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Scholars gather to discuss counterculture, Summer of Love

Northwestern hosts conference in San Francisco for 50th anniversary of ‘be-in’

Fantasy Fair, Mill Valley, 1967. Photo by Elaine Mayes. Courtesy of the artist. To be featured in On the Road to the Summer of Love on view at the California Historical Society beginning May 12, 2017
A group of people dancing
Group Dancing at Trips Festival, 1966. Photo by Gene Anthony; Collection of the California Historical Society. To be featured in On the Road to the Summer of Love on view at the California Historical Society beginning May 12, 2017.
A tall flag in a large crowd of people
Crowd with Flag at Be-In, 1967. Photo by Gene Anthony; Collection of the California Historical Society. To be featured in On the Road to the Summer of Love on view at the California Historical Society beginning May 12, 2017.
A crowd of people marching
Barbara Dane, Vietnam Protest, 1964. Photo by Erik Weber. To be featured in On the Road to the Summer of Love on view at the California Historical Society beginning May 12, 2017.

EVANSTON - Northwestern University scholars will be among a great many revelers flocking to San Francisco this summer to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

Three prominent Northwestern scholars will be among several dozen historians and journalism, arts and gender studies experts from around the country to offer lectures and discussion on a wide range of topics, from the Beats to hippies, the Black Panthers, the media, music and more. They will also delve into the lessons contemporary society might take from the 1960s.

The full conference schedule is available.

The summer of 1967 in San Francisco was about much more than sex drugs and rock-n-roll. Amid a sea of bellbottoms, the sounds the Grateful Dead and the lure of psychedelics, 100,000 young people, in concert with the antiwar movement, feminism, civil rights, gay rights and environmental movements, helped change the face of American society.

Five decades later, San Francisco is celebrating the counterculture and reexamining events that led up to and resulted from the original “Human Be-In’s” and the Summer of Love.

Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement, with the California Historical Society, is hosting an interdisciplinary academic conference July 27 through 29. Revisiting the Summer of Love, Rethinking the Counterculture: A Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love will be held in the University’s newest education space at 44 Montgomery St., just a few miles northeast of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where so much of that era’s celebrated history unfolded. 

The conference will explore the expansive social and political implications of the counterculture movement for the U.S. in the 1960s and today.

“Northwestern could not pass up the opportunity to assemble some of the best scholars to review and revisit this important period in our history,” said Dan Lewis, director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “The fact that the University is becoming part of the San Francisco community with our new campus makes this collaboration with the historical society and our participating scholars all the more meaningful.”

  • Stephen Eisenman, professor of art history at Northwestern, will give a keynote address, “Advice to Hippies of All Ages: Tune In and Turn On Early,” at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 29.  

“It’s time to look back at the counterculture and see what we can learn from it,” Eisenman said. “The environmental crisis we face was first intuited in the 1960s. The war in Afghanistan is now twice as long as Vietnam. And comparisons of our current president with Nixon — who resigned before his impeachment — are common. Sometimes I feel like I am reliving my youth.”

Eisenman also will give a lecture on the impact of William Blake on the art, poetry and rock music of the 1950s and 1960s. The 19th-century British poet and artist is the subject of an exhibit, “William Blake and the Age of Aquarius,” which opens at Northwestern’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum on the Evanston campus in September.

Though he died in 1827, Blake was a model of nonconformity for a host of counterculture icons from Allen Ginsberg to Clyfford Still and Jimi Hendrix, said Eisenman, who curated the exhibit.

“The reason I made the exhibition is to help people understand that art and activism from the past can be a powerful basis for creativity and action in the present. That’s what the example of Blake and the counterculture shows,” said Eisenman.

  • Abe Peck, professor emeritus-in-service at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications will moderate and participate in a panel discussionfrom 2:15 p.m. to 3:45 p.m., Saturday, July 29.

Peck will participate in the panel discussion “The Media and the Summer of Love: from Street to Straight,” about how various media covered the rise and fall of the Haight-Ashbury.

Peck will explore how The San Francisco Oracle expressed the “ecstatic, psychedelic vision that permeated the Haight,” as well as a how a surge of underground papers that provided a counter voice to establishment culture and politics. He and three experts also will highlight how “street media,” such as photography and manifestos and daily underground newspapers all sought to define the Haight community.

  • Michael Kramer, visiting assistant professor of history at Northwestern and author of “The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture,” will give speak between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday, July 27.

In his talk titled “Hot Fun in the Summertime: Microcosmic and Macrocosmic Views on the Summer of Love,” Kramer will move beyond clichés about the 1960s to contextualize the Summer of Love in a longer span of time. He will then zoom in again for a closer look at the “scene makers” who mingled commercial and political engagements in an uneasy alliance to develop a lasting social structure for “living in the now.”

“From a greater historical distance, we begin to glimpse how the Summer of Love was less one, unique moment in historical time than a kind of recurring season within modern culture,” Kramer said.

The major theme of the conference will be community — how the collective understanding of community was renewed, explored, interrogated and reimagined in a multiplicity of ways during the Summer of Love.  

“Our goal is to build a public cultural square that can both increase the visibility of the city as a cultural destination and increase the capacity of local institutions to carry out serious cultural analysis,” Lewis said. 

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