Sunday, 15 December 2013

A history of student life

Nina Stibbe’s new book, Love, Nina, is made up of a series of letters she began to write to her sister Vic when she moved to London as a 20-year-old in 1982 to work as a live-in nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers (editor of the London Review of Books) on Gloucester Crescent in Camden. Halfway through the book, Stibbe begins an English course at Thames Polytechnic. There is some interesting stuff about what it’s like to be an English undergradute in the 1980s, and it made me think that there has never been (to my knowledge) a history of student life. What time they got up, what they ate and drank, what conversations they had in the Students’ Union, what they did in lectures and seminars, how they revised for exams: most of this experience has not been written down and will be lost except to an enterprising oral historian who might want to get a move on while the baby boomers who swelled the student ranks after the Robbins report can still remember that far back. I offer up this idea for free to any passing historian because I no longer have the energy to do that sort of thing myself.

This is Stibbe’s description of a seminar c. 1984:

‘You must contribute (intelligently) to the discussion, otherwise it looks as though you haven’t read the text(s). The academic might say, “Who’s actually read this?” and “What’s the point of coming?” to those who haven’t. Sometimes people who haven’t read the text are told they may as well leave the seminar and that’s the ultimate shame.’

Needless to say, this particular aspect of the student experience is no longer part of the £9K offer.

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