My friend Peter Rushton, who has died aged 68 of a heart attack, joined Sunderland Polytechnic (now Sunderland University) in 1979 after working for a short while at Wrexham Glyndŵr University (formerly North East Wales Institute of Higher Education). He remained at Sunderland for the rest of his life, becoming professor of historical sociology in 2009.
Peter was born and brought up in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, the son of Stanley Rushton, a lecturer in statistics, who died when Peter was five years old, and Marjorie (nee Champion), a hospital social worker. His mother had a passion for historical buildings, churches, and historical sites and most holidays included visits to these. Peter inherited her enthusiasm.
His interests were wide ranging and his knowledge extensive. Having gained a first-class degree in archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge, Peter completed an MA in sociology at Manchester University, followed by a PhD on early modern witchcraft.
His first teaching subjects – criminology and sociology – remained within a repertoire that expanded to include advanced social theories, gender and family studies, punishment and society and, at postgraduate level, law and early modern society. He supervised numerous PhD candidates, and generations of students valued his erudition.
During the 1980s Peter initiated a pioneering part-time MA in historical studies that led to a lasting research partnership with Gwenda Morgan. They had great enthusiasm for uncovering secrets hidden in archives and together became authorities on early modern criminal transportation. Only a week before his death Peter completed proofreading their final book, Treason and Rebellion in the British Atlantic, 1685-1800.
His other publications and conference papers represented his diverse research interests, including mental health, gender, sexuality, law, the history of Sunderland, and contemporary politics. In 2018, he co-edited, with Catherine Donovan, Austerity Politics: Bad Ideas in Practice.
A committed trade unionist, Peter never aspired to managerial positions. He had a strong sense of justice, arguing consistently against unfairness and willingly gave his time to act as a critical friend to colleagues across the university sector.
Peter influenced many people, many of whom benefited from his kindness. He enjoyed spending time with a small circle of close friends, who appreciated his conversation. He was keen on travelling and walking and was an excellent photographer.
He is survived by his sister, Lesley, and two nephews.
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