Students at Lovanium Univesity (Kinshasa) commemorating the second anniversary of the massacre of June 4 1969".
Students at Lovanium Univesity (Kinshasa) commemorating the second anniversary of the massacre of June 4 1969 (Image courtesy of Alexandre Luba Ntambo)

As the fiftieth anniversary of 1968 approaches, this international conference reassesses the global causes, themes, forms, and legacies of that tumultuous period.

While existing scholarship continues to largely concentrate on the US and Western Europe, our meeting will focus on Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

International junior and senior scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds will present on topics that range from the economy, decolonization, and higher education, to forms of protest, transnational relations, and the politics of memory.

This conference follows a first meeting held at NYU Shanghai on March 13-15, 2016 (more).

Conference Overview and Research Questions

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.”

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.”

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.