[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #7 in December 2008]
What is the relationship between then and now? This is the basic question of any effort to research, produce, uncover, perform or re-invent history. In this section of 68/08 you will be introduced to people who are attempting to deal with the connection between one moment and another through a variety of tactics: re-enactments, re-readings, historical research, performance, documenting, anniversary celebrations and commemorations. While the last section showed us examples of histories we don’t usually hear about, this section addresses the nature of history as the subject in and of itself.
What motivates these investigations into recent history? Why are Chicago’s residents so concerned with the ’60s? Is it because they want to rehash old debates or live in the past? Or is it some sense of unfinished business?
This section shows us that there are a variety of approaches which can be employed to question the relationship between one moment and another. Contrast Rick Perlstein’s arguments that Republicans just cannot let go of the 60s with Ben Shepard’s What If approach to hypothetical history. Compare the earnest effort to mark and celebrate a passing history in Frank Edward’s report back from the Young Lords 40th Anniversary celebration, with the reflections of a first-year teacher in Chicago Public Schools, Eve Ewing, examining the challenge of responsibly teaching the history of 60s social movements. Looking at the work of BLW alongside Bert Stabler’s Reenact ‘68 and Paige Sarlin’s Letter to the Reenactors, we are introduced to three distinct arguments and approaches to embodying actions and events from the past.
Whatever approach is used, it is clear that people want to connect themselves to history they find meaningful and inspiring. In a culture that treats each passing year with amnesia of lessons learned, it is inspiring to see so many people trying to make sense of our collective past in critical, meaningful and embodied ways.