Fiona Macaulay, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Bradford University
‘But there’s a Latin American Centre at the University. Didn’t you know that?’ said my friend, as I bemoaned how bored I was with my NGO fundraising job, and hankered after my time in Central America. The next day I pedalled furiously up to North Oxford, and my first encounter with my future supervisor, Alan Angell. In fact, I already had a connection with the Latin Americanist community in Oxford. During my time teaching at the University of León and running development projects in Nicaragua in the late 1980s, Colin Clarke had come out to visit (he was a family friend of my housemate there, who was studying Spanish with Robert Pring-Mill). We took him around to see the Sandinista sights, once memorably hitching a ride on the back of a (new) garbage truck to get to the port city of Corinto, Colin with a white hanky knotted over his thinning hair against the tropical sun. I now remember him asking me if I had thought of doing a Masters. No, I replied, I don’t think academia is for me…. I stayed five years, through the MPhil and DPhil.
For my doctoral writing up, Alan kindly gave me use of The Garage, which was very spacious. Its main downside, apart from being uninsulated, was its lack of, ahem, comfort facilities, out of hours, which meant a trek round to St Antony’s. Indeed, I burned the midnight oil so late that many people thought I lived there. I became a kind of informal concierge for the LAC, as lost students would knock on my door. But when I first joined, I was of course somewhat in awe, not just of the staff, but also of more advanced students. The Friday seminar had a three-line whip for attendance, but also a clear and hierarchical protocol when it came to the Q and A section: first the lecturers asked questions, then the doctoral students and then the lowly Masters students. But, being a feminist and noting that very few women spoke, I made a pact with my friend Sarah Howard that, no matter what, we would take it in turns, week on week, to put up our hands and say something…. I spent many seminars formulating and reformulating in my head a question or comment that I hoped did not sound too foolish.
Indeed, the seminar-based teaching provided its own challenges and entertainments. Malcolm would lecture on whatever he pleased, with no reference to the intended topic of the class. Alan Knight introduced a revolutionary North American innovation by distributing Actual Typed Reading Lists. The post-prandial afternoon seminars were the hardest to get through without nodding off, although bets were often laid as to which of the senior academics would go slack-jawed first. (Alan Angell told me a story of setting light to one eminent professor’s newspaper to wake him up. Although such naughtiness seems improbable given his Welsh Chapel propriety, one of the joys of a tutorial or lunch was hearing him gossip). Seminars on politics also often became The Alan and Malcolm show, where Malcolm would attempt to get wind up Alan Angell with the scathing phrase ‘Oh, that’s a sort of typical Oxfam analysis’. Alan, in turn, would bridle, go red, and attempt a rebuttal. Anyone who has read Malcolm’s irreverent, determinedly off-topic and hilarious entries in the St Antony’s College Record knows that LAC had its own hybrid of Evelyn Waugh and David Lodge…
But for me, most importantly, I would never have found my way to Brazil without the LAC. The first Brazilian MSc student I met, Mauricio Rands, taught me Portuguese and became later a leading PT politician. Herminio Martins conducted the class on Brazil with passion and eccentricity, when made me determined to do research there. When I suggested a comparative study to Alan Angell, he mused ‘Hmm, Argentina? Too complicated. Uruguay, too boring. Brazil – excellent!’ I appreciated being trusted to get on and find my own path to my doctoral research (‘I’m flying to Brazil next week on fieldwork, but I’m still not sure what I’m looking for.’ ‘Good, that means you’ll be more open-minded. Off you go’). Supervision consisted of many St Antony’s lunches, Alan taking me out for ice-cream in Santiago de Chile (‘I used to bring my kids’ here’). Indeed, I was one of ‘Alan’s Angels’, as Susan McRae, his wife, used to refer to all his doctoral students working on Chile, nearly all of whom lived at some point in Tom O’Keefe’s parents’ apartment in the capital.
What I remember most is how supportive the environment was. I suggested I could run a seminar series on gender issues in Latin America, and a budget appeared, allowing me to meet the main academics in the field. Rosemary made it her business to support female students, the librarians Ruth and Laura were endlessly kind and supportive (after my son was born I would leave him asleep in their office during seminars), and Elvira was always there, sympathetic, calm, ready to listen to all woes and triumphs. Happy 50th birthday!