On April 21, Dr. Michael Doyle gave his sabbatical lecture “Free Radicals: How the Sixties Counterculture Transformed American Culture and Vice Versa.” He displayed the fruits of his labor in a manner typical of historians by bringing in a cartload of books read during his research. Dr. Doyle used the books as examples of the wide range of topics that counterculture encompasses. The presentation involved everything from the stereotypical sex, drugs, and rock and roll to unexpected countercultural connections to physics, technology, and environmentalism.
The first section of Dr. Doyle’s presentation attempted to untangle the definition of counterculture. Defining terms is an important step of research and this lecture gave a unique glimpse into the headaches associated with that. An important part of the lecture was a literature review because it displayed the different topics and definitions of counterculture. Dr. Doyle explained that the process of describing the Sixties Counterculture is made difficult by its very nature. Many groups fall under the label of counterculture and those groups had conflicting purposes, so establishing a single definition is a daunting task. Dr. Doyle’s presentation provided a useful illustration of the process and problems of historical research.
The truly fascinating learning experience came in the second part of Dr. Doyle’s sabbatical lecture when he argued that many aspects of the Sixties Counterculture have become part of mainstream American culture. By exploring how countercultural ideas became everyday experiences, Dr. Doyle also debunked many myths associated with it. The hippie stereotype was pushed aside as were misconceptions of countercultural groups as anti-technology or anti-intellectual. As he narrated connections between the Counterculture and the advent of personal computers, he demonstrated that the radical thinkers of the 1960s were not against computing technology, but opposed the fact that it was exclusively in the hands of the establishment. As I type this on my PC, the egalitarian idea that everyone should have access to computers has largely become reality.
Dr. Doyle’s lecture handily demonstrated the continuing relevance of discussing the Sixties Counterculture. The sprawling literature he referred to in the presentation shows that the topic continues to be a fascination for authors. More importantly, Dr. Doyle explored the cultural legacies of the Counterculture, arguing that dismissing these people as kooks or hippies misses their influence on American life today.