The 1960s

Hippies. Freedom Summer. Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kennedys. Urban riots. Tie dye. Vietnam. MLK Jr. War on Poverty. Space Race. Sound of Music. Woodstock. Beehives. Black Power. LBJ. Student Democratic Society. Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Dr. Strangelove. Bay of Pigs. Cultural Revolution. Goldwater. Wilderness Act. Richard Nixon. Medgar Evers. American Nazi Party. Stonewall. The Pill. LSD. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Mini-skirts.The 1960s in America was a time of change. The nation debated what it would become socially, culturally, politically and economically. In the process, both liberalism and conservatism gained new followers, and the rhetoric these individuals honed during this decade continue to shape the American landscape today.

The Black Freedom Struggle Post-1945

We will approach the Black Freedom Struggle from a different perspective than you have perhaps experienced in the past. Rather than looking at how the classical phase of the Civil Rights Movement (usually dated from 1954-1968) played out in the American South, we will consider how the struggle for equality occurred across the nation, and in particular in the North. Our study will begin with World War II and continue through today.

Now, is there a chance that we can actually cover everything that happened across the nation for the last sixty years? Nope. Not at all. Instead, we will pan over the landscape of the struggle, dipping down periodically to peer more closely at specific case studies or incidents that are illustrative of the evolving nature of the fight for educational, economic, social, political, medicinal and cultural equality. Along the way, we will ask whether recentering our narrative both geographically and chronologically changes our understanding of the past, and we will ask what the new story of the past reveals about the contemporary state of racial (in)equality in America today.

Rethinking the Civil Rights Movement

I have two goals for this semester. The first is that you become a better researcher and writer. Both of these are crucial tools of the historian’s craft, and for most of us, both tools come as a result of practice rather than innate talent. This semester, we will practice … and practice … and practice some more. By the end, I hope you each have an essay you are proud of having created.

This semester is also our chance to explore the boundaries of what the Civil Rights Movement meant. When did it begin? Where did it occur? Who took part in it? Through our class discussions and your research projects, we will push forward through those questions and begin to hone in on the answers. We will become a learning community. To do this, we’ll discuss how to communicate your ideas clearly through both the written and spoken word, and then we’ll learn to engage one another in thoughtful, respectful ways.


Introduction to Public History

This is going to be a full semester during which I hope you will get a better feel for the challenge of interpreting the past for the public and begin to explore ways in which you might fit into this endeavor. We will begin the semester by reading about the theoretical and practical considerations undergirding public history, which will help us to consider: What role does history and the historical profession play in our society? What responsibilities do we bear ethically and professionally as we work to interpret the past? Can we identify central myths and traditions that define (perhaps confine) us as historians? How has interpretation of our history changed over time? How do those changes affect the ways we understand ourselves and our world both as citizens and as historians? Toward the midpoint of the semester, we will turn to the practice of public history, looking at how these debates have played out in museums, archives, historic preservation endeavors, heritage tourism and memorials.

Introduction to Oral History

Most memory theorists have been concerned with communal or public forms of memory, ignoring or even denying the existence of individual memories. Meanwhile, many oral historians have focused on the importance of individual voices to the neglect of communal narratives. In this class, we will explore what we can learn from both these groups by listening to individual voices, hearing how they converse with those in their families and social groups and asking about the social, political and cultural implications in how communities choose to commemorate the past.

Each of the oral histories you conduct will be with members of the clerical staff who have worked here at UMass. Though a few academics have attempted to look at the struggle that university faculty and students have had as they fought for better working conditions, scholars have spent little time considering other forms of labor in the academy. The oral histories you conduct and the final research project you develop will be part of correcting that oversight.