As the fiftieth anniversary of 1968 approaches, we propose an international conference to reassess the global causes, themes, forms, and legacies of that tumultuous period. While existing scholarship continues to largely concentrate on the U.S. and Western Europe, our initiative will focus on Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Topics range from the economy, decolonization, and higher education, to forms of protest, transnational relations, and the politics of memory. Younger professors and graduate students from inside and outside NYU will present their work while established scholars from NYU and elsewhere will comment.

Conference Overview and Research Questions

Over the years, the former French student leader and current member of the EU parliament who rose to prominence during this period has certainly not been shy to share his thoughts on this matter, thereby shaping not only the public narrative but also the politics of memory with regard to the sixties. Flanked by a growing cultural industry dedicated (especially in North America and Western Europe) to capitalize on the perceived spirit of rebellion and freedom of that time, “1968” has been declared a chiffre and historical turning point in public memory, even as the “first global rebellion.” As Cohn-Bendit described it in in 1987: “Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, New York, Berkeley, Rome, Prague, Rio, Mexico City, Warsaw – those were the places of a revolt that stretched all around the globe and captured the hearts and dreams of a whole generation. The year 1968 was, in the true sense of the word, international.”

Emancipating itself from narratives dominated by former activists, their opponents, as well as contemporary eye-witnesses, historical research on “1968” has developed as a tremendously rich field of scholarship over the past two decades. A plethora of studies have successfully transcended the focus on the actual year 1968 in favor of a more comprehensive view of the “long sixties” (stretching from the second half of the 1950s well into the 1970s). The studies widened the scope of investigation from the New Left and university-based protest to other segments of society, examined the dynamic interaction between dissent and the “establishment”, and provided an exhaustive discussion of the impact of grassroots politics on subsequent decades with regard to political, socio-economic and cultural legacies.

Another major part of sixties research has been the attempt to overcome a Western-centric view of the decade and to explore its transnational and global dimension. And although substantial advances have been made in this area in recent years, a truly global perspective that fully integrates Africa, Asia as well as South America in an overarching analytical framework is still lacking. This conference aims to fill that void by bringing together scholars of these areas into conversation with senior sixties scholars.

The meeting thus seeks to balance the local/regional as well as national causes and manifestations of the sixties with the transnational and intellectual linkages (such as transmission of knowledge via media, tourism, student exchanges, migrant/guest workers, etc.) and debate how structural similarities and postwar conjunctural trends potentially triggered similar or different responses.

In short, the conference attempts to inspire a new scholarly reflection on the politics of memory and historiographical narratives of the “long sixties” in preparation of the 50th anniversary of 1968 which is decidedly global and offers in-depth perspectives on previously neglected geographical areas.