John Haynes lectures in Film Studies at the University of Essex, where his work focuses on film, history, and social change. He has been gathering life story interviews with people touched by the May 1968 events at Essex, on and off, for over ten years, and also curates the Mustard Project’s online digital archive. The events of May 1968 are significant for him, as an academic at a further moment of transition in UK universities; while rooted in the history of UK Higher Education, the project aims to contribute to the on-going debates around its future.
The Mustard Project documents the campus activism of May 1968 at the University of Essex, as large numbers of students and staff at the university (not four years old at the time, and still under construction) abandoned regular business and declared a ‘Free University’.
The flashpoint was the suspension of three students involved in a demonstration against chemical and biological warfare and a visitor from Porton Down. At stake were the future direction of the institution and the definition of education itself. The events made national headlines but were for decades treated as taboo and written out of the official history of the University.
The documentary project, ‘Mustard: Knowledge for What?’ weaves together a series of filmed life story interviews with participants, archival documents from both the ‘official’ institution and the Free University, the perspectives of current students and staff, and contemporary media reports.
The result is anything but a neat, coherent story about the protestors themselves, germ warfare, freedom of speech, the right and/or obligation to protest, the growing pains of an institution, and the struggles to define the structure and role of any university within the wider contexts of national and global student activism in 1968. With discussion/Q&A.