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Obituary: Professor Alun Howkins (1947-2018)

Prof Alun Howkins

Alun Howkins, Professor Emeritus in Social History with a particular interest in the rural poor, has died at the age of 70.

A gregarious and outgoing colleague, he was appointed to the School of Cultural and Community Studies at Sussex in 1976, later moving to the School of English and American Studies, and then to the School of Humanities following a reorganisation of schools in 2003.

Alun made significant contributions through his work as a sub-dean in the two former schools and as Director of the Graduate Centre in the School of Humanities.

He was an inspiring tutor, moving easily between History and interdisciplinary undergraduate teaching, as well as initiating and teaching MA courses and acting as a supervisor of large numbers of PhD students.

All will remember his infectious enthusiasm and commitment to social justice, especially through rural history.

Born in Bicester in 1947, Alun left school at 15 to work in a variety of jobs, including farmwork, before going to Ruskin, the trade-union college for adult students, in 1968. He later claimed this was his proudest achievement. He went from there to the University of Oxford to read History and to Essex to complete his PhD.

Alun’s contributions to the University’s scholarly output are innumerable: his writings span many subjects from the paintings of Turner to popular culture and the politics of the Communist Party in the 1930s.

However, his central commitment was always to the history of rural Britain, and especially the rural poor, following the early Sussex traditions within History of attention to social and working-class movements.

This was expressed not only in his teaching, many publications, conference presentations and journal editing (History Workshop Journal and Oral History), but also through his links with the Mass Observation Archive.

Alun’s frequent television work included the major BBC series ‘Fruitful Earth’ (which he wrote and edited), as well as contributions to other BBC TV series such as ‘Edwardian Farm’ andMud, Sweat and Tractors: The Story of Agriculture’.

Many will also remember Alun’s huge participatory interest with the Pump and Pluck Band in the English folk music revival.

On his retirement from Sussex in 2010 he moved to Norfolk - which he called “God’s heartland”.

Friends and colleagues are invited to attend a funeral service at Burston Strike School, Norfolk at 12pm on 14 August. Instead of flowers his family would welcome donations to Priscilla Bacon Lodge.

Brian Short, Emeritus Professor of Historical Geography


By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Thursday, 26 July 2018

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