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Speaker: Robin D. G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA, author of Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times and Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination.            

“Spirit of ’68: Remembering the University in Revolutionary Times”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


Council Chambers, Gilmour Hall

Abstract: In light of the 50th anniversary of 1968 (on the very day commemorating 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination), I revisit the campus insurgencies of that period and suggest that the neoliberal university is partly a consequence of their defeat—not just in the U.S. but around the world.  When the Cold War liberal state dramatically expanded land grant universities in the 1950s and 60s, it did not anticipate mass resistance. Students and some faculty rejected the close ties between the emerging national security state and the university and the most radical movements to democratize America actually began on campuses by exposing the university’s liberal conceits and its role in the expansion of U.S. imperialism.  Genuine struggles to transform both the university and society, as well as the university’s relationship to society, ultimately failed or were captured, resulting in greater diversity of bodies and curriculum while consolidating state and corporate power over the university.  At the moment when anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-poverty, feminist, gay, nationalist, and Marxist insurgencies erupted on university campuses half a century ago, the Fordist/Keynesian welfare/warfare state had already begun to collapse.  I then make a plea to try and recover the “spirit” of ’68, the specter of (an unfinished) revolution haunting the current order.  There is much we can draw from this moment if we are to remake the university and the world.

Biography: Robin Davis Gibran Kelley (born March 14, 1962) is the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History at UCLA. From 2006 to 2011, he was Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California (USC), and from 2003 to 2006 he was the William B. Ransford Professor of Cultural and Historical Studies at Columbia University. From 1994 to 2003, he was a professor of history and Africana Studies at New York University (NYU) as well the chairman of NYU’s history department from 2002 to 2003. Robin Kelley has also served as a Hess Scholar-in-Residence at Brooklyn College. In the summer of 2000, Dr. Kelley was honored as a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, where he taught and mentored a class of sophomores, as well as wrote the majority of the book Freedom Dreams. During the academic year 2009–10, Kelley held the Harmsworth Chair of American History at Oxford University, the first African-American historian to do so since the chair was established in 1922. He was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014. Kelley has published several books focusing upon African-American history and culture as well as race relations, including Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, and the Black Working Class, and Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America. Kelley is also a prolific essayist, having published dozens of articles in scholarly journals, anthologies, and in the popular press, including the Village Voice, Boston Review, and the New York Times. His book Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009), received several honors, including Best Book on Jazz from the Jazz Journalists Association and the Ambassador Award for Book of Special Distinction from the English-Speaking Union. It also received the PEN Open Book Award. The family of Thelonious Monk, notably his son T. S. Monk, granted Kelley access to rare historical documents for his biography. No other scholar has ever had such access and support from the Monk family. Kelley’s most recent book, Africa Speaks, America Answers: Modern Jazz in Revolutionary Times (2012), explores the relationship between jazz and Africa in the era of decolonization and Civil Rights. He is currently completing A World to Gain: A History of African Americans, with Earl Lewis and Tera Hunter and a biography of journalist and adventurer Grace Halsell.

The Resisting University in a Time of Tyranny Speaker Series is sponsored by the Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest.

The talk is co-sponsored by The Socrates Project, Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and the Office of the Dean of Humanities.

The Resisting University in a Time of Tyranny Speaker Series is made possible by an endowment from the Office of the Vice-President, Research.

For more information, please contact the Assistant to McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest, Maya Sabados at