Mary Girling and Brenda Corti became central to the Department’s life for the next thirty years.) Nightline started.

1971  Paul Thompson founded the journal Oral History. David Bouchier, a former mature student, is appointed (leaves in 1986).

1972  David Lane becomes chairman of the Department. Stan Cohen and Harold Wolpe are appointed. First students graduate from the MA in Social Service Planning (which runs until 1993). George Kolankiewicz appointed as a lecturer in the Russian/Eastern Europe area (he had formerly been a researcher from 1969-71).

1973  David Lane leaves for Cambridge. Colin Bell (1968-75) becomes chairman of the Department but leaves in 1975 (he was to become Principal of Stirling University and died in 2003). Duncan Gallie and Ian Craib are appointed. Oral History Society formed alongside the launching of a new MA in Social History. First undergraduate course in Women’s Studies taught. Talking Newspapers begins (Mary Girling is involved). Oil crisis and three day week.

1974 ‘Occupation’ and Troubles of 1974. Stan Cohen becomes the fourth sociology Professor and chairman of the Department. Anthony Woodiwiss and Maxine Molyneux appointed. The initial expansion is over and signs of a new financial stringency appear. The recession of 1974-75 is deeper than any other post-war recession.

1975  The ratio of women to men in the Department starts to change. New appointments include Ken Plummer, Nicky Hart, Mary McIntosh and Leonore Davidoff. The first separate student union bar opened. First students graduate from the MA Social History (which changed to MA Social and Cultural History in 1997).

1977  Dennis Marsden becomes chairman of the Department. Tuition fees are raised by Shirley Williams, Secretary of State for Education: undergraduate fees are raised from £182pa to £500; postgraduate to £750; and overseas students to £850. Major financial intervention in universities starts. There are protests against the rise in fees for overseas students by 100 staff and over 600 students. Michael Mann and Duncan Gallie leave. Series of Women’s Conferences organised by Joanna Bornat, Judy Lown, Leonore Davidoff and others. BA in Latin American Studies introduced.

1978 Gordon Marshall appointed. Full-time nursery opens (previously there were only play groups). The University has reached a relatively stable size of around 3,000 – still one of the smallest in the country. There would be little expansion over the coming decade (except for overseas students).

1979 First International Oral History Conference organised by Paul Thompson. Peter Townsend’s Poverty Survey is published. John Goldthorpe gives the first Fuller Bequest Lecture on ‘Intellectuals and the Working Class in Modern Britain’. Adrian Sinfield leaves for a Chair in Social Policy at Edinburgh. The Health Centre opens. (The Kinks and Iggy Pop played in the dance hall!)

The 1980s: The Thatcher Years of Austerity – and Consolidation

1980  Michael Harloe appointed. Stan Cohen leaves for a post in Israel and Peter Townsend for a post at the University of Bristol. Paul Thompson becomes chair of the Department, developing research and new courses in the face of major financial crisis. Period of University retraction, and the Thatcher cuts starts: a reduction of 11 per cent in 1980, to be followed by 20 per cent in 1981. There are only two new appointments in the Department during the remainder of the decade: Judith Okely (1982-90) and Oriel Sullivan (new blood appointment in 1984).

1981 The Daily Telegraph (20th June) suggests that Essex sociology should be closed down! Morale was low. 1980-81 recession hits.

1982 Judith Okely appointed. David Lee organises a ten-week open evening course in the Autumn on Economic Decline and British Society: The Eighties. Swinnerton-Dyer report on low PhD completion rates. Department newsletter Sociological Life is initiated and runs for over 20 years until 2002. Initially published four or five times a year; latterly only once or twice. Ted Benton writes an article on ‘Why Sociology?’. Michael Lane leaves to become a barrister; Ernest Rudd retires (to York; he dies in August 1999). The Swinnerton-Dyer Report indicates the need for new funding criteria and research evaluation.

1983  Howard Newby, a former undergraduate student, is appointed Professor of Sociology. Harold Wolpe becomes Chair of Department and oversees the new ICT and computerisation of the office. Beccles Study Weekend is held for the undergraduates, 11th-13th February.

1984 ‘New blood’: Oriel Sullivan is appointed. Sixth Form Conference initiated. Howard Newby becomes Director of the ESRC Data Archive and works with the BBC on a new Domesday Book. BA Sociology and Social Policy starts. First students graduate from new MA schemes (Sociology of Development and Sociology of Gender Divisions).

1985  The departmental office starts the process of “computerisation”. The Queen visits the University to mark its 21st anniversary.

1986 Mary McIntosh becomes the first woman Chair of the Department. The first UGC ‘Research Selectivity’ rankings place Essex as internationally distinguished (the highest ranking). British Sociological Association Summer School ‘Sociology and the PhD’ held in the Department (8th-12th September). David Rose initiates first moves to establish the British Household Panel Study. Essex identified as the university with the highest number of overseas students (23 per cent).

1987 Dr. Albert Sloman retires and receives a knighthood; Professor Martin Harris appointed as the second Vice-Chancellor. The first Annual Graduate Weekend was held at Waverley Hall Hotel in Clacton (6th-8th November). The whole conference for over 30 people, full board for two days cost £798! It has been held every year since. The Graduate Research Forum was also established. Nicky Hart leaves. Hurricane hits Wivenhoe Park with 394 trees blown down and another 100 damaged.

1988  Howard Newby leaves to become Chairman of the ESRC & the MA Sociology and Community Mental Health commences in conjunction with members of the local mental health services. Ken Plummer takes over the First Year and establishes a new course, which runs for 25 years. Annual First Year Lecture commences with Tony Coxon. This has run yearly since then; early speakers included Anthony Giddens (1990), George Ritzer (1996) and Jock Young (1999). In 2000, a new series started whereby former students were invited to give the lecture: this began with Sylvia Walby, and has included Nigel South, Susie Scott, Fiona Devine, Liz Kelly, Karen O’Reilly, and Ruth Lister.

1989  Joan Busfield becomes Head of Department. The ESRC British Household Panel Study and the Research Centre on Micro-Social Change in Britain are established (it now houses the ESRC-funded Understanding Society project, a longitudinal study of the socio-economic circumstances and attitudes of 100,000 individuals in 40,000 British households). Anthony Coxon appointed as first Director. Department gets UGC top rating (again). The Department starts teaching sociology to nurses as part of ‘Project 2000’ nurse training, assisted by Kate Reynolds. Paul Gilroy and Roger Goodman appointed. Sue Aylott becomes secretary.


The 1990s: Expansion Again – a second generation begins.

1990  Michael Harloe becomes a professor. Bryan S. Turner appointed as a professor, but only stays two years. Gordon Marshall leaves. Peter Townsend receives an Honorary Degree. The Department restarts making new appointments, including Lydia Morris, Colin Samson, Nigel South, Miriam Glucksmann, Mike Roper, Richard Wilson and Rob Stones. ‘Top-up’ degree for Project 2000 Diploma in Nursing students commences. Expansion and revitalisation is in the air. And the Department celebrates its 25th Anniversary with a three-day conference and jamboree (5th-7th September, Wivenhoe House). The number of students at Essex now tops 4,000: still small but growing.

1991  The Rab Butler building opens as headquarters for the British Household Panel Study, with Anthony Coxon as Director and David Rose as Deputy Director. Erasmus European Conference ‘Towards 1992: Lesbian and Gay Experiences in Europe”: a pioneering two-week conference at Essex (15th-25th July). George Kolankiewicz becomes Director of ESRC East-West Project, funded for £2.5 million, with twenty projects coordinating research after the fall of communist block. First students graduate from the MA in Sociology and Community Health (which runs till 1996). Paul Gilroy leaves. The MA in Contemporary Japan commences (which runs till 2003).

1992  Professor Martin Harris leaves to become Vice-Chancellor at the University of Manchester. Professor Ron Johnston is appointed as the third Vice-Chancellor.

1993  Ken Plummer becomes Head of Department. Essex hosts the British Sociological Association’s Annual Conference – “The Sociological Imagination”. Catherine Hall joins the Department as professor. Jonathan Gershuny becomes professor and director of ISER (until 2006). Short open course: What’s Happening to Britain, run by David Lee. Joan Busfield becomes the University’s first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor. The Department starts to hosts the major AIDS project – Project Stigma  with Tony Coxon and Peter DavisThe Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies is launched as an independent centre. New MAs are launched in Research, Health, and Social Policy and Psychoanalysis. A new BA in Sociology and Health Studies is introduced.

1994  A fourth Vice-Chancellor: Professor Ivor Crewe is appointed. John Scott is appointed Professor and Graduate Director. Paul Thompson becomes Professor and Director of the newly established Qualidata with Louise Corti as Administrator. The Sociology Student Support Officer is established (Helen Hannick) and the Student Resources Room set up.
The Oxford Dictionary of Sociology is published. The first edition is written by Essex staff and edited by Gordon Marshall (John Scott will co-edit later editions). Launched in March at Stan Cohen’s Fuller Lecture (9th March). David Lee retires. Richard Wilson, Liz Francis and Peter Davis leave after only relatively short stays of three or so years.

1995  Tony Woodiwiss becomes Head of Department. John Scott initiates The Essex Graduate Journal of Sociology (with 21 editions until its demise in 2014). Major expansion of Graduate Teaching Assistants. Essex hosts the European Sociological Association’s Annual Conference. First Annual PhD Thesis Conference (6th June). Ken Plummer and Lydia Morris are appointed professors of sociology at Essex. Sean Nixon appointed to develop Cultural Studies. Andrew Canessa appointed as Latin American specialist. Gill Green and Charlie Davison appointed jointly (in 1997, Gill moves to the Health and Social Services Institute and Charlie leaves). First students graduate from MA Sociology and Health Studies. New first year course in Research Methods starts. Retirement Conference held ‘For David Lockwood’, 18th-20th April, at Wivenhoe House (organised by David Rose) and later published in the British Journal of Sociology. Library extension commences.

1996 Quality Assessment of Teaching – Department is awarded 22/24. RAE awards Essex Sociology 5*, one of only two departments of sociology in the country to get this maximum grading. Ken Plummer launches the journal Sexualities to be housed at Essex (it continues to do so in 2014). Retirement conference and dinner held for Mary McIntosh. First students graduate from the MA Sociology of Culture. The Graduate School was established in the University. Maggy Lee joins the Department. Harold Wolpe dies January 19th, 1996.

1997  ‘Critical Realism Conference’ organised by graduate students and part-time staff. In the Autumn, The Sociology Society – probably at its peak – organised ‘The Diana Debate’, bringing out more than 150 people, with contrasting views presented by Ian Craib and Rob Stones, and chaired by Tony Woodiwiss. Pam Cox joins the Department. Essex Summer School in Data Analysis celebrates its 30th anniversary.

1998  Nigel South and Tony Woodiwiss become professors. A new undergraduate degree developed in Culture, Media and Society. Yasemin Soysal and Eamonn Carrabine appointed. Catherine Hall leaves for University College London (UCL); Helen Hannick leaves and Rowena Macaulay becomes new Student Support Officer. Staff Retreat to Orford to discuss the future of the Department. Second ‘Critical Realism Conference’ (1st–3rd September).

1999  Miriam Glucksmann becomes Head of Department. The ‘End of an Era’ party is held at the Wivenhoe Sailing Club. Dennis Marsden and Brenda Corti retire. Tony Woodiwiss leaves for City University in London; and George Kolankiewicz leaves to become Professor of the Sociology of Central Europe at the School of Slavonic & East European Studies. Robin Blackburn and Joanne Entwistle join the Department.

The New Millennium and a New Era?

2000  Mary Girling retires in January after 30 years as Departmental Administrator (CEO). Diane Blundell becomes new senior Departmental Administrator. Lucinda Platt, Diane Elson and Paul Iganski join the Department. Centre for Cultural and Social History launched (shared with the History Department). First student graduates from the new Sociology and Criminology degree. “Farewell Brenda and Mary Party” at Wivenhoe Sailing Club (June).

2001  Lydia Morris becomes Head of Department. John Scott becomes President of the British Sociological Association (2001–03). Yasemin Soysal becomes President of the European Sociological Association (2001–03). The Department again gets the maximum 5* grading in the RAE, one of five departments on this occasion, and allowed because this was the second occasion to describe itself as 6*. Tiziana Terranova and Tim Liao join the Department. The conference ‘Celebrating Classic Sociology’ is organised at Colchester Mill Hotel and Wivenhoe House, on 5th–6th July, through Qualidata and to celebrate Paul Thompson’s archive work. The September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers ushered in a new politics for a new millennium.

2002  Ian Craib dies of cancer on December 22nd. Tony Coxon retires (he dies in 2012). There is a marked change in undergraduate teaching as more students now follow the BA Sociology and Criminology (30) than single Sociology (21).

2003  First students graduate from the BA Sociology, Culture and Media (17). Joan Busfield becomes President of the British Sociological Association (2003–05). Professor Stan Cohen awarded an Honorary Degree. A crowded memorial “Remembering Ian Craib” is held and a memory book printed. First BA Society, Law and Policing students graduate.

2004  Rob Stones becomes Head of Department. Tim Liao continues to be a Visiting Fellow but returns to the University of Illinois, whilst Ewa Morawska, Lynne Pettinger and Max Bergman join the Department. Max Bergman lasts only one term – the shortest ever appointment! Tenth Anniversary of the Resource Room; 40th Anniversary of the University. Peter Townsend and Dennis Marsden give visiting lectures. Exchange agreements with international universities significantly expanded. Legislation establishes undergraduate ‘top up fees’ of up to £3,000 for home students.

2005 Róisín Ryan-Flood and Antje Vetterlein Goey join the Department. Catherine Hall and Michael Mann give visiting lectures.

2006  Ayşe Güveli joins the Department. Position of 5th for Sociology Departments in the National Student Satisfaction Survey 2006-07, the highest ranking of any top research department in the NSS placings. BSA Conference ‘Social Order(s) and Disorder (s)’ held at Harrogate International Centre organised by the Essex team of Cox, Carrabine, Lee, South and Busfield). Ken Plummer retires due to illness and becomes Emeritus Professor. University finally agrees to make the Departmental Student Support Officer into a permanent post fully integrated into the established salary system. Second year undergraduate project day established. Ted Benton Retirement Conference in May (the book from it, Nature, Social Relations and Human Needs, edited by Rob Stones and Sandra Moog, is published in 2008). Annual academic conference for staff established. Ivor Crewe Lecture Theatre opens.

2007  Mike Roper becomes Head of Department. Rob Stones becomes a professor. Ivor Crewe leaves after twelve years and a new Vice Chancellor is appointed: Colin Riordan. Appointments of Michael Halewood, Darren Thiel and Adrian Athique. Mark Harvey becomes the Department’s first fulltime Research Professor of Economic Sociology and Director of the new Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation (CRESI). Paul Iganski leaves. Introduction of a dedicated ‘away day’ for 2nd year undergraduate students in the summer term, focused around the dissertation and creation of an annual departmental Academic Conference. First students graduate from the BA Sociology and Human Rights. There are now 27 permanent full-time teaching staff, around 120 graduate students and 160 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates. A period of new financial stringency arrives.

2008  Nick Allum joins the Department. John Scott leaves for Plymouth. Department is placed first equal for RAE with Manchester, Goldsmiths and York. Paul Thompson celebrates retirement with a two-day conference ‘Community and Creativity’. Major economic crisis.

2009  Peter Townsend, the founding Professor, dies: “So much one man can do / That does both act and know” (Marvell). Dennis Marsden dies. Róisín Ryan-Flood establishes new Centre for Intimate and Sexual Citizenship (CISC). Dianne Blundell leaves in the summer after nearly ten years in the Department; Chris Jennings becomes new Departmental Administrator. Mike Roper becomes a professor.

2010  Eamonn Carrabine becomes Head of Department and professor. Pete Fussey, Michael Bailey and Lynsey McGoey join the Department. Brenda Corti dies (Departmental Assistant between 1970 and 2000). Dennis Marsden Memorial Conference. Tony Rich Teaching Centre opens. Browne Review of Higher Education published, which led to the introduction of £9,000 a year fees for undergraduates. In the 1970s, 25 PhDs were awarded by the Department; the first decade of the new millennium produced some 150.

2011  Dick Hobbs appointed as Professor of Sociology and to become Director of the newly emerging Centre for Criminology. Colin Samson becomes a professor.

2012 25th Anniversary of the Graduate Conference celebrated. The sixth Vice-Chancellor appointed: Anthony Forster. Mike Roper awarded a British Academy research grant for his study on ‘”The Generation Between”: Growing up in the Aftermath of War, Britain 1918–1939’. Baroness Ruth Lister, a student from 1967–70, is awarded an honorary degree. Fees were £3,375 in 2011–12, and £9,000 by 2012–13. This changed the economic basis of the university and the student’s experience.

2013 Sean Nixon becomes 18th Head of Department. The Centre for Criminology established with an Inaugural Lecture on February 27th. Four new Professors appointed: Sean Nixon, Nick Allum, Andrew Canessa and Peter Fussey. Sadness at deaths of Stan Cohen and Mary McIntosh who died in January within two days of each other (January 5th and 7th). The University is ranked in the top 50 in the world for universities under 50 years old (by the Times Higher Education and the QS World University Rankings). Neli Demireva and James Allen-Robertson appointed.

2014 The Sociology Department at Essex is ranked 24th in the QS World University Rankings. The 50th Anniversary is celebrated. Chris Jennings leaves and Camilla Thomsen replaces her as Departmental Administrator. Isobel Crowhurst appointed from September. The Strategic Plan for the University suggests an increase in size by 50 per cent in 2019… The story continues…

  1. Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: