“1968” is turning fifty: In 2018, our attention will be drawn once more to the political, cultural, and social events that are often subsumed under the label “1968”, which today is often used as a chiffre rather than as a precise historical date. Until very recently, narratives and reconstructions of “1968” have been confined to a remarkably narrow national scope. As the personal estates of its main protagonists are gradually being made available to the public, the systematic evaluation of their printed materials, sound recordings, manuscripts, and letters enables a change of perspective. They broaden our gaze from its limited focus on specific authors, nations, and canons and instead allow us to consider “1968” in terms of location and circulation, concepts and ideas, networks and conflicts. The German Literature Archive currently makes available for research approximately 100 estates by various authors acquired before and after their deaths as well as the archives of publishing houses and editorial offices relevant to “1968”. Closer investigation reveals that even collections that initially appear to be of interest on a strictly national level possess multiple international connections. The “1968” archive material not only leads to Paris and Berkeley; it reaches the American East Coast and Midwest, Latin America, and the Caribbean. “1968” material found in partner archives in the US, Israel, France, and Latin America further strengthens the idea of global interconnectivity. Only when reading these documents in connection with one another can we fully understand and appreciate the conflicting ideas at work in them.


At the centre of this project are the international intellectual conflicts which lie behind the events of “1968” and which transcend national and regional borders: Freedom, social justice, political participation, authenticity, sovereignty, and autonomy are some of the key terms to consider when reconstructing global conflicts of ideas. They will help in charting a landscape of political ideas – considering the centres of “1968” as well as its periphery – that still resonate with us today. A deliberate emphasis is placed on the intellectual and conceptual assumptions and consequences inscribed into the literary and artistic works of the time. Instead of recapitulating well-documented political events, this project will focus on the history of ideas behind them, as well as the effects of these ideas and the extent to which they still continue. The German Literature Archive has assigned two researchers – an academic coordinator and a librarian – to work specifically on this project; they will spend one year conducting their research in the archive in Marbach, collaborating both with visiting scholars and with researchers working on cooperating projects. Beginning in 2018 the researchers will visit archives around the world according to the regional focus of their respective modules in order to trace the exchange of ideas using archive material on a global scale. “1968: Conflicts of Ideas in Global Archives” is sponsored for a period of three years by the VolkswagenStiftung's programme “Off the beaten track”. A series of international conferences, workshops, and talks will be held to present the research findings to an academic audience as well as the wider public. Announcements, progress updates, and results of all research activities will be published on the project homepage.

Module 1: North America

The United States has always played a significant role in the events that are today subsumed under the chiffre of “1968”; the USA dominated the global imagery and the collective political imagination of the 1960s in many ways: The campaigns against the Vietnam war, the ambivalent attitudes towards American consumerism, the immense interest in the protests in Berkeley or New York, and finally the high profile intellectual and political exchanges across American borders, all transpired to mark “1968” as a genuinely transatlantic event. Its paths and traces even lead to Latin America and Israel.


Events in Frankfurt am Main and Berlin, too, were closely followed from across the Atlantic. The ideas of Western Marxism and the Frankfurt School encouraged students and scholars to come to Germany to study. They created a market for the translation of canonical texts and helped to establish relationships between German and American theoretical journals. The continuing influence of exiled authors such as Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who had lived in the United States for a number of years before returning to Germany, as well as of those who chose to live abroad permanently (for example Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Leo Löwenthal, George L. Mosse, and Reinhard Bendix), further added to a climate of heightened mutual attention between Germany and the United States.


Yet, the image of “1968” created during those years is incomplete and shaped by different expectations in the two countries. While the American interest in Germany was almost entirely fixated on the Left Hegelian faction of the country’s political forces, the Germans failed to recognize that the theoretical and philosophical backdrop in the United States was at times significantly different from that in their own country. Furthermore, they overlooked the political and geographical differences that existed within the New Left in America. Since public commemoration focused strongly on the events that took place in Berkeley, the roles other American cities played were easily overlooked; the impact that universities in New York (Columbia University, New School), Chicago (University of Chicago, Northwestern University), Madison (University of Wisconsin) and, Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina) had within the student movement and how they had been influenced by their specific intellectual structures received little attention. The fact that existing traditions had profoundly shaped the respective student movements in Germany and America, and that these movements had needed to evoke, hide, or transform vastly different historical experiences, was pushed into the background. Although the global events of “1968” were in fact characterized by a striking asynchronicity, they were nevertheless perceived as occurring simultaneously.


It is exactly this transatlantic asynchronicity that lies at the centre of this research module. It will consider the prominent leftist intellectual leaders of “1968”, as well as conservative views, such as those of Leo Strauss, and mediating voices like Jacob Taubes’s. The module aims to chart the transatlantic intellectual landscape of “1968” in a way that takes respective intellectual traditions into account. Analysing and confronting prominent concepts of the time – theory, practice, aestheticization, politics, revolution, to name a few – will improve our understanding of both the Old and the New World, as well as their interrelation. Research for this project will be based on material held by the German Literature Archive in Marbach, as well as on documents in numerous university archives based in America and Israel.

Module co-ordinator

Dr. Robert Zwarg
DLA Marbach

Network North America

Module 2: Latin America & Caribbean

The global revolts that characterized the late 1960’s were accompanied by a transnationalization of reading which comprised both theoretical and literary works. In Latin America and in the Caribbean writings by Theodor W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Henri Lefebvre were studied, as well as texts by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. These last-mentioned writers highly influenced the development of liberation theology and liberation philosophy. Furthermore, throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Latin American and Caribbean authors came to Europe, particularly to Paris, fleeing military dictatorships in their home countries. In Europe, they became witnesses to the student movements, but they also joined the intellectual circles of their exile countries, and greatly contributed to the literary production in these places. Simultaneously, literary Europe experienced the so called Latin American »boom«. Between 1966 and 1980 numerous novels from Latin American and Caribbean authors were published in German, most of them for the first time (for example works by Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Darcy Ribeiro, Clarice Lispector, Severo Sarduy, and Alejo Carpentier). The poetic prose and reflective poetry of Jorge Luis Borges was also published in German translation for the first time, and Pablo Neruda, who had so far only received literary recognition in East Germany, was now also paid attention to in West Germany.


First of all, this development meant that the history of ideas of »1968« between Europe and the South Atlantic, became closely intertwined with literary history. Thus reflections on sociopolitical occurrences and goals are intimately connected with reflections on artistical and aesthetical production. This reciprocal relationship between politics and art is mirrored as well in the literature of the age as in the (translatlantic) letter exchanges. Secondly, in the South Atlantic, publishing houses (besides intellectuals and authors) took up an important role as agents of cultural exchange and transfer of ideas and as negotiators of cultural conflicts and conflicts of ideas. Furthermore, publishing houses were essentially involved in the construction of »magical realism« as Latin American literary genre. Moreover, publishing houses took up a leading position due to the late separation of the cultural from the political field, which, in Latin America, only started in the years after 1968. Against this background, the archival documents preserved in the DLA (correspondances with authors and intellectuals as well as a large quantity of publishing material), shall be scrutinized. These collections, which are highly relevant to the generation of authors that were part of the so called Latin American »boom«, are prominently featured in the Suhrkamp archive, but can also be found in the archives of Luchterhand, Rowohlt, Piper and Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.


Taking the collections at the DLA as the principal starting point, the project aims at tracing the global axes of these compilations to investigate the corresponding global archives as sort of counter archives to reveal conflicts of ideas. In this research module the cross-sections between sociopolitical reality, political and cultural ideas and transnational literary production will be put into perspective. The main epistemological interest consists in reconstructing the complex literary and idea-historical dynamics that influenced the »1968« generation and helped to establish a Global Intellectual History that vascillated between Europe and the South Atlantic. This Latin American and Caribbean focus further allows for a critical examination of the eurocentric tendencies that often characterize global intellectual history.

Module co-ordinator

Dr. Lydia Schmuck
DLA Marbach

Network Latin America and Caribbean