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Happy birthday Asa Briggs

Historians Lord (Asa) Briggs and Prof Matthew Cragoe catch up at the event on campus to mark Lord Briggs' 90th birthday

The University of Sussex honoured former Vice-Chancellor and founding historian Lord (Asa) Briggs at a lecture and dinner last night (Monday 16 May) in celebration of his 90th birthday.

Lord Briggs, the founding Dean of History at Sussex, and its second Vice-Chancellor from 1967-1976, gave the lecture, entitled 'Birthday Reflections - Timespan: Mindset', to a packed audience in the Terrace Room in Bramber House.

Friends and colleagues - including some who had worked with Lord Briggs in the earliest days at Sussex, such as historians Maurice Hutt and Beryl Williams and former Registrar Geoff Lockwood - heard Lord Briggs speak about his great joy in his role in helping to establish Sussex as a university that changed higher education in UK. Lord Briggs said that he had had more pleasure intellectually forming the University of Sussex than all his other experience to date.

Eileen Yeo, now Professor of Social and Cultural History at the University of Strathclyde and Lord Briggs' first DPhil student at the University, introduced the lecture.

She said that Lord Briggs was already "a semi-mythic figure in 1963 with an international band of students who knew all about his colossal intellect and prodigious work-rate".

She said what she most valued was the support he gave to students: "As a supervisor, his comments were invariably stimulating, reflecting his endless curiosity and extraordinary range of interests and insights. But what was as striking was his approachability, his genuine interest in what every person had to say, and his kindness."

In questions after the lecture, Lord Briggs urged Sussex to continue its emphasis on what students will be like when they leave rather than what they are like now, and on its interdisciplinary approach to scholarship in tackling problems from different angles with different methods.

Still active and writing, he told his impressed audience that he continues to write 1,500 words a day - having just completed recently a memoir on his wartime work at Bletchley Park, the site of secret British codebreaking activities.

Professor Matthew Cragoe, current Head of the School of History, Art History and Philosophy, gave a vote of thanks after the lecture.

The event also saw the launch of new Asa Briggs Scholarships, already created for his 80th birthday and now renewed with the advent of higher fees from 2012. The fund aims to provide scholarships for students who would not otherwise be able to come to Sussex. Lord Briggs was himself a first-generation university student.

Lord Briggs will be in conversation with the current Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex, Professor Michael Farthing, on Sunday 22 May at the Brighton Corn Exchange as part of the Brighton Festival.

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By: Alison Field
Last updated: Tuesday, 17 May 2011