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A historical and global perspective of social justice

By Sara McCrea

Section: Features

November 3, 2017

“When you hear the year 1968, what’s the first thing you think of?” This is one of the first questions that Professor Manijeh Moradian (HIST) wants to ask her students next semester in “HIST 170B: Global 1968: Student and Youth Revolutions.”

The course, taking place on Mondays from 2 to 4:50 p.m., will be focusing on student movements and uprisings in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and Africa around the historical “moment” of 1968.

“It’s not just about the calendar year 1968, it’s about a moment,” Moradian said, “It’s about a historical conjuncture that may begin before or after 1968. It crystallizes in that late 60’s moment where you have a combination of many different struggles, movements and uprisings that are seeking some sort of systemic change.”

Moradian is a postdoctoral Andrew W. Mellon fellow in a seminar called “Forgotten Dreams and Misplaced Revolutions” that focuses on a comparative approach to 20th century revolutions in Latin America, the Middle East and the Caribbean. Moradian described the seminar as a “mini research institute” where faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows gather once a month to discuss readings, debate and listen to guest speakers. As one of two postdoc fellows in the program, Moradian built the course to relate to the theme of the seminar.

The course aims to study how different “uprisings for social justice” related to or differed from each other, Moradian said.

The course will also explore the convergence of different uprisings, including, in the U.S., the Civil Rights movement, the black power movement, the anti-war movement for America’s involvement in Southeast Asia and free speech movements on college campuses.

“Students were led to think about the campus and the university not as a bubble that was separated off, not as an idealized space, but really as another institution that was part of the broader society and of capitalism and, as some students argued, a part of imperialism,” Moradian said.

Though the title of the class includes the word “revolutions,” Moradian said in terms of resistance movements creating new forms of government, most of what happened in 1968 cannot be classified as a revolution. Instead, Moridian said, there was a sense that students could create change and that things could be better than they were. This sense is what marked the year as a revolutionary moment.

“From different quarters of the society, students with very different backgrounds in terms of race and class are bumping up against the status quo, are questioning the authorities in power, are dissatisfied with the life on offer for them,” Moradian said. “They don’t want to simply reproduce the world their parents have known. They want to change it.”

Moradian hopes the class appeals to students with various interests, including history, anthropology, policy and the arts.

If we want to develop “global perspectives on challenging structural oppression and what a global vision of justice might look like, it’s useful to go back and learn about this earlier moment in time when people really did believe not just they could change a policy here or there or elect a different political, but that they really aspired to transform our entire way of life,” Moradian said.

The course will look at the movements of 1968 as a part of a genealogy, exploring how radical feminist and gay liberation movements emerged from other movements of resistance.

“It’s cutting edge,” Moradian said. “The whole idea of Global 1968 and looking at it in that context is new. I’m very excited to be able to offer Brandeis students a chance to look at this new body of scholarship and a way of thinking about this history that hasn’t been done before.”

Moradian also spoke of the connections between the resistance movements of the late 1960’s and the resistance movements of today. She said in our current political moment, many are trying to think beyond the status quo and to think globally.

“There’s no question that the 1960’s left a huge legacy, and that we’re still in many ways living with the legacies left by those movements.”

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