When Charles A. Dana Professor of History and Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies department (P-con) Andy Rotter decided the theme of this spring’s P-con academic conference, 1968 seemed like a no-brainer. The conference, which took place April 18 and 19, commemorated the 40th anniversary of a pivotal year in world and U.S. history. 1968 was the year of the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and numerous other world-shaping events.
Furthermore, as Rotter explained, 1968 epitomized much of what characterized the ’60s as a whole: various social and political movements, many of which are now commonly associated with the anti-war counterculture movement.
“We want people to know about the global ramifications of the year,” Rotter said. “Lots happened in the U.S., but lots happened on a global scale as well.”
The conference, which was open to the public, was set up by the P-con department to foster intellectual exchange. Throughout the two-day conference, history and sociology professors from schools such as Bard College and the University of Wisconsin presented papers on various topics related to 1968 in a series of seven sessions, each with its own theme. Themes ranged from the Vietnam War to the ideology of movements in Chile and China at the time. Professors presented papers on topics such as “The Rise and Fall of an International Counterculture,” presented by Jeremi Suri from the University of Wisconsin, and “American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates in the Civil Rights Era,” presented by Kevin Gaines from the University of Michigan.
The talks ranged from formal presentations of academic history papers, to slightly more informal presentations, often filled with personal anecdotes. One professor told of what it was like to attend Reed College in the ’60s, a school that is still a hotbed for political activism. Another professor recounted stories from his days at Yale and his encounters with the then-president of the University’s Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter, George W. Bush.
Overall, Rotter was pleased with the way the conference turned out.
“People learned a lot from each other, not just in the sessions, but between sessions,” he said. “There were many outside conversations, creating a lively intellectual exchange.”
While Rotter would have liked to see more students attend the conference, he understood the competition it was up against with the nice weather and finals looming. Despite the modest turnout, Rotter considered the conference a success, and is looking forward to planning next year’s P-con conference.