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Memories of 1968

International Perspectives


Edited By Ingo Cornils and Sarah Waters

The 1968 events were profoundly international in character, transcending any one national context and interacting with other movements across the world. Yet the way these events are remembered is often delimited by the national cultural or political experience and is cut off from its broader international dimension. The purpose of this volume is to examine the ‘memory’ of 1968 across different national settings, looking at the cases of France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Mexico and China. How has 1968 been (re)produced and/or contested within different national cultures and how do these processes reflect national preoccupations with order, political violence, individual freedom, youth culture and self-expression? How has the memory of 1968 been narrated, framed and interpreted in different places and in different disciplines? Is there a collective memory of 1968 and does this memory cross national boundaries? By juxtaposing representations of 1968 from across a range of national cultures and by examining the processes by which 1968 is remembered, this book aims to open up the memory of 1968 to a more diverse international perspective, one that more closely reflects the dynamics of the events themselves. The papers collected in this volume are selected from the proceedings of a conference entitled ‘Memories of 1968: International Perspectives’ that was held at the University of Leeds in 2008.


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Sarah Waters: Introduction: 1968 in Memory and Place 1


Sarah Waters Introduction: 1968 in Memory and Place 1. A contested memory Forty years after the events denoted by the term ‘1968’, the memorialisa- tion of this ‘first global rebellion’1 reached a climax in 2008. All around the world, on television and radio, in the print media, exhibitions, public debates, literature readings and film showings, the experiences of ‘1968’ were dissected, discussed and probed for their continuing relevance or remaining toxicity.2 While it was unclear what this collective production of increasingly nostalgic reflections was supposed to achieve, the debates ignited by the anniversary signalled that ‘1968’ continues to be a currency in public debates across the world. The cause of this surprising longevity is the tension between two forces of memory that are oddly out of synch: historicisation (‘objective’) and memorialisation (‘subjective’).3 On the one hand, there have been widespread efforts, across different national cultures, to historicise ‘1968’, to locate it within a recent past and to assign it a definitive and objective meaning. 1968 is now often seen as 1 Wolfgang Kraushaar, 1968 als Mythos, Chiffre und Zäsur (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition 2000), 19. 2 In the United Kingdom, the BBC turned the 40th anniversary of ‘1968’ into a test case of modern popular remembrance, merging the images and sounds of global events with the experiences of the viewers and listeners on interactive websites. 3 For the French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, whose work has helped to define a field of ‘memory studies’, history and memory were opposing forces:...

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