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The Long 60s: Age of Documentary

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Organizer: Daniella Gitlin

Co-Organizer: Daniel Howell

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The 50th anniversary of May ’68 inspired a wide array of readings of the events of that month and the years surrounding it, some of which confirmed Kristin Ross’ critique in May ’68 and its Afterlives of “the memory industry” around the 60s and the reflexive way it subjects the period to “social amnesia and instrumentalization.” In an effort to resist the kind of commemorative approach that Ross warns against, with its pat political narratives and gossamer visions of hippies and mod fashion, and to go beyond the equally familiar, totalizing academic narratives about the period—that it was about decolonization, both internal and external; that it was about the Baby Boom or the Economic Miracle, at least in the West; that it was about the Cold War—in this seminar, we want to move away from retrospective storytelling and look instead to the records and documents of the time. From the beginnings of Prensa Latina in Cuba, to Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronique d’un été (1961), to Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), to The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), to Elena Poniatowska’s La noche de Tlatelolco (1971), the long Sixties we want to recall is the one that saw the rise of the mimeographed underground press, the commercial introduction of the hand-held camera, the vitalization of literary journalism, and the manifestation across the world of an impulse to document and record. How do we situate these observations about a proliferation or renaissance of documentary forms during this period? What are the qualities of this documentary impulse? In our telling of history, do such forms enable us to resist the teleology that we’re inclined to impose with the benefit of hindsight? What is revealed in play-by-play accounts produced on the ground that might be obscured by post-factum narratives? We welcome meditations on chronicles, diaries, letters, juridical documents, periodicals, photographs, sound recordings, film, testimonies, or any other form of documentation of the period.

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