The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America

The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America

The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America

The World the Sixties Made: Politics and Culture in Recent America

Synopsis

How can we make sense of the fact that after decades of right-wing political mobilizing the major social changes wrought by the Sixties are more than ever part of American life? The World the Sixties Made, the first academic collection to treat the last quarter of the twentieth century as a distinct period of U. S. history, rebuts popular accounts that emphasize a conservative ascendancy. The essays in this volume survey a vast historical terrain to tease out the meaning of the not-so-long ago. They trace the ways in which recent U. S. culture and politics continue to be shaped by the legacy of the New Left's social movements, from feminism to gay liberation to black power. Together these essays demonstrate that the America that emerged in the 1970s was a nation profoundly, even radically democratized. Author note: Van Gosse is Assistant Professor of History at Franklin and Marshall College; he is the author of Where the Boys Are: Cuba, Cold War America and the Making of a New Left. Richard Moser is a National Field Representative of the American Association of University Professors and the author of The New Winter Soldiers: GI and Veteran Dissent During the Vietnam Era.

Excerpt

Anyone who teaches the history of the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century knows the available historiography is thin indeed. These decades have seen constant change and contestation in all areas of historical inquiry, covering the gamut of diplomatic, political, social, cultural, business, women's, labor, and intellectual history. During the 1990s it became common to speak of dizzying technological and cultural revolutions that had occurred since one was a child. Yet the teacher of the nearly three decades since the falls of Richard Nixon in August 1974 and Saigon nine months later—as close to a historical break as one can find—must rely upon books by journalists, political scientists, and sociologists. When it comes to historical scholarship, there are few studies that treat the 1970s or 1980s, let alone the Clinton era.

Why is there little serious history yet written about a generation of vast demographic, economic, and cultural shifts, including the greatest surge in immigration in a century, the transition to a postindustrial economy, and the eclipse of the normative patriarchal family? One explanation can be found in Richard Moser's introduction to this book, which examines the apocalyptic tendency written into U.S. culture; he and I characterize this type of history as declensionist, following Perry Miller's analysis of how the Puritans mythologized their own trajectory. In this scenario, the Sixties failed in their millenarian purpose and now Americans have stepped outside their own history, lost their groove, and forgotten what Todd Gitlin called their “common dreams.” Thus there is no real need for ongoing historical exploration, for the case studies, revisions, new syntheses, and rediscovery of old arguments leading to a dense, overdetermined series of explanations—a historiography.

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