“The Sixties will probably be spirited, articulate, inventive, incoherent, turbulent, with energy shooting off wildly in all directions. Above all, there will be a sense of motion, of leadership and of hope.” –Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., 1960
Organised thematically and chronologically, this course examines the history of the 1960s in the United States. Several ideas shape the way we approach this historical topic.
1) The decade of the 1960s was “pivotal”’ for the United States, a decade when some fundamental changes occurred which marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.
2) The idea of the “long sixties” is used, dating from the Civil Rights Movement’s victory with the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education to the end of US military involvement in Vietnam and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon after the Watergate scandal by 1974.
3) The era was not only as an important period for political liberalism and radicalism but also for conservatism.
4) The 1960s cannot be seen simply as a decade of decline, with the early “good” sixties devolving into the late “bad” sixties; this “declension model”’ only fits some developments during the era and misses many others.
5) All of the key conflicts in American history re-emerge in the 1960s—individual vs community, state’s rights vs federal power, ideals of equality vs reality of inequalities by race, class, gender and sexuality, and the US as a peace-seeking vs war-mongering nation—thus making this era one of the most significant in US history.
Overall, the course aims to shed light on why the 1960s were so important in the USA and on the today’s polarised scholarly—and political—debates about the larger meaning and legacy of “the sixties”.