Key Figures on Campus: Dr Alan J Lee, History

In our Key Figures on Campus series we ask alumni to share some of their memories of key members of staff who influenced them as students, and to undertake a bit of research to find out more about some of the untold stories behind important figures in the University’s history, whose impact on their students has not been forgotten.

In this article a passage in a book by Andrew Marr book brings back memories of Hull for Dennis Clarke (History 1968-1971). Here he talks about Dr Alan J Lee, quoted in the Marr book, a teacher who made a lasting impression on him.

If you remember Dr Alan Lee and would like to get in touch with your memories, please do so either by leaving a comment at the bottom of the article, or contacting alumni@hull.ac.uk

If you remember a teacher from your time as a student and would like to contribute an article about them, then please also get in touch, as we would love to hear from you.


Dennis Clarke, BA History, 1968 – 1971

Dr Lee taught two of the seven modules I studied during 1969-1971 but until recently I had heard nothing of him since I left. That was not very surprising as my career took me well off the tracks of academe into telecommunications management and Alan was not the only one among my teachers whom I thought of rarely over the years.

So imagine my surprise (and great pleasure) to find myself in a South Coast charity shop in November 2018 with a copy of media personality Andrew Marr’s book “My Trade” in my hands and the book falling open at a page that provided a reference to Alan’s book “The Origins of the Popular Press in England 1855-1914 (London: Croom. Helm, 1976). This startled me as the subject was not quite connected with my studies under Alan; it started me  wondering about Alan’s career after I left Hull (and before).

My acquaintance with Alan Lee was as one of his students of (1) “Society, the State and the Individual in Modern Times” (1969-70) and (2) “European Socialism” (1970-71). These modules introduced me and my fellows to aspects of Intellectual History, and ways of dealing them, that were uncommon at the time: an insight into how “actors” in historical (and more recent) events explained, understood and justified their roles; and introducing me to figures who were mightily influential though only on the periphery of the action. So the work was interesting and a pleasure. But it was also rigorous, and very challenging as is suggested by the prospectus Alan served up for the 1969-70 course: “… the study of intellectual history, including both content and method … the seminars will be devoted to the examination of different types of intellectual history, and to discussion of their respective merits and demerits.” (Phew!). Alan too must have had a challenging time with a tutorial group who felt and probably were a long way behind him in mental agility: I remember one of my colleagues describing Alan in a typically English way, as “rather bright” – which meant that he could beat any combination of three or four of us at a time at the intellectual arm-wrestling that made up much of our tutorials! Still, with Alan’s care and enthusiasm we survived to make good progress towards our degrees.

I also remember Alan was a particular favourite among an admirable bunch of teachers (Drs Andrews and Palmer, and Mr Kenneth A MacMahon, especially too). And, being, as I understood, fresh from his doctorate elsewhere, I imagined he was closer in age and outlook to his “disciples” than most other member of staff. He was, in fact, one of only two among my teachers who graced their charges with an invitation to their homes; Alan’s was a flat somewhere in Hull where he lived with his delightful young wife and their baby; I remember their kind welcome (although I can no longer recall the location).

Alan’s courses were very interesting and fed me with plenty of information that continues to inform my engagement with the world. And they stimulated the habit in considering so many situations of trying to find the right questions and best ways of interpreting critically (but not cynically) what people are saying.

I regret that I must end this celebration on a potentially sad note as I have the impression from a number of entries on the internet that Dr Lee died prematurely, sometime between 1976 and 1984. In the meantime he seems to have made a name for himself in the “history of the press” judging from the number of times his book I mentioned above is quoted. I would naturally like to know more – about both the man and his work – and would be pleased if anyone reading this were to contact me with information including photos.

Dennis Clarke, History, 1968-71

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