Crises of the 1970s
Donna Murch, Rutgers University–New Brunswick
Kim Phillips-Fein, New York University
Robert O. Self, Brown University
Heather Ann Thompson, Temple University
Both within historical scholarship and in the popular imagination, the 1970s have been long been understood as a decade of crisis. From Watergate to the “energy crisis,” the “urban crisis” to the “fiscal crisis,” the rhetoric of the era was suffused with a sense of danger, an awareness of historical change, and warnings of imminent decline. Histories of the period, too, often treat the decade in such heightened terms, in the sense that it seems to mark a turning point in the history of the twentieth century. This roundtable panel will provide a chance for historians of the decade working in a variety of sub-fields to talk about the rapidly developing literature on the 1970s and the various different areas of political, social, intellectual and cultural life that seemed to be in “crisis” at the time. We will consider the meaning of the 1970s in terms of the broader narratives of twentieth-century history: among them the decline of liberalism, the conservative shift, the emergence of neo-liberalism, changes in racial regimes and politics, the transformation of gender roles and sexuality in the late twentieth century, the shift away from an industrial economy, and the question of the evolving role of the state in American life. We’ll also discuss the challenges and pleasures of working on such relatively recent history. At the same time as addressing the state of the literature, we will reflect on the meaning of the framework of crisis for thinking about the decade, the narratives that are opened up and those that are foreclosed by framing the era as one of radical change.