It was rickety, with uneven floors, and equipped with bookcases, tables and chairs, and certainly with the dust and odour of the humanities!"Neil Summerton
01 September 2021
PhD War Studies 1966 | Former Civil Servant, Non-executive Director, and Charity Trustee
I came to War Studies as a field of study somewhat by accident. I arrived at King’s to study history in 1960. Among the first tasks was to choose an optional and special subject, of which there were five choices, including one with Michael Howard on military history and the Franco-Prussian War 1870–71. I was dubious, because I had been told at school that military history was not ‘real history’, which was perhaps true of the military history of earlier generations. I chatted it through with Howard, who suggested I try it provisionally. It did not take long to recognise what a distinguished teacher I had fallen in with, and my studies led rather effortlessly to PhD Studies in the new Department in 1963.
The abiding memory of the Department is that it was small and intimate: as I recall, in 1963 no more than eight or 10 graduate students. It was housed in 154 Strand, which were ancient shop premises, from the time when there was living accommodation above the business. It was rickety, with uneven floors, and equipped with bookcases, tables and chairs, and certainly with the dust and odour of the humanities!
Apart from at seminars at the Institute of Historical Research, I saw little of Michael Howard (the only staff member until 1965). He had his hands full, setting up a new department, writing an official history, and serving as Dean of the Faculty of Arts in the University, among other things. My goal at monthly one-hour supervisions with him was to keep him awake during my soporific accounts of the little treasures which I had unearthed in the Public Record Office. A wise aphorism that I learned from him was that ‘there are some historical facts which deserve only decent reinterment!’ But he did regularly invite us and our significant others to supper parties at his flat.
What did I learn? Well, I always jest, ‘to type!’, which, with the completely unforeseen advent of IT, has proved a boon. But also the ability to search out, order, and analyse mounds of apparently incoherent material, which is the lot of the policymaker.