Remembering 1969: Historians and the Living Past

AHA Session 238
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Barbara Ransby, University of Illinois at Chicago
William Adams, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
John A. D'Emilio, University of Illinois at Chicago
Sara M. Evans, University of Minnesota
Todd Gitlin, Columbia University
Judy Richardson, filmmaker, educator, SNCC Legacy Project

Session Abstract

This panel reflects on the fiftieth anniversary of 1969, the moment that -- in the minds of many historians -- the “good sixties” morphed into the “bad sixties.” Most symbolic of this shift were events in popular culture: for example, the spirit of love and fellowship reflected in the concert at Woodstock, New York that gave way to the violence of the Rolling Stones’ free concert at the Altamont raceway in California. Simultaneously, the anti-war movement seemed to have shifted into a more violent register, marginalizing global activists who believed in peaceful protest and foregrounding peaceful protest.

But is this a proper reading of 1969, a year that also saw -- among other social movements -- the flowering of new LGBT and feminist activisms, and strategic planning for the United Farm Workers for a strike that would bring the exploitation of Latinx farm workers to national prominence? What do we need to know about what preceded and followed “1969” in order, not just to rethink it as a turning point, but to re-examine how the paradigm of a “bad sixties” came to be?

Panelists are drawn from a subset of scholars who both participated in social movements and wrote about them. Their task is to reflect on this positionality, as people who both lived through this convulsive and generative moment, and also took on the responsibility of writing about and interpreting it, sometimes with little time to reflect on the events they witnessed and researched. Questions panelists will reflect on include: what does it mean to “know” a history differently, or similarly, from experience and through the the archive? What role do memory, and personal movement networks, play in helping to evoke a “true” past -- and in what ways might the critical distance of the archive support another kind of truth? Can the evidence of experience obscure the meaning of evidence -- and when can experience urge the activist historian forward in promoting historical narratives that are unpopular, revisionist, or as yet undiscovered? Were the seeds of our current political divisions planted a half century ago, as the social movements of the 1960s went into a second, more turbulent phase that sought to transform society?

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