North­eastern Uni­ver­sity his­tory pro­fessor Tim Brown isn’t inter­ested in studying the actions of statesmen and gov­ern­ments. Instead he takes a bottom-​​up approach, uncov­ering the hidden or neglected his­tory of people who drive pop­ular movements.

His interest began in grad­uate school at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia, where he studied the mass pol­i­tics and move­ments of post-​​World War I Ger­many, when Nazis and Com­mu­nists clashed, both in the streets and at the ballot box. Today, he focuses on 1960s coun­ter­cul­tural move­ments in West Ger­many, when stu­dent demon­stra­tions and mass protests rocked that nation and the world.

I’m not just inter­ested in the stu­dent move­ments,” he said. “I’m inter­ested in the rad­ical actions of everyday life. Cul­ture and pol­i­tics were so deeply inter­twined in 1968 … I want to widen the lens to look at the whole range of activ­i­ties in the arts and pop­ular cul­ture as well.”

Brown, recently pro­moted to asso­ciate pro­fessor of his­tory, joined the North­eastern fac­ulty in 2005. He has written exten­sively on rad­ical polit­ical, social and cul­tural move­ments in twentieth-​​century West Ger­many, pub­lishing many journal arti­cles, book chap­ters and ency­clo­pedia entries, as well as two books.

His forth­coming third book, sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion next year, is a case study of West Germany’s coun­ter­cul­tural move­ments and their con­nec­tions to other rad­ical move­ments around the world during the tumul­tuous 1960s. This was an era of cul­tural glob­al­iza­tion that saw increased mobility of people, goods and ideas, he said. The book, “1968: West Ger­many in the World” will dis­cuss how glob­al­iza­tion and the advances in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, such as tele­vi­sion, helped spur the New Left in Ger­many and many other nations.

I use West Ger­many to think about the way in which ‘1968’ was not just a national event, but a global event,” said Brown. “I’m con­cerned with how that glob­ality con­cretely man­i­fested itself.”
He shows this by ana­lyzing cul­tural forces in West Ger­many — ranging from stu­dent move­ments to rad­ical day­care cen­ters — to show the “active face” of the transna­tional con­nec­tions that helped fuel the global coun­ter­cul­tural move­ment of the 1960s.

His research, for example, high­lights the for­ma­tion of a rad­ical print cul­ture that brought coun­ter­cul­ture books by the likes of Alan Gins­burg and Frank O’Hara to West Ger­many for the first time. The under­ground printing houses also repub­lished works of socialist theory that had been banned by the Nazis.
“They were finding mate­rials that were no longer avail­able and making them avail­able,” Brown said. “They were going out into the world and finding what was inter­esting and bringing it to Germany.”

Brown’s books rep­re­sent a chrono­log­ical and a the­matic pro­gres­sion. The first, “Weimar Rad­i­cals: Nazis and Com­mu­nists between Authen­ticity and Per­for­mance,” which devel­oped out of his PhD thesis, deals with the period between the world wars, an era of mass pol­i­tics and mass parties.

His second book, a co-​​edited volume — “Between the Avant-​​garde and the Everyday: Sub­ver­sive Pol­i­tics in Europe, 1957-​​Present” — is an essay col­lec­tion dealing with the his­tory of sub­cul­tures in Europe from 1957 to the present.

Rad­ical move­ments need to be studied,” said Brown. The six­ties, for example, “dealt with issues that are still unre­solved and often mis­rep­re­sented because of par­tisan pol­i­tics … The impetus towards truth-​​telling, cre­ating their own ini­tia­tives, and not just accepting what was given to them — cre­ating their own life. It’s still important.”