V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design (1)

We held a small, informal, but very moving gathering of the first generation of students who started as students on the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design (or, as it was then called, Design and Decorative Arts: History and Technique) in September 1982 – forty years ago, plus a small number of students from later generations.

Roy Strong came and spoke about his role in establishing the course in the teeth of implacable hostility from his Keepers; it was based on his experience of the interdisciplinarity of the Warburg Institute, crossing boundaries away from the material-based departments so deeply entrenched at the V&A.

Then, Chris Frayling spoke about his experience of establishing the Course at the Royal College of Art, from the time of his interview as Professor of Cultural History. There was a sense of rift between the two institutions: the Royal College totally modernist, hostile to history; the V&A very strongly antiquarian and not much interested in contemporary design.

The two of them met metaphorically half way up Exhibition Road. Gillian Nayor and Penny Sparke were hired as tutors. The Course was approved in early 1982. The first students arrived in September 1982, the month that I was offered a job as Assistant Keeper at the V&A. The rest is history – a complex history because everyone remembers it differently.

I hope their talks have been recorded, because it was invaluable oral history.


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