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1964

November 28, 2006

Lately at this site, most posts have been on education. Although many of the issues discussed have repercussions on the teaching of history, today I want to try and focus on “pure” history.

Some time ago, I wrote here on the virtues of American Heritage magazine. At the time I was thoroughly impressed with its means of presentation as well as content. I cited articles on Deadwood, politics, and cultural history/trivia as evidence of American Heritage‘s superiority. About a month ago I received their October issue, and I’m still quite happy with the publication. In particular, I really enjoyed an article on 1964. Do check it out.

The writer, Joshua Zeitz, argued that although 1968 usually receives a great deal of attention from historians as a representative year for the 1960s, it was 1964 that kicked off the events that would captivate the nation for the decade. Zeitz focused on youth, music, the Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam. What I liked most about his chronological style in the piece was his effort to tackle why things went as they did. He was at his best with the detailed story of Andy Goodman (one of the three murdered in Mississippi on June 21), especially with regard to his parents’ feelings and reactions. But Zeitz didn’t merely argue that the events of 1964 kicked off the prominent topics of the decade, he also showed “tumult and change” were ratcheted up that year as well.

While I still think that 1968 best embodies the issues and turmoil of the 1960s, Zeitz did an excellent job of forcing me to think about why – and of placing 1964 in second place. As a teaser, I think 1968 is more representative because of:

– the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.;
– the growth and strength of the anti-war movement;
– the growth of the black power movement; and
– the presence and growth of the counterculture.

Perhaps it’s foolish to think in terms of “superior years” – or as Zeitz says, “the prism of a single year” – but historian educators have to make practical choices in the classroom. For sake of efficiency, I’d focus on 68 while making mention of 64’s relevance.

Comments are welcome. – TL

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