Did 2008 mark the beginning of a new period of rapid political and social change?

Professors Don St. John, Gary Olson, Anne Dutlinger, and President Chris Thomforde recall lessons learned during the turbulent '60s at the November discussion "1968 and 2008: Historical Turning Points?" Photo by John Kish.

About half of those seated in the UBC room nodded knowingly, as the panel took turns recalling the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy; vivid television images of the Vietnam War; and the gassing of student protestersevents of 1968, a pivotal year of political and social change. For the students who comprised the other half of the audience, those events may have seemed more like ancient history—but it was a history they were eager to understand and apply.

"1968 and 2008: Historical Turning Points?"
art by Anne Dutlinger

"What we remember about history is what shapes us," noted President Thomforde during his introduction for "1968 and 2008: Historical Turning Points?" a November forum, held shortly after the presidential election. For President Thomforde and Professors Anne Dutlinger, Don St. John, and Gary Olson, who came of age in the turbulent '60s, memories of 1968 include life-changing lessons about the power of ideas and images, the limitations of government and other forms of authority, the need to think critically, and the importance of taking personal responsibility for actions.

Featured speaker Ted Morgan, Lehigh professor of political science and author of What Happened in the 1960s and Why It Matters, outlined three phases of the period, beginning with "hope—the belief that the system could be changed by people," followed by a time of great creativity and energy resulting in rapid change, and finally the disillusionment and backlash to a world that seemed out of control by 1968.

"What we remember about history is what shapes us," said President Thomforde.

Lehigh political science professor Ted Morgan discusses 1968, when hope began to fade from the cultural and political movements of the decade.

In many ways, the 2008 election bears similarities to the 1960 election, when a young candidate with a fresh voice (John F. Kennedy) energized a new generation, said Professor Morgan. Will the recent election usher in a new period of hope, followed by true political and social change that yields positive results? Only if people actively participate in the political process by holding their elected officials accountable, suggested Professor Olson: "Power concedes nothing without demands."

The event was co-sponsored by the Moravian departments of religion, political science, and art.