Professor Emeritus of History to Hold Local Book Talk

By Tom McLaughlin

As Howard Gillette recalls, he and his fellow members of the Yale College class of 1964 – the first class to matriculate in the 1960s – were poised to take up the positions of leadership that typically followed an Ivy League education. However, these classmates would be challenged by the social, political, and cultural issues that defined the era, their lives taking a number of unexpected turns.

classdivideThe professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University–Camden examines how the Yale Class of ’64 embraced new and often conflicting ideas – and ultimately splintered – in his new, engaging book, Class Divide, Yale ’64 and the Conflicted Legacy of the Sixties.

Gillette will talk about his book at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 6, at Barnes and Noble bookstore, located at 200 West Route 70 in Marlton. Following the free, public talk, copies of Gillette’s book will be available to purchase and for him to sign.

“The book is essentially an evaluation of the lasting impact of the 1960s – broadly conceived – on an educated elite,” says Gillette, a Haddonfield resident.

In Class Divide, Gillette draws on more than 100 interviews with representative members of the Yale class of ’64 in order to explore how they were challenged by the major issues of the day – civil rights, the power of the state at home and abroad, sexual mores, personal liberty, religious faith, and social responsibility.

Among those whose life courses Gillette follows from their formative years in college through the years after graduation are politicians Joe Lieberman and John Ashcroft, Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt, environmental leader Gus Speth, and civil-rights activist Stephen Bingham.

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Howard Gillette

Gillette is quick to note that the book doesn’t claim Yale was a microcosm or a crucible for what happened in the years following graduation. Rather, it describes the splintering of a group primed for leadership, one that left this class divided in ways that reflect the greater cultural divide in the nation.

“The 60’s was both a challenge to the status quo – in the effort to secure rights denied for generations – and the source of its own counterrevolution,” he says. “This incomplete realization of the ideas associated with the first part of the era remains a challenge to future generations.”

Gillette adds that the book is formed, though not limited, by his personal experiences at Yale. Hailing from a “sheltered background,” he recalls being sidelined with a broken leg suffered during freshman soccer practice. He then left sports behind to join the Yale Daily News, the oldest college daily dating back to 1878, where he was introduced to the major issues of the day, most notably the civil-rights activism and the repercussions of the Cold War.

“I would continue to write about these and other related aspects of the ’60s as they affected these 1,000 men in the years after Yale,” says Gillette, who notes that he served as the Yale Daily News’ managing editor his senior year, when Joe Lieberman was chair.

Throughout his successful, academic career, Gillette has specialized in modern United States history, with a special interest in urban and regional development. He currently serves as co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, an online civic initiative of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) at Rutgers–Camden. His 2005 book, Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City (University of Pennsylvania Press), received best book awards from the Urban History Association and the New Jersey Historical Commission. Gillette earned both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from Yale University in American Studies.

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