It is almost 40 years to the day when the mud-soaked event at Max Yasgur’s farm gave birth to the Woodstock Nation. Now, three courses being offered by UALR this fall will examine aspects of the 1960s, the tumultuous decade when the Baby Boomers came of age challenging all that was conventional.
“We’re far enough removed from the era to begin to look at it as history,” Dr. James D. Ross, associate professor of history who will teach the “Understanding the United States in the 1960s: Right, Left, and Center.”
“The Sixties, broadly conceived as a period spanning from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s, continue to exhilarate and threaten many,” Ross said. “The changes that occurred what some historians call “long Sixties” are still evident today from national politics and foreign policy to social norms and values to culture and fashion.”
Ross, who earned a Ph.D. from Auburn University and is beginning his third year teaching at UALR, is a specialist in the interaction of race, class, and religion in 20th century United States history.
He said the class will examine a variety of New Left movements – the rise of the hippies, college campus mass protest movements, the rise of movements to empower women, blacks, and gays, and opposition to the war in Vietnam. The class will also study how the movements split from liberal to radical after 1968 and, new research shows, that some say resulted in the rise of the Right in the mid-1970s. “I argue that radical and conservative movements arose at the same time and competed to define what America could be,” he said.
“I argue that radical, liberal, and conservative options are struggling to define America in the 1960s from the very beginning,” he said. “I do not buy the theory that there was a conservative backlash after 1968.”
The semester will examine the era from the post-war economic abundance and the development of the Cold War through civil rights, changes in American culture, identity politics, assassinations and campus revolts through the Nixon years and Watergate.
In another classroom this fall, English Professor R. Paul Yoder and his students will analyze the poetry Bob Dylan, the uncontested poet laureate of the rock and roll era considered the pre-eminent singer-songwriter of his time.
In the class “Bob Dylan: Lyric Poetry,” Yoder, the winner of UALR’s Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching this year, will ask students in the senior-level class to pick a Dylan album and make that student become the expert on that phase of the poet’s work.
“It’s great that Jim Ross is doing his history class at the same semester,” Yoder said. “So many of Dylan’s songs tie into history of the ‘60s. We are planning to team switch classes or team teach as the lyrics and history meet during the semester.”
Dylan re-energized the folk music genre in the early 1960s and married it to rock and roll at mid-decade, then bridged it to country music. A renegade throughout his career, Dylan defined the mood of the generation. Consider his anthem that defined the Generation Gap:
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging.
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.
For the Times,They are A’Changin’
A third class offered at UALR this fall will focus on another critical piece of 1960s history – the Vietnam War.
Dr. Jacek Lubecki, assistant professor of political science at UALR, will teach Military History, a senior-level class.
The course will examine the Vietnam war from 1964 to 1975, and how the conflict that split the nation and cost Lyndon Johnson a second term as president has affected in America’s 21st century wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This military history class will be a practical one asking ‘what are the lessons of Vietnam and how can we apply them to situations in the 21st century such as Iraq and Afghanistan’,” Lubecki said. “Because cultural and political aspects of a country in which counter-insurgencies are waged are all important, a lot of the class will cover Mao Tse Tung’s insurgency theory, Vietnamese culture and society, Iraqi culture and society, and so forth. And we will talk at length about the failures of U.S. military institution to absorb the lessons of counter-insurgency in Iraq until General Petraeus took over in 2006. That was a game-changer.”
Ross, who was born in 1965, said some of his older colleagues in the History Department who are members of a generation that considers themselves Forever Young, were a bit taken aback that the era of their youth is now considered history.
“Some of my older colleagues in the department were flabbergasted that it’s now considered history,” Ross said. “But I think 40 years is long enough for historians who have no memory of the era to start examining it dispassionately.”
It may shock the sensibilities of many a former hippie, yippie, and flower child. But – as Dylan said – “…something is happening here but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?”