1968 was defined by political upheaval from the outset, as building societal and political tensions manifested in protest, rebellion and demonstration. The civil rights and anti-war movements, and the shocking assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, fuelled the fight for change in America. Further afield, anti-Vietnam War protests took place in Paris, Berlin and Rome, and in London almost 10,000 protestors marched from Trafalgar Square to the United States Embassy in Grosvenor Square. At the heart of many 1968 movements were student protestors, rebelling against everything outmoded and authoritarian. The most spectacular manifestation of student protest was events in France in May, as civil unrest transformed into a social revolution which threatened to bring the country to a halt. While Britain did not see demonstrations on the scale experienced by other nations, the rise of mass media during the 1960s, especially television, would ensure Nottingham students were immersed in the events which transformed the world.
Out of the tumult of 1968, the principles of student activism were established. Students remain passionate about issues and causes today, with equal rights remaining a priority. Students' Union President Jessica Lendon is focused on ensuring representation on the issues students care about most, identifying a number of key areas this year, including giving students a voice on campus and stopping sexual assault from being a taboo subject following the #metoo movement. The University is equally committed to creating an environment free from discrimination with the appointment of Professor Sarah Sharples as the first Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
The late 1960s was not just an era of political transition but cultural revolution. Many artists of the age, including Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones, captured the zeitgeist of the year through revolutionary new sounds. One of the biggest releases of the year was The White Album by The Beatles, the most experimental of their albums. At Nottingham, music lovers could embrace the cultural revolution at Portland Building gigs, the heart of the campus social scene.
While a large vinyl player would have been a staple of any music-loving student's bedroom in the 1960s, things look a little different today. Tiny devices, such as Amazon's Echo, have replaced the speakers and soundsystems of previous generations, with access to millions of tracks in online libraries compared to the limited selection on a vinyl, cassette or CD. And for many students, the ability to stream tunes from your phone, laptop or device means it's even easier to listen to your favourite tunes and keep tabs on artists with notifications every time a new song or album is released. And of course, technology has not just transformed how students access music.
The landscape of higher education is rapidly evolving as technology transforms how, where and what we learn. For students at Nottingham in the 1960s, completing their degree would have been dependent on book-based research and handwritten (or typewriter) assignments, while the development of technology and the internet means studying today largely takes place on digital devices, with access to a greater depth and breadth of information than ever before. But while technological developments have undeniably enhanced the student experience, there are new challenges, especially as universities consider how to equip students with the skills they will need to operate in a changing working environment.
While the world around students in 1968 and 2018 may be very different, some things don't change through the generations. Pride in being a University of Nottingham student is as strong today as fifty years ago. While students in the 1960s could display their pride by wearing a University scarf, there is a whole range of merchandise available to students today, from hoodies to backpacks. Giving a nod to previous generations with a vintage feel, products sold by the recently-launched Portland Clothing Company directly support the student experience, with profits generated re-invested into the Students' Union. Undoubtedly, student life will continue to evolve, reflecting the trends and developments of the age. What will life at Nottingham be like in another fifty years?
Words: Faye Haslam (History, 2012), Connect Staff Writer
Nottingham graduate, writer and speaker. Curious creative inspired by film, music, history, knowledge and big ideas. A traveller at heart, always planning the next big adventure.