The Digital Sixties: Bridging Generations and Scholarship in Online Archives – Part 1

NEW three-part series! The social movements of the 1960s are increasingly documented in digital collections, providing teachers, students, scholars and everyday people new insights into the tensions, conflicts and transformations of those turbulent times. This three-part series explores archiving projects housed at Midwestern universities and consider their value inside and beyond academia, and their relevance for current racial justice efforts, particularly Black Lives Matter. Each digital collection documents different dimensions of 1960s social movements and cultural transformation and considers their value to both scholarly and popular audiences. The first installment of this series is from the University of Iowa; the next two will feature holdings from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Part 1: Uptight and Laid-back: Iowa City in the 1960s
By: David McCartney, University of Iowa Archivist

While the 1960s encompassed an emerging counter-culture – perhaps its most popular image today – the decade also embodied a wide range of experiences among students on U.S. college and university campuses. Political movements, social activities, ROTC classes, fraternity and sorority life, challenges to academic traditions, the sexual revolution, relaxing of student conduct codes, and more: these are the parts that make up the whole, a complex and remarkable historical period.

For Iowa City, home of the State University of Iowa, as it was known until 1964, highlights of this period are documented in a digital exhibit curated and produced as a collaboration among several units of the University Libraries: the University Archives, the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio (DSPS), and Preservation and Conservation Services. According to the site, the exhibit is “an immersive content discovery tool made possible by collaborators within and beyond the University of Iowa Libraries.” 

Recognizing that the 50-year anniversaries of numerous events, both local and national in scope, were approaching, the author beginning in 2014 had informal discussions with faculty of various disciplines to determine their preferences for research and instruction purposes. Political science, history, journalism, English, military science, and other academic and service areas were contacted. The author also reached out to alumni to seek out their ideas. 

These conversations, along with previous reference experience, helped to guide curation. Popular topics included civil rights, student life, politics and protest, the arts, the second-wave feminist movement, gay rights (the term LGBTQ did not come into popular usage until later), and popular culture. Technical information about creation of the site is included in a colophon linked from the exhibit’s home page. The resulting exhibit, “Uptight and Laid-back: Iowa City in the Sixties,” was released in 2016, featuring content selected from over 40 collections across the University Archives. New content is added as additional resources are identified.

During preparation of the exhibit, DSPS staff were particularly enthusiastic and supportive, as this is in keeping with the Studio’s mission to provide faculty the opportunity to access digital content pertinent to their research and instruction needs. The project also enabled University Archives to work closely with Preservation and Conservation in selecting audiovisual content that was at risk of loss. An important consideration to keep in mind from the outset is allowing the collaborating units adequate lead time and to set realistic schedules for completion, on account of workflow demands of other projects. 

While the title declares “the Sixties,” the site’s timeline bookends as November 1959, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited the campus, and January 1973, following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and what was billed at the time as “the last anti-war demonstration on campus.”

 

Interactive features of the site include a set of layered campus maps spanning 1958 to 1975. Dynamic content includes a 1960 University of Iowa newsreel, a half-hour documentary recounting the 1967 Dow riot at the student union, the inauguration of Howard Bowen as university president in 1964, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren speaking at the dedication of the new law school commons in 1962. 

The site also highlights digitally-reformatted audio recordings of selected poetry readings and literary ‘happenings,’ thanks to the presence of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Featured individuals include Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Margaret Walker Alexander, Jorge Luis Borges, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

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