When visitors cross the threshold of "The 1968 Exhibit"
now on view at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, they
return to a year that helped shape the modern era with a singular
Marred by the murders of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen.
Robert F. Kennedy, 1968 also saw state and national military forces
deployed in the jungles of Vietnam and on the streets of several major
As cities burned and American casualties in the war continued to
rise, singers, songwriters and musicians of all political and cultural
persuasions were turning out tunes that have since become a part of the
great American songbook.
John Vanek, a graduate student in the University of Delaware's Department of History,
has made it possible for visitors to the exhibit to sample some of
those sounds and view the artistic designs that accompanied them in the
form of album covers and posters.
"I was a contributor to the exhibit's Music Lounge," Vanek said. "I
was involved in acquiring the LPs and writing the interactive music quiz
— The Music Trip — that visitors can take."
Notable albums for 1968 include Waiting for the Sun by the Doors, Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles (White Album), Love Child by Diana Ross and the Supremes, Lady Soul by Aretha Franklin, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, by Iron Butterfly and Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison.
The Music Trip Lounge reverberates with the spirit of those days,
sporting rock-star memorabilia including original concert tickets,
posters and autographs, while giving visitors a chance to design and
share their own album cover creations.
A native of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Vanek's involvement with
the exhibit began after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with
a bachelor of science degree in history in 2008.
"A former college roommate connected me to Brian Horrigan, curator at the Minnesota Historical Society,"
Vanek said. "They were just starting their research for a potential
exhibit aimed at the baby boomers and 1968, the year that that
generation came of age."
Hired as a special research assistant and developer for the musical
aspects of the exhibit, Vanek also contributed a chapter on the music of
1968 to The 1968 Project: A Nation Coming of Age, by the Minnesota Historical Society staff.
Compiled by Elizabeth Ault and published by the Minnesota Historical
Society Press, the companion book to the exhibit features an
introduction by Horrigan and an epilogue by author and journalist Brad
"I was amazed at the sheer volume of American and world-changing
events in everything from pop and consumer culture to the fight against
poverty and the rise of the feminist movement," Vanek said. "There was
also an international consciousness, made possible by ever-expanding
mass media, with people being especially aware of things like the
Beatles going to India, Walter Cronkite reporting on the Vietnam War and
the live radio broadcast of Bobby Kennedy's assassination at the hands
of a Palestinian immigrant."
Now considered cinema classics, films in 1968 ranged from 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Graduate and Planet of the Apes to Rosemary's Baby and Funny Girl.