What was life like in the 1960s and 1970s?
March 26, 2009 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find out what life was like in the 1960s and 1970s?

I want to find out more about how life was in the 1960s and in the 1970s with the view of trying to find out more about the culture, politics and daily life that was part of my father's and grandfather's existence. Any advice on where I can find out how life would be like for a young man in his 20s in the 1970s and/or a man in his 30s in the 60s?

If it has an African, and especially East African bent to it that would be perfect, but failing that UK and US based experiences would be close enough. I'm open to anything from picture-books to autobiographies -- anything that would give me a good idea on how it felt to live through those periods.
posted by gadha to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Your best bet, of course, is to talk to someone who was there. Finding an interview subject for your region-specific curiosity might be a challenge, but the advantage of researching recent history is that there are people still living who can tell you about it directly.
posted by EatTheWeek at 5:21 AM on March 26, 2009

When I was a kid - in the late 80s - I was always fascinated paging through TIME and LIFE magazines from those eras. You can probably find them for cheap or free at a tag sale.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:43 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Bar none, my understanding and knowledge of the 60s and 70s was most helped by reading scads of MAD magazine. I'm serious - they made fun of everyone, including themselves, in such a post-modern way that it's almost an anachronism.

(I was born in 1974, and I'm constantly stumping my dad - who lived through the era and considers himself a pretty in-tune dude - about both the politics and pop culture of the era. It's kinda weird to ask a question about, say, Watergate or the Godfather trilogy, and get no additional info back.)
posted by notsnot at 5:49 AM on March 26, 2009

I agree with reading magazines. The ads are very informative. Liquor and smokes everywhere!
posted by jgirl at 5:58 AM on March 26, 2009

Lots of thoughts going through my head. But after deleting many, false start sentences I'd suggest you talk to any late-40's to early-50's man you meet. That matches my brothers. But generally, I think one of the problems you're going to face in this is that your family's, and mine, fall into gaps between major sociological events. I won't say lost generations, but rather broadly category free.

I've read that the Baby-boomer generation extended to around 1963, the year my youngest brother was born. I'm from 1961. My three older brothers, 1959, 57, 55. But most attributes that people associate with Baby-boomers equates to an earlier framework associated with families coming out of the boom years following WW2. Additionally with four brothers, our family dodged the Vietnam War as a result of generational timing.

My father, your grandfather, was probably in maturity around the time of the Korean War. Again, another cultural / generational gap.

If I were to look for reading materials, I would try to find stories or biographies of young families from the periods you defined. I know that my parents were profoundly affected by the social and racial inequality issues of the 1960's but they had the pragmatic problems of raising a family of five children on a music teacher's wages in Texas. It's probably this dissonance that has had the biggest impact on my own world-view and life than anything else.

Otherwise, I could always hook you up with my Dad. It would be good for him to share. Thanks for asking the question.
posted by michswiss at 5:59 AM on March 26, 2009

I find books help me understand the past. I would go to the public library. The librarian will be able to help you find books, fiction or biographies that match the geography and time period you are looking for.

I'm afraid I haven't read anything personally fitting your description to recommend to you.
posted by Gor-ella at 6:08 AM on March 26, 2009

Studs Terkel has many excellent books filled with interviews of people telling of their lives from this time period. It gives a unique understanding of various people's lives and problems so could be a good starting point. Your question is broad and could also be answered by reading any period periodicals or newspapers. Each one gives a different view of culture whether it was MAD magazine, National Lampoon, National Geographic, Time, etc, etc, etc.
posted by JJ86 at 6:33 AM on March 26, 2009

As far as interesting somewhat countercultural books go, Drop City by T.C. Boyle I think has some interesting things to say. And the book Shelter, which is a kind of hippy book on architecture, sort of shows what was floating around in the air.

I think, anyway, because I was born in 1975. But they were interesting to me.
posted by sully75 at 7:10 AM on March 26, 2009

Two books I can recommend of that time period that take place in Africa: Poisonwood Bible; and Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight.

Caveats: They are both told from a white perspective, one with a missionary background, the other colonialist, and they are both stories told by women. "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" is a memoir, and "Poisonwood Bible" is a novel.

"Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight" is set against the Rhodesian revolution in the seventies, and "Poisonwood Bible" takes place during the revolution in the Congo in the sixties.

Although I haven't read it and although it takes place many decades earlier, I think that King Leopold's Ghost, might give a good background understanding of the colonial period in Africa.
posted by marsha56 at 7:14 AM on March 26, 2009

Why don't you just ask people here? It's like sending people to look for a map when everyone around you knows the city like the back of their hands.
posted by watercarrier at 8:46 AM on March 26, 2009

It takes place in S. Africa, but Kaffir Boy is set during late 60's through the 1970's.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:01 AM on March 26, 2009

Gadha, I am a senior on mefi, from the U.S. The 60's and 70's were prime time for me and the best time of my life. I graduated from high school in 1967. If I can answer specific questions for you, please feel free to memail me. I would be happy to share experiences I encountered.
posted by konig at 9:07 AM on March 26, 2009

Fiction can obviously be a good window onto the thinking and minutiae-of-daily-life of the past - two to start with:

Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Kenya): A Grain of Wheat (1967)

Okot P'Bitek (Uganda): Song of Lawino (1966)

Columbia's African Literature on the Internet has links for digging deeper.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:16 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why don't you just watch a crapload of TV from that time period and also any late 80s shows that were based on that time period such Wonder Years.
posted by spicynuts at 10:28 AM on March 26, 2009

The novel Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set during the Biafran war ('67-'70) in Nigeria. It has several strong male characters in that age group.
posted by rabbitsnake at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm 50, lived thru that time period in North Carolina (Near Fort Bragg. During Vietnam, if that interests you.) Feel free to ask.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:42 PM on March 26, 2009

An interesting experiment would be to compare information (news, TV, books) made during that time to what people claim to remember.
posted by gjc at 4:11 PM on March 26, 2009

Best answer: Yes, one of your best bets is to seek out magazine pieces from the 1960s and 1970s. Try New African for pan-African pieces. English-language magazines and newspapers based in the United Kingdom are probably more likely to cover African issues; try the London Review of Books, the Sunday Times Magazine, The Economist, or of course papers like The Times or The Guardian. For example, I found this piece from 1980, "Ironing the lawn in Salisbury, Rhodesia," in The Guardian.

You should definitely look into the Internet Archive's archival film sections, like the Prelinger Archives, which has thousands of short films from 1927 to 1987 available for completely free online viewing or download. You will find things like cheery animated shorts shown to schoolchildren about how to protect oneself from an atomic bomb blast, or "social hygiene" films about how to be a successful flying businessman or a popular schoolgirl, or how to avoid the dangers of homosexual molesters or horrific alienating automated modern technology (ca. 1958), or commercials for cigarettes, denture cream, and coffee.

As for books, Peter Godwin, Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa and When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa. The New York Times has a review of the latter. Interesting memoirs largely on life in southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), one following upon the other.

Alexandra Fuller's Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, mentioned above, is in the same vein.

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem. Anyone interested in American or Californian life in the 1960s and 1970s must read this. She's neither a man nor African, sorry, but it's very compelling reading. If you like it, follow up with her The White Album and Where I Was From.

Similarly, Regards: The Selected Nonfiction of John Gregory Dunne is a very good collection of essays written mostly during the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s by Didion's late husband.
posted by jeeves at 10:26 PM on March 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was born in the late fifties and went through the sixties and early seventies with eyes wide open. I rented and watched, for the first time a few months ago, the movie Alice's Restaurant with Arlo Guthrie. It was definitely a stroll down memory lane, for me. Give it a whirl.
posted by Acacia at 1:10 AM on March 27, 2009

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