Narrative and Counternarrative: (Re) Defining the 1960s on view in NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, Mamdouha Bobst Gallery, January 26-May 16.

Black and white photograph of occupation of university building
Photograph of occupation of university building in support of John Hatchett, 1968. New York University Archives, New York University Archives Photograph Collection

What made Washington Square a crucial convergence point for the cultural innovators, political activists, and student radicals who defined the 1960s? This is one of the key questions explored in the exhibition Narrative and Counternarrative: (Re) Defining the 1960s, presented by New York University Libraries and drawn from its special collections: Fales Library, Tamiment Library, and the University Archives.

The Downtown Collection in Fales Library holds a wealth of papers and archives from downtown New York City artists and arts organizations, including the Judson Memorial Church Archive. Tamiment Library is one of the oldest special collections in the U.S. devoted to the history of left politics and social protest movements. The University Archives document the history of NYU. Together, these unique collections are rich in the stories that shaped America in the 60s.

The exhibition is presented in three sections, documenting how student activism helped shape NYU’s policies, programs, and responsibility to the neighborhood and society; the cataclysm of the downtown arts scene through boundary-breaking cultural activities at Judson Church; and artifacts that shed light on the sensibility of the era, including the struggle to preserve Washington Square Park from Robert Moses’s highway project.

Organized by New York University Archives and curated by Melissa Rachleff, clinical associate professor at NYU Steinhardt, the show includes more than 150 items from the papers and archives of Vito Acconci/Bernadette Mayer, the Fugs, Judson Memorial Church, and others, including Fred McDarrah’s photographs of the first Stonewall anniversary parade.

The displays reveal the powerful influence of student activism through historic events, including the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Vietnam War. Archival photos from campus protests, political flyers, and student newspapers illustrate how student activism helped shape the University’s curriculum to include culturally-relevant areas of study (including black studies and leftist sociocultural theory), open college admission to historically marginalized groups, and pressure University leadership to call for an end to the Vietnam War.

The evolution of Judson Memorial Church—located on Washington Square South—as a preeminent venue for downtown artists is enshrined in documents showcasing boundary-breaking performance art, pioneering dance styles crucial to dance history, and the convergence of art and social activism. The exhibition documents the People’s Flag Show, scheduled to run at the church in 1970 as a response to flag-desecration laws, which resulted in the arrest of three participating artists.

Some of the harder-to-classify artifacts offer insight into the cultural backdrop of Washington Square in the 1960s and include documents from the fight to shut down plans for a highway stretching from Washington Square Park to downtown Manhattan, and a Monopoly-style board game conceived by NYU political science professor Bertell Ollman in 1971 called Class Struggle—an educational game aiming to prepare players for life in capitalist America.

“The individuals and groups in the exhibition demonstrate a commitment to expanding opportunities and definitions—in dance, visual art, the classroom, and beyond. The content shows that organizing was deliberate, and that it changed culture and society,” said curator Melissa Rachleff.

This exhibition is part of Carnegie Hall’s The 60s: The Years That Changed America festival. For more information, visit

Narrative and Counternarrative: (Re) Defining the 1960s on display in the Mamdouha Bobst Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South (at LaGuardia Place) through May 16, 2018. [Subways A,C,E, B,D,M to West 4th Street; 6 line to Astor Place; R train to 8th Street.]. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

About Fales Library and Special Collections
The Fales Library, comprising more than 365,000 volumes, and over 12,000 linear feet of archive and manuscript materials, houses The Fales Collection of British and American Literature, the Downtown Collection, and the Marion Nestle Food Studies Collection. The Fales Collection was given to NYU in 1957 by DeCoursey Fales in memory of his father, Haliburton Fales. It is especially strong in English literature from the middle of the 18th century to the present, documenting developments in the novel. The Downtown Collection documents the downtown New York art, performance, and literary scenes from 1974 to the present and is extremely rich in archival holdings, including extensive film and video objects. The Marion Nestle Food Studies Collection is a vast and rapidly expanding collection of books and manuscripts documenting food and foodways with particular emphasis on New York City. Other strengths of the Fales Library include the Alfred C. Berol Collection of Lewis Carroll, the Robert Frost Library, the Kaplan and Rosenthal Collections of Judaica and Hebraica and the manuscript collections of Elizabeth Robins and Erich Maria Remarque. The Fales Library preserves manuscripts and original editions of books that are rare or important not only because of their texts, but also because of their value as artifacts.

About Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University
 The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University form a unique, internationally-known center for scholarly research on Labor and the Left. Tamiment has one of the finest research collections in the country documenting the history of radical politics: socialism, communism, anarchism, utopian experiments, the cultural left, the New Left, and the struggle for civil rights and civil liberties. It is the repository for the Archives of Irish America, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, the Estela Bravo Archive, and growing LGBT and Asian American labor collections. Tamiment Library also houses the Frederic Ewen Center, which organizes programs and builds research collections around academic freedom, civil liberties, civil rights, and progressive social policies. 

About New York University Archives
The New York University Archives serves as the final repository for the historical records of NYU. Its primary purpose is to document the history of the University and to provide source material for administrators, faculty, students, alumni, and other members of the University community, as well as scholars, authors, and other interested persons who seek to evaluate the impact of the University’s activities on the history of American social, cultural, and intellectual development.

Press Contact

Sarah Binney
Sarah Binney
(212) 998-6829