Youth Awakening: American Teenagers Abroad, 1960–80

Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Campbell Scribner, Ohio Wesleyan University
While scholars recognize the importance of student activism in the Cold War, they usually focus on university students and rarely acknowledge the role that younger children played in challenging consensus politics or advancing a more variegated sense of international civic engagement.  This paper examines the impact of student exchange and people-to-people diplomacy on American teenagers between 1960 and 1980, when civic clubs and foreign exchange organizations first expanded their programs to include large cohorts of high school students.  Its central argument is that while people-to-people programs intended to cultivate solidarity among youth and families in the "free world," their participants (much like contemporaries in the Peace Corps) often found that personal contact eroded binary notions of "free" and "unfree" societies.  By the 1970s, thousands of students chose to write and travel not only to Western Europe but to the Soviet bloc, Africa, Cuba, and other points of political conflict.  In the process, many developed new, critical perspectives on the United States, forcing the revision and even radicalization of otherwise staid people-to-people organizations.  Substantiating this argument is secondary material on student activism and exchange, as well as memoirs, oral histories, and archival sources from current events clubs, the Foreign Policy Association, the Institute for International Education, and the People-to-People program itself.
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