Philip Hanson (1963)

Philip HansonMy earliest memory of CREES dates from before I became part of it – indeed, from the founding year, 1963. I was visiting the core group (Geoff Barker, Bob Davies and Bob Smith) when Bob Davies was summoned to the Vice-Chancellor’s office to be officially confirmed as Director of the new Centre. I’ve never been much good at spotting turning-points in history; what struck me as most significant from my early visits to CREES was not so much its creation as my discovery that Bob Davies had read the report of the Warren Commission on the assassination of President Kennedy.  Nobody else I knew had taken such a scholarly approach to the question whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. The standard reaction on the Left was to declare the report to be a work of fiction, but not to read it. I learnt that the academic world could after all contain a genuine truth-seeker, and a Marxist could, contrary to my hostile preconception, take evidence seriously.

Late 1960s. In the early days of CREES annual conferences – an institution first proposed by the late John Grayson – we met at a Staffordshire County Council adult education centre. This was before Ron Amann found the magic key that got us in to Cumberland Lodge.[1] Apart from playing football for the first time in years and finding how unfit I was, the only thing I recall from those early conferences is a conversation with some doctoral students who were working on the history of Soviet agriculture. We were walking on a path through arable fields, chatting, when it emerged that none of us, agrarian specialists included, had the foggiest idea how to tell wheat, oats and barley apart. Apart from playing football for the first time in years and finding how unfit I was, the only thing I recall from those early conferences is a conversation with some doctoral students who were working on the history of Soviet agriculture. We were walking on a path through arable fields, chatting, when it emerged that none of us, agrarian specialists included, had the foggiest idea how to tell wheat, oats and barley apart.

Dr T.J. Grayson, technology, science studies. John Grayson died tragically young. A warm-hearted and enthusiastic man from a South Wales mining family, he had trained as an engineer, learnt Russian, and was a key contributor to the Centre’s early work on Soviet technological levels and the Soviet innovation process, in the 1960s and 1970s. People who have studied or taught in the Centre in the past two decades or so might well not know that in earlier days CREES faculty members spanned a range of disciplines beyond social science and history, including Education (John Dunstan) and Mechanical Engineering (John Grayson). We had for a time a postgrad programme in which people whose first degrees were in science or engineering did a ‘conversion’ course to get them started in economics or another social science, began learning Russian and, if all went well, embarked on research to do with Soviet and East European technology and innovation. John Grayson was an important part of the Centre’s involvement in science policy and technology. AR and PS (see footnote 1) were among the beneficiaries of the conversion course. The academically unique and highly successful extension into this field was very much Bob Davies’ idea and owed much of its success to him.

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[1] From which two individuals, whom I will refer to only as AR and PS, got us evicted for a while. I will leave it to AR or PS or both to give their version. Hint: blaming the late Lord Vaizey works pretty well.