The Sixties: From Memory to History

The Sixties: From Memory to History

The Sixties: From Memory to History

The Sixties: From Memory to History

Excerpt

Americans cannot seem to let the sixties go gently into the night. While the 1970s disappeared before they even ended and the 1950s succumbed to a nostalgic fog, the 1960s stay hot. We make politicians take a decades-old drug test and scrutinize their position on the Vietnam War-- though few of us are sure what makes for a passing grade in either case. We wonder if black power marked the end of a great man's dream of a color-blind nation or the beginning of a multicultural society. And of less profound importance, but harder to miss, songs and images of the sixties flood the mass media and the marketplace--in homage to that pig in the demographic python, the baby boomers.

To a large extent, memories of the sixties shadow both the public realm and the private lives of tens of millions of Americans. So far, many of the most popular books and movies about the 1960s--Oliver Stone JFK, Todd Gitlin The Sixties, Neil Sheehan A Bright Shining Lie--have been powerful acts of memory wrestling with history in an effort to bring some order to the rush of still vivid experiences. The history of America in the ig6os has admirably resisted becoming just another dryasdust subject of scholarly inquiry. Yet, hard as it is for a generation that still sees itself as "the young people" to admit, the 1960s were a long time ago: it is many more than twenty years ago today that Sgt. Pepper and his friends taught America how to play.

The original essays in this book represent, I believe, some of the most exciting ways in which historians are beginning to paint those times onto the larger canvas of American history. In this collection we, the essayists, ask fundamental questions about how much America changed in the 1960s and why it changed. Our answers center on two related concepts: cultural authority and political legitimacy. The separate chapters analyze the ways in which the great issues of the sixties--the war in Vietnam, race relations, the role of the federal government, youth culture, the status of women, the private enterprise system, the fabric of the good life--are shaped and contested through the changing nature of cultural authority and political legitimacy. We argue (as historians tend to do) that the set of events and problems we call the sixties can be understood only in . . .

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