CUUNA THROUGH THE YEARS
1946 - 2021
History of the society
Founded in Michaelmas Term 1946 by John Ferguson and Robert G Baylis, almost exactly one year after the foundation of the United Nations itself, CUUNA will be celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021.
Through the decades CUUNA has served as a hub for discussion of international affairs and has played a formative role in the careers of many diplomats, politicians, and civil servants graduating from the University of Cambridge. Many old Cuunaites have gone on to hold prominent positions in the Foreign Service, the United Nations, and other international organisations, and CUUNA Alumni include Former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Margaret Anstee, who was the first woman to hold the position, Nobel Peace Prize-Winning Developmental Economist Benny Dembitzer (CUUNA President 1960-1961), former High Commissioner of India Sir Nicholas Fenn (CUUNA President 1961-1962), World Bank Chief Economist and current President of the British Academy Lord Nicholas Stern (Political Officer 1966-1967), President of the World Association of Former United Nations Interns and Fellows, Ibne Hassan, Former President of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew, and former Judge of the International Court of Justice, Herscht Lauterpacht, who was the senior treasurer of CUUNA in the 1960s just to name a few!
Whilst our mission of promoting international understanding has remained the same since our founding, the activities of CUUNA have always been greatly influenced by the political climate of the time.
Pictured above: the foundation of the United Nations in 1946.
From our founding in the late 1940s through the 1950s CUUNA’s main focus was to operate as a forum facilitating discussion between members of the University of Cambridge who believed in international cooperation and to promote international understanding among students. As Ian Savidge, CUUNA Member from 1959-1962 recollects; “International understanding was still an issue in Europe at the time, as my parents' generation still had strong feelings arising from World War II. I guess we were doing our bit...”.
In the early days of CUUNA, the society was based at Round Church Street 3 in Cambridge close to the Cambridge Union Society building. Interestingly, even though CUUNA had its own buildings, in the 1940s and 1950s, informal meeting spaces were preferred as it was thought that a less formal setting would lead to more participation from a greater variety of people at the university. In the early days of CUUNA many nights were spent in crammed student rooms discussing international politics into the early hours- a tradition we proudly continue to this day! Regulars at these events in the 50s and 60s included, among others, such notable personalities as Sir Herscht Lauterpacht, at the time a former Judge of the International Court of Justice and member of the UN International Law Commission, and Joan Robinson, at the time an established economist who contributed greatly to the furtherance of Keynesian economic theory.
A central pillar of CUUNA has always been working towards promoting the values underpinning the United Nations. From the late 1950s and onwards CUUNA was involved in raising awarennss and protesting against injustices all around the world including organising protests and boycots against the Apartheid in South Africa, engaging in direct correspondence with Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, expressing the society’s concerns on the Vietnam War, and taking part in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rallies in the 1960s drawing out thousands of students.
By the mid 1960s CUUNA was expanding at such a rate that new offices were needed, and we relocated to 15 Bridge St in the centre of Cambridge, where the society occupied the top floor from where CUUNA’s weekly journal on international affairs, Focus, was written and published.
On the social side CUUNA organised public screenings of previously banned films including ‘October’ and ‘The War Game’, and the CUUNA Annual Valentine Ball in February hosted varied acts such as folk singers Ewan Mcall and Peggy Seger and the rock group Pink Floyd.
Pictured above: A cold day on the Cam in front of Trinity Hall
Pictured above: Student protests in the 1950s
Pictured above: A drawing of the CUUNA headquarters on 15 Bridge Street by Nigel Bradshaw. First published on the 25th of November 1967 in "Focus".
By the end of the 1960s, CUUNA had developed into the largest United Nations Association Branch in the world and the largest political club in the United Kingdom with 2700 members, but the membership size of CUUNA almost became its downfall. In the early 1970s, there was a period of time in which there was no Student Union at the University of Cambridge which in turn brought a very large passive membership base to CUUNA. Though initially thought of as a major success, as Roger Bivand, President of CUUNA from 1971-1972 recollects; “The proportion of actives to passives deteriorated, with the energy of the actives absorbed by distributing thousands of weekly newsletters by hand to the colleges to members. In about 1970/71, we realised that if the passives were interested, they would complain if the newsletters stopped - they didn't...“
Through the 1970s and 1980s, many CUUNA alumni launched successful careers at the United Nations through the UNA IS Junior Professional Officer programs, and through the United Nations Development Program CUUNA members volunteered all around the world.
Founded in 1994, our Model United Nations conference, the Cambridge University International Model United Nations or CUIMUN for short, is the oldest university-level Model United Nations conference in Europe, bringing together 300 university students in Cambridge every year, but Model United Nations-like activities at CUUNA can actually be traced back to the mid-1950s, and by the 1960s CUUNA had established a dedicated Model General Assembly Officer position making CUUNA one of the longest-running MUN societies in the world. To this day CUUNA organises MUN-style debates every Monday night of term at 7 pm, and the Model General Assembly Officer position has now evolved into our Debates & Conferences Officer position.
Towards the end of the last millennium, CUUNA's activities became progressively more focused on Model United Nations conferences, and by 1998 most of CUUNA's non-MUN related activities ceased and the running of our MUN Conference, CUIMUN, was passed on to the Cambridge University Model United Nations Society (CUMUN).
In 2006, CUUNA was refounded by Kai Yuen Wong, a graduate medical student at the time, and CUUNA has been in continuous operation ever since. Upon its refounding CUUNA began expanding into new territories including establishing connections at the World Federation of United Nations Associations, organising study trips, and becoming an official member of the UNA-UK. As it proved difficult to sustain two united nations socieites in Cambridge, within a couple of years of its refounding, CUUNA merged with CUMUN taking back control of CUIMUN.
Looking to the future, in 2021 CUUNA is set to achieve a number of milestones. Not only does the society celebrate its 75th anniversary, but our flagship university-level Model United Nations conference, CUIMUN, will celebrate its 27th anniversary and our High School conference will celebrate its 5th anniversary.
This year CUUNA is particularly excited to further expand our External Relations Department which will serve as the base of operations for a number of exciting new external projects including lobbying work, policy drafting, and collaboration with International Relations Societies of other Universities from all around the world.
Today CUUNA is a modern, progressive student society but we have not lost touch with our founding principles. CUUNA will continue to promote the values of the United Nations as well as serve as an inspirational hub for all students at the University of Cambridge who are interested in international affairs.
We look forward to meeting you!
Honorary membership of the Cambridge University United Nations Association is awarded under two categories. First, Honorary Membership is awarded to alumni of the University of Cambridge whose careers have had a significant impact on the progress of the United Nations and/or the values that it promotes. Secondly, Honorary Membership is awarded to individuals whose careers have had a significant impact on the progress of the United Nations and/or the values that it promotes and who have engaged extensively and enthusiastically with the Cambridge University United Nations Association.
His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations, 2007-2016
"For the UN to fulfill its mandate for the next 75 years and beyond it needs strong youth partners and globally engaged students like you to lead it dynamically forward. Your ongoing global engagement as students with topics such as the global refugee crisis, the sustainable development goals, public health, and modern-day slavery is very important to the United Nations. Indeed, you are the global leaders not only of tomorrow but of today as well. The world needs bright global citizens like you to lead humanity and our planet forward. No pressure."
- Ban Ki-Moon, Speaking at Cambridge University International Model United Nations-HS, 2020