Singleton, Wales and the World

Author: Peter Stead


A recent publicity photograph of the Singleton Abbey Courtyard, with students coming and going through the arch, immediately caught my attention, and memories came flooding back. This was the very spot where in 1961 my university career had begun. It was in the buildings around this courtyard that on an early October day I registered to be a student of History, English and Politics and where subsequently tutorials, lectures and conversations introduced me to an academic world that was to give me life-long interests and a passion to pursue them internationally.
It is not surprising that the Courtyard readily induces nostalgia for, as John Ruskin might have said, the first requirement of a university is for it to look and feel like one. There were new campus buildings to greet us in 1961 but it was initially this small courtyard that gave our student lives focus and afforded an intensity that made us feel we had really entered a new world.

A Personal Transformation

A personal transformation was underway, but there were elements of continuity as I was the product of a Welsh grammar school and of a family with its roots in the mining Valleys. Once it was clear that at university I would want to major in History I had been advised both in my Welsh grammar school and, as it happened, in my chapel to go Swansea where ‘Glan would look after me’. ‘Glan’, it transpired, was Glanmor Williams, Head of History at the University College of Swansea, and, famously, a native of Merthyr. For my father, similarly a Merthyr man, this instantly settled the matter of which university I should go to. Subsequently the news that I was also to study Politics, rather than my school subject of Geography, raised eyebrows both in school and at home. Resigning himself to my choice, my Headmaster commented that ‘the important thing is to avoid Sociology’; that could be ‘read-up in an evening’. On my first day, after Glan had signed me in for History, I went to an adjacent landing to be accepted for Politics by Professor John Rees. That evening my mother, a native of Maesteg, recalled how in the 1930s, this John Rees, the son of a local businessman, had been seen in her mining-town addressing onlookers from a soapbox on behalf of the Communist Party.

This was thrilling information but unsurprisingly I had begun to wonder how far I had actually travelled from my schoolboy world. On that first day in 1961 I had completed the formalities by crossing from the bunched offices at the then unbreached west-end of the Courtyard to a lofty garret in the Abbey itself. One climbed impossibly tortuous staircases like a servant of old in search of the English Department. Courtesy of the Sunday papers the whole world seemed to know that novelist Kingsley Amis had recently departed so there was no point in looking for him. There to sign us in was Professor Cecil Price, a local man who had once been Student President in this very university, where incidentally both my A Level English and History masters had also studied.

It had been a truly welcoming first day; one had been put at ease even as one sensed that entry had been gained to the very essence of the university experience. The quintessential moment had occurred during my signing up for the Part One Politics course. As I was explaining my ever-intensifying interest in British and American politics to Professor Rees there was a knock at the door and the person who responded to the invitation to enter turned out to be not a lecturer as I first thought but a mature Asian student. ‘Reshard’, said the Professor, ‘how was your summer?’. Almost immediately Reshard explained that the highlight of his summer had been a viewing of the Indian movie Pather Panchali, directed by the Bengali film-maker Satyajit Ray. I silently congratulated myself on having heard of the film (the Sunday Times was already my regular guide to metropolitan culture) and readied myself for the dismissal of Reshard and a return to my discussion of post-Bevan Labour Party politics with my new professor. But no, Professor Rees wanted to know more about the movie and Reshard was allowed to embark on a fifteen-minute synopsis of the movie. At first, I was a little irritated, but I then realised that a point was deliberately being made. I silently thought, ‘Welcome to University’.

Academic Conversation

There were to be many occasions when I recalled what had been in effect the first ever academic conversation at which I had actually been present. John Rees was the outstanding lecturer of my first year as a student. He taught Greek Political Thought in a truly Socratic style. With one leg resting on a podium, he would pause, stroke his chin, look out at us searchingly with his blue eyes and quietly ask, ‘Is this the kind of question we can ask?’. When in the following year he announced that he was giving up his Chair to concentrate on research and teaching he became even more of a hero. Years later I was to hear a Science professor admit that he had been mystified by Rees’s decision. In those later years we would discuss rugby, jazz and whiskey as much as political thought but John Rees’s idiom always remained Socratic. Meanwhile Reshard Gool, a South African Asian, sustained his role as an unofficial cultural guide. At one point he formed a new literary discussion group and when the advertised visiting lecturer failed to turn up, he made a quick visit to the library and volume-in-hand proceeded to speak on Scott Fitzgerald for an hour. Of course, we wondered whether there had ever been an invited speaker, but it was all riveting cutting-edge stuff. Several years later at an event in London’s Bush House I was to meet the distinguished film director Satyajit Ray of whom Reshard had spoken and reflected on how, for all its countless delights, academe was a small world in which there were clear paths through the maze.

I had entered university wanting to study History but always appreciated the attractions of the three-subject Part One format. In many respects The English Department had hit-on the best management of its four weekly lectures for it had an arrangement that allowed virtually all its staff members to appear in front of first-year students to deliver a short series of lectures on their particular expertise. And so we dealt in turn with the nature of English Rhetoric, the History of Theatre, Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, Renaissance Sonnets, Romeo and Juliet, John Donne and The Fairie Queene. This coming together of individual lecturers and their expertise gave me an enduring fascination with the notion of performance in the lecture room. The pick of the bunch was the charismatic Alastair Fowler (soon to depart to the Regius Chair at Edinburgh) who intoned Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella in an enchanting Scottish accent which I have subsequently attempted to imitate every time I greet a full moon (‘With how sad steps, oh Moone, thou climb’st the skies’) as well as every time I refer to the ‘Ren-aissance ‘.

At the first English tutorial Dr Howard Erskine-Hill (later of Pembroke College, Cambridge) asked us to write a review of the book we were currently reading. At that time the novelist C.P. Snow was very much in the news and I had greatly enjoyed his novel The Masters in which an academic failed to secure the headship of a Cambridge college partly because of his wife’s difficult personality. For my review I chose Snow’s subsequent novel The New Men in which dons became involved with the development of atomic fission. I argued that Snow had earlier managed the tensions of academic life more convincingly than that of the wider and more worrying issue of nuclear weapons. This tutorial stands out in my memory as the only occasion in my several years studying English that I discussed a novel, the literary form that was to dominate my own lifetime of reading. Two years after the tutorial as I was about to give my first ever after-dinner speech at a Student History Society dinner it was explained to me that the guest who would be sitting next to me, the visiting speaker’s wife, was the person on whom Snow had modelled the unfortunate wife in his Cambridge novel. As I sat down after my speech she turned to me and said ‘Good speech, poor ending’.

I had become fully engaged in every component of my first year as a university student but from the outset I knew that I was most at home in Glanmor Williams’s History Department. It was an age when it was generally accepted that every university department belonged to its one professor who was totally in control and was expected to set standards, define relationships and determine the mood and tone of every-day activities. Glan was a short man with a high voice who yet exuded authority and commanded attention not least because of his jovial mood; he constantly smiled and invariably teased his way into every conversation. His approach was one ideally suited to the creation of a collegiate (and perhaps even familial) sense of department. The Student History Society was a key institution, one increasingly mediated by Glan’s secretary, Ginge Thomas, and at its lectures by visiting speakers, coach outings and social occasions he was always the central figure encouraging participation and humorous exchanges. Only once did I see the light-heartedness slip. In groups of four or five the Honours class were invited to Glan’s Sketty home for supper. On such an occasion one of my student colleagues asked Glan what he had made of the recently departed Kingsley Amis. We guests were not prepared for the tirade that followed: a long silence ensued as we stared down and consumed our sandwiches.

The Expansion of History

A few months before starting at Swansea I had read in the local paper that a second chair of History had been created at the university and that it would be filled by Alun Davies, Reader in International History at the LSE. I interpreted this as a clear indication that as a student I would be joining an increasingly important and dynamic department: two professors - what a powerhouse! As always in Wales the credentials and pedigree of the newcomer were rapidly divulged and analysed. Alun Davies was (as he constantly reminded us) the son of a Welsh Non-Conformist manse, like his friend Glan he was an Aber graduate and his brother was the highly respected Welsh broadcaster Hywel Davies. There was more however, for Alun had a cosmopolitan hinterland that was to fascinate his students from the outset. As a student Alun had gone from Aber to Paris to study the French Revolution under the great historian Georges Lefebvre. He had been in Paris when Germany invaded in 1940, escaping the continent on one of the last coal boats to sail to the UK. He had then served in Military Intelligence, learnt Japanese and risen to the rank of major during the Burma Campaign. His research and writings on the peasants of the Calvados gave him an authentic scholarly and fashionable niche and his recent years at the LSE and Institute of Historical Research had placed him at the centre of the many metropolitan gatherings of British historians. He was to give the Swansea Department wider perspectives.

That first year of History at Swansea was highlighted by the teaching of Medieval European History. My first tutor had been described to us as a rising star of the profession and later, as Sir Rees Davies, Fellow of All Souls and Professor of Medieval History at Oxford he gave evidence of having fulfilled that early promise. I recall the detailed care and intensity of those early tutorials, his small neat red-ink handwriting on my essays already seeming to convert them into important manuscripts. In the Abbey’s large lecture room (the Orangery and then the Refectory in previous dispensations) where most of our Part One lectures were held a young but small and frail-looking figure with a quiet voice had compellingly conducted us through centuries of Papal and Imperial ambition. Bill Greenway had been hailed as another rising star but within a year he was dead. Whilst still a student I was to visit him in hospital and then attend his Catholic funeral in Port Talbot. Glan’s grief was very apparent and the whole Department felt the loss greatly. To this day my interest is at once engaged when I hear mention of the Investiture Contest and the Emperor’s penance at Canossa.

All the while we History students were aware of an expanding Department and of new lecturing talent being signed up in the style of later Premiership football clubs. Only later were we able to work out the strategy of which we had become a part. Gossip suggested that Glan’s appointment to the Chair in 1957 had been controversial and that the whole issue of Welsh History played a part in differences between the then Principal, John Fulton and certain Council members. Once appointed Glan had made it clear that Welsh History would be taught in Swansea within the History Department and not separately and, furthermore and crucially, that in any programme of expansion priority would be given to modern post 18th Century history. Given that Glan himself was an historian currently examining the Medieval background to the Reformation In Wales these were bold decisions that were destined to shape a department for decades to come. Whilst never quite understanding the overall plan, many of us were overjoyed that that our work on Anglo-Saxon and Tudor times could be combined with an exploration of the Russian Revolution and the New Deal. And all the while matters Welsh could be placed within a truly international frame of reference.

Without being fully aware of it at the time I can see now that as an undergraduate I was being drawn to American History, although there was no American specialist in the Department and no such thing as American Studies. My fascination with the States had begun in the sixth-form as we followed the 1960 Presidential election and in my final year at Swansea I could not resist a Special Subject (a quarter of one’s degree) on the economic policies that led to the Revolt of the American Colonies. The system of optional courses allowed me to take a course in the Politics Department on Russian and American Government in which the latter component was taught by Professor Peter Bromhead. Above all however it was the American lectures given by Dr Kenneth Morgan in the History Department’s The Modern World course that fully conveyed the idiom, style and urgency of American historiography together with its wider cultural frame of reference. I was hooked. On the night of President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 I heard the grim news as I was about to chair a visiting lecturer at a meeting of the Student History Society. It was all happening ‘over there’. The impetus was underway for what became the two later Fulbrights that allowed me a year in the Kennedy family’s Massachusetts and then a later year in North Carolina during which I supported and met the eventually defeated Presidential candidate, Governor Dukakis of Massachusetts.

Ken Morgan’s membership of the Department along with that of Ieuan Gwynedd Jones were the clearest indication of Glan’s strategy of promoting the study of the politics of modern and particularly industrial Wales. Both men were first and foremost scholars but they came before us as lecturers with distinctive hinterlands. Ieuan, once a working-man before becoming a mature student at Swansea, a post-graduate at Cambridge and then a lecturer at Swansea, taught both the history of seventeenth-century Parliaments and the politics of nineteenth century Wales with all the care, thoughtfulness and precision of a great Welsh preacher of the philosophical rather than the showy kind. He was the conscience and soul of the Department, a naturally cultured man without any affectation. In contrast Ken exuded metropolitan, public-school and Oxford style and urbanity: with utter confidence and brio he explained the nature and value of the Welsh input into first British Liberalism and then the British Labour Movement. Inevitably I was drawn into his world, opting after graduation to do research under him and subsequently valuing his help and friendship during his years at Oxford and in the House of Lords.

Glan’s emphasis on Social History had become increasingly related to a wider college strategy and in 1964 a new Faculty of Economic and Social Studies was established and, very fittingly Glan became its first Dean. My own appointment to the staff of the History Department was directly related to this development as I was appointed in 1966 to teach Social History to students in both the Arts and B.Sc. (Econ) faculties. My teaching was to involve working closely with the new Department of Economic History under Professor Max Cole, but I very much appreciated the fact that the new Social Historians such as myself, David Jones and David Howell remained firmly in the History Department and could continue the legacy when the pioneers like Ieuan Gwynedd Jones and Ken Morgan moved on to senior positions in pastures new.

Student Unrest Comes to Swansea

The college that I joined as a lecturer was changing rapidly. As an undergraduate I had been one of about 1,600. By 1966 there were almost 3,000 students and now College House, which had opened in 1961 as a new kind of student facility, was becoming after 1966 increasingly crowded and characterized by intense student politics. Whilst an undergraduate our politics had chiefly been concerned with national and global issues; at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 we had marched with banners from the campus into the centre of Swansea and stood all night in a vigil in Castle Gardens. In my degree year I had chaired the Socialist Society and every Friday lunchtime had introduced a long list of MPs and trade-union leaders who urged us to vote Labour in the forthcoming General Election with a view to ending thirteen years of Tory rule. In that election of 1964 I worked for Jim Callaghan in his Cardiff constituency: Labour were victorious and Jim became Chancellor of the Exchequer: I duly made a visit to no.11 Downing Street. Fifteen years late, and as Prime Minister, Mr Callaghan came to the constituency that neighboured his to support my unsuccessful campaign to win the Barry seat.

As the Sixties progressed student politics changed dramatically and under the influence of revolutionary French students and American opponents of the war In Vietnam British students began to look at issues of representation at college and departmental level and the regulations governing halls of residence. In fact, student unrest came a little late to Swansea and there was always to be a slight suspicion of play-acting, but undoubtedly the increasingly crowded nature of the small Singleton campus and the air of irritable indecision that characterized the college’s leadership made for some high drama. The defining moments were the student marches from the mass meetings in College House across the Mall to begin sit-in occupations of the Abbey. At one point I was part of a two-man delegation appointed by the college Senior Common Room to visit the Sit-in in order to sense whether negotiations were possible. As we approached the Abbey we noticed a notoriously militant Lecturer in Philosophy climbing out of a window to avoid being spotted. During a later student strike, I turned up to give a lecture on Irish politics only to be told by a group of pickets that nobody would be attending my lecture. I then asked whether they would attend if I gave the lecture off campus: they agreed and about twenty students sat at my feet in Singleton Park’s ornamental garden to hear me talk on the rise of Irish Nationalism. 

Peter and Elizabeth

Leafletting at the anti- South African rugby protest, 1969

In November 1969 a global issue arose in dramatic form on the Mumbles Road. I was outraged by the fact that the South African rugby team, the Springboks, that clear and proud expression of that country’s racial politics, were touring the UK and were due to play Swansea at St Helen’s on Saturday November 15th. With a number of colleagues resident on campus I organised a Petition protesting against the match and asking ‘all sportsmen who are opposed to apartheid to stay away from St Helens’. Within a day or two we had collected the support of almost a 100 members of the University staff. On the day of the match I joined the demonstration and then together with a selected group was allowed to stand at the turnstiles to leaflet those going into the stadium. What followed was to constitute one of Swansea’s great days of shame. We leafletters, including a local Anglican priest, were roundly abused but that was nothing compared to the violence of the police attack on the march as it passed along that narrow part of the Mumbles Road between the rugby stand and the railway wall on the sea side. Inside the ground protesters were further manhandled by rugby club stewards. On that evening’s TV news the battle on the Mumbles Road led the bulletins. Two months later a demonstration at the international match at Cardiff passed off peacefully: it was clear to all that, whilst at Swansea the police felt free to attack what was in effect a student demonstration, in Cardiff they quietly policed a large demonstration dominated by trade unionists and an ethnic pressure group. When I later visited what had been Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island I recalled the radio interview in which he had explained the encouragement he had derived from listening in his cell to the commentary on events in Swansea.  

The undoubted high-point and moment of truth as far as campus unrest at Swansea was concerned came with the visit of the Parliamentary Committee on Student Unrest. The small group of MPs sat at the front of the largest lecture room in Applied Science and looked out at a packed undergraduate audience who during the ensuing interrogation of witnesses behaved like the Mountain in the French Revolutionary Assembly. When the Principal, Professor Frank Llewellyn Jones more or less attributed student unrest to the introduction and subsequent influence of BSc (Econ) students (‘the campus is their laboratory’) and then went on to inaccurately describe that faculty’s course structure,  there was some booing whilst everybody present was given a sense of what was needed to put things right in Singleton Park.
Inevitably change came, halls of residence were deregulated and at every level steps were made to consult students. More serious issues arose within individual departments: Swansea’s University was always going to have to live with the fact that in 1936 it had sacked the Plaid Cymru leader Saunders Lewis following his conviction for a bombing incident. In the Sixties Swansea could claim that J.R. Jones, the Professor of Philosophy had almost succeeded Lewis as the leading intellectual defender of the Welsh language. Now, following the rise of Cymdeithas yr Iaith the whole issue of the public status of the Welsh language was bound to affect Welsh educational establishments. At Swansea some individual students announced that they would be completing their degree exam papers in the Welsh language although all tuition had been in English. In particular, the Politcs Department became a battleground as they refused to accept Welsh scripts. This genuinely academic issue occasioned a degree of tension and disagreement that outdid the issue of student representation and contributed to a new mood on campus.

Fortunately, the History Department retained its urbanity and sense of community throughout this difficult period. It could have been otherwise, for Glan had served on the Commission that led to a new Welsh Language Act in 1967 which many Nationalists thought was too tame. Later Alun Davies’s wife Margaret (who was a JP) played a prominent part in trying to persuade the Lord Chancellor to allow the use of the Welsh language in courts. We heard graphic reports of growing tension at Aberystwyth but at Swansea we gave thanks for a department in which colleagues who were Welsh-speakers or non-Welsh speakers from Wales, England, Scotland and countries further afield came together under the leadership of two Welsh speaking professors whose values were always liberal and urbane. In some respects, John Davies, a founder of Cymdeithas yr Iaith and member of Plaid Cymru was the most popular member of the Department and one who, like another colleague Prys Morgan, always discussed Wales in an international context. The early Seventies were a period in which serious issues, partly political and partly personal began to haunt departments such as Philosophy and Pure Maths, issues that were in time to threaten the well-being of the College as a whole. The behaviour of individual academics was proving to be far more worrying than anything done by undergraduates… in History we all gave thanks.

Sir Glanmor Williams, portrait held at the South Wales Miners' Library

A Duty to Wales

In 2002 Sir Glanmor Williams (he had been knighted in 1995) published an autobiography that spelt out in detail how he, as a Professor of History, had taken his university appointment to be a public position that called for a considerable input to many aspects of Welsh life. Without being a party politician and in an age before devolution he had taken it upon himself to fill out and enrich the academic and cultural life of Wales in a variety of ways. Long before John Davies was to explain to us all that the BBC had a played crucial role in the creation and growth of the modern sense of Wales Glan had made that clear in his roles as Chairman of the BBC in Wales and as a National Governor. As well as serving on the Welsh Language Commission he was also active in the affairs of the Ancient Monuments Commission, the Board of Celtic Studies, the British Library Board and a number of local History Societies such as the Glamorgan History Society. Alongside this remarkable record of public service Glan also played a vital role in the publication of a huge number of theses, books and articles by countless academics, students and amateur historians throughout Wales, He was forever reading manuscripts and helping potential authors both with securing publishers and grants towards the cost of research and publication. At the same time Professor Alun Davies, who was actually Head of Department when I was appointed, urged young lecturers to give extra-mural classes. Early on he advised me ‘that any fool can lecture to a captive student audience but in extra-mural classes you have to retain their interest and their attendance’. My early years saw me taking evening bus rides into the valleys of the Swansea hinterland to talk about a History that most of my audiences had lived through and helped shape. There were frustrating moments of missed buses, of turning up on the wrong night and of having to compete with local choirs rehearsing their eisteddfod pieces in adjacent rooms but also the rewards of personal testimonies from class-members sometimes recounting encounters with the likes of Ramsay MacDonald and Aneurin Bevan.

It is no wonder that several of us in that History Department developed a sense of having a duty to Wales and found ourselves following Glan into a wider public life and accepting a responsibility for examining whether the lessons and values of the past could be used in the development of a more promising future. There were some people who were surprised that Ken Morgan’s History of Wales, 1880-1980 (published in 1981) was subtitled ‘Rebirth of a Nation’, but this reflected energies and ambitions that Ken himself had helped to generate when in Swansea and characterized the plans of young members of the university’s History Department. Quite vital in this story was the coming together at Swansea of Dai Smith of the History Department and Hywel Francis of the Extra-Mural Department. The SSRC funded Coalfield Project established in 1971 saw the History Department cooperate with the National Union of Mineworkers in South Wales to collect printed and other materials relating to coalfield history particularly that of the miners institutes libraries. This Swansea initiative soon provided the background for the formation of Llafur, the Society of Welsh Labour History and then its journal inaugurated a coming together of academics, teachers, students and trade unionists that was to give Welsh Labour History a richness, energy and sense of purpose which working-class history lacked elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile at Swansea itself the drive was on first for the establishment of the South Wales Miners Library and later the Richard Burton Archive, a home not only for the actor’s diaries but also the papers Of Raymond Williams.

I had graduated in 1964, spent two years as a postgraduate and tutor before becoming an Assistant Lecturer in 1966. Those early years on the staff constituted a period of student turbulence but I always appreciated my good fortune in becoming an academic during a period of well-funded expansion. I was well aware that I was living the university life to the full. As an undergraduate I had lived on campus for two years in Neuadd Sibly, now as a staff member I was to live for four more years as a tutor in the neighbouring tower, Neuadd Lewis Jones. I was in an ideal position to experience the growing intensity of campus life. To this day I often blush when listening to one of BBC Radio 3’s leading intellectual interrogators as I recall having to deal with his student demands on a 1968 committee for longer visiting hours in hall for female friends. In general however being a resident tutor on campus meant formal dinners every evening with students, fellow tutors and guests or visiting academics from every department. It was a formula that made one aware of all the gossip, of what was happening academically and politically across the campus, allowed the development of what were to be lifelong friendships and introduced me to Elizabeth, a lecturer in Applied Maths, tutor in the adjacent third campus Hall, Neuadd Mary Williams and in the years after 1971, my wife.

The Wider World

That intense sense of Singleton Park has always formed the basis of my identity with and affection for Swansea’s University. Expansion has subsequently been inevitable and vital but I have always wanted both staff and students at Swansea to strive to maintain that collegiate spirit that undoubtedly enriched our lives. All the while, of course, my interests at Swansea were taking me out into a wider world. First as an undergraduate and then as a postgraduate it was the fashion for student debating that opened up a new world and the national Observer Mace Debating Competition took me to many other universities as also did involvement in the National Union of Students. My supervisor Ken Morgan took me as a postgraduate on a visit to Oxford where I met friends in Balliol, stayed at Nuffield and attended a debate in the Oxford Union. Then it was Professor Alun Davies who urged me to spend a year in London, working in the British Library and the LSE and attending seminars at the Institute of Historical Research. So began my second life as a researcher in London and time spent in Bloomsbury and central London with Alun and later with his successor Professor Dick Shannon clinched a feeling of being part of a national community of historians. It was Alun too who helped me forge the contacts that finally took me to America in 1973 for a Fulbright Visiting Scholarship at the distinguished Wellesley College just outside Boston. Later I joined with Professor Harry Hearder of Cardiff in the affairs of an Inter-University Film Consortium which led to new research interest in how historians should use and study film, and that was to result in international conferences and another Fulbright year at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, by which time Swansea University was beginning to forge institutional North American links.

My life as an academic was always to consist of that triangle of Swansea, London and the United States and that has always seemed to me to be about right in terms of my own interests and possible contributions. What has always given pleasure and satisfaction is that sense of being shaped by, and at the same time indebted to, Wales and those social and educational values that had marked my grammar school and undergraduate education. At every point it had been assumed that this experience would lead on to a participation in wider British and international affairs. I have taken further pleasure and pride in the ways in which, especially in the new century, an expanding and dramatically diversifying Swansea University has enhanced its national ratings as it has forged even deeper links with the people of Wales and with other centres of learning and research throughout the world.

It was at the start of the new century that I founded the International Dylan Thomas Prize for young writers, a scheme that I hoped would bring the best young writers from around the world to Swansea even as it encouraged Welsh writers to compete against them. Nothing gave me grater pleasure than Swansea University effectively taking over the Prize as part of its Humanities programme and now young writers across five continents associate Swansea with the very best new writing. My experience of the problems of a de-industrialising Wales had at one time contrasted with the sense of freedom and ambition that I encountered amongst young American students. What I have welcomed is the growing awareness amongst Welsh students that the opportunities are there for their talents to be developed in the world of life sciences, computers, broadcasting, sport, the arts and culture generally. As an institution Swansea has succeeded in firing the ambitions of those in its care. 

A more intractable problem has been that posed by the wider problems of a post-industrial society. Over the years Swansea University has played a crucial role in commemorating the story of coal-mining in Wales. More recently, thanks to the expertise and energies of Professor Huw Bowen the full story of Swansea’s copper industry is being explained in the context of a global economy. Led by Professor Louise Miskell, our historians have also turned to the importance of steel which is all too appropriate given the adjacency of one of Europe’s great steelworks. It could be argued that only now are our historians and social scientists concentrating on the issues of industrial investment, management and entrepreneurship in Wales. Across the University the question of wealth-creation is looming larger and perhaps it may be that the greatest challenge remaining is that of inspiring a politics and an educational system that encourages a less hide-bound approach to economic growth and social improvement. I have always been proud of belonging to a University that does all it can to inspire individual students at the same time as caring about the society in which it operates. There is much to be done and Swansea University is well placed to respond to that challenge.

Professor Peter Stead graduated in Swansea in 1964 and taught in the History Department from 1966 to 1997. He was twice a Fulbright Scholar in the USA and following early retirement from Swansea he was an External Professor at the then University of Glamorgan. He was the Founding Chairman and then President of the International Dylan Thomas Prize. He is an Hon. Fellow of Swansea University and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.