Emeritus Professor in Modern British History, Lancaster University

Eric Evans is one of the important threads that keeps us connected to our founding institution, Lancaster University. He arrived there in 1971 after studying at Oxford and Warwick Universities and a spell teaching at Stirling University. He was an office-holder for the Social History Society from 1976, when his colleague Harold Perkin founded the Society, until 1998 when he stood down after seven years as the Chair. He then kindly accepted our invitation to become an honorary vice-president.

It was at Lancaster that he produced a long list of notable publications, historical works combining political and social concerns. These have ranged from the Great Reform Act, down through the forging of the British nation state, to Thatcher and Thatcherism. Today he is Emeritus Professor as well as a Centenary Fellow of the UK Historical Association, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Society of Arts.

Speaking at our 40th Anniversary Conference, hosted by Lancaster University, he recalled the early days of the Society: “In what ways did the fledgling society of the late 1970s and early 1980s establish a distinctive presence? Firstly, it was one of the first Societies which, as an article of faith rather than fitting the convenience of a particular year, organized academic conferences around a pre-agreed, integrative theme. Taking examples more or less random after Elites in 1976, Popular Culture was the chosen theme in 1981, Work in its Social Aspects in 1991 and Consumption, Standards of Living and Quality of Life (1993) and Time and the Construction of the Past in 1997. Although it proved easier to do so in some years than in others, Conference organisers were asked to attract papers which, together, offered geographical breadth and chronological range. The conceptual ‘strands’ around which the Society has organised its conferences in recent years enable a wider range of these themes to be covered, thus strengthening, rather than undermining, the Society’s initial objective.

Secondly, it was decided from the beginning that the Conferences should offer opportunities for postgraduate students to put their wares before sometimes critical, but always kindly, scrutiny. ‘PGRs’ represent the future of any academic discipline and the Society gave them a larger and a more encouraging ‘platform’ than most other academic societies. Postgraduates were also elected a members of the Society’s management Committee, thus securing broadly egalitarian objectives. They had ample opportunity to meet senior and/or distinguished older colleagues and to ‘network’. For several, a long-term scholarly interchange began conversations across the generations during a conference, developing thereafter into close academic friendships and partnerships.”

Key Publications