Call for Papers - The Cold War on Film: Then and Now

Papers sought for September 2014 conference on the role of culture and film in the Cold War

Nov 07, 2013

An international conference on ‘The Cold War on Film: Then and Now’ will be held at the German Historical Institute in Moscow, Russia, on 19-20 September 2014. The conference is supported by Wilson Center in Washington, DC, the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, and the German Historical Institute in Moscow.

A focus on culture has been one of the major innovations in the study of the Cold War over the past decade. This has helped historians and the general public to view the Cold War as a conflict of ideas and images as well as bullets and bombs. Film is thought to have played a particularly important role throughout the Cold War. Scholars now recognise that cinema was a powerful vehicle of entertainment and propaganda, one that, among other things, showed audiences the ‘reality’ of what was for many people a peculiarly abstract conflict. Few courses about the Cold War taught in schools and universities today would be complete without clips from movies like Grigorii Aleksandrov’s Second World War drama Meeting on the Elbe (1949) or Stanley Kubrick’s anti-nuclear farce Dr Strangelove (1963).

Up to now, most work on the relationship between the Cold War and cinema has focused on Hollywood. This is understandable given the headlines that the witch-hunt of leftists in Hollywood attracted during the McCarthy era and the global reach of the American film industry. Nonetheless, this American-centric approach has tended to skew the picture overall, leaving some with the impression that Hollywood was subjected to unique political pressures during the Cold War and that the American film industry won the cinematic Cold War almost by default.

This conference seeks, first of all, to take stock of what we now know about the role played by the American film industry during the conflict. Secondly, it aims to put Hollywood’s ‘performance’ in an international, comparative context. The conference will look beyond Hollywood and explore how cinemas from different areas of the world - East, West, North and South - treated and were affected by the Cold War. Among the questions papers might address are: Can we identify a range of important players in the cinematic Cold War? What are the similarities and differences between the ways that national film industries framed the Cold War? Which film industries gained from the Cold War and which lost? What was distinctive about cinema’s contribution to the Cold War? What does a comparative analysis of Cold War cinema tell us about the uses of propaganda during the conflict and about the cultural Cold War more generally?

The conference has a third major aim. As well as looking at cinema during the Cold War, it also wishes to explore how filmmakers have dealt with the subject since the conflict ended. A lot has been written about how filmmakers ‘remade’ the Second World War in the 1950s and 1960s and how that might have influenced wider beliefs about that conflict. We now need to look at whether and if so how filmmakers have done the same with the Cold War. We need to begin to map out how cinema (and popular culture generally) has replayed or refought the Cold War over the past quarter of a century, and to consider its potential impact on perceptions of the Cold War. Among the questions papers might address in this regard are: How prominent a subject has the Cold War been on cinema screens since 1989? Which national cinemas have paid the Cold War most attention, how and why? Which cinemas have effectively airbrushed the Cold War? What role have governments or other organisations played in reworking the Cold War on the big screen?

Our approach is interdisciplinary, and we welcome proposals for papers from scholars of all fields, including history, film studies, literature, cultural studies, and the social sciences. The language of the conference will be English. Proposals of 500 words, together with a brief CV, should be sent to Professor Tony Shaw at a.t.shaw@herts.ac.uk by 31 December 2013. Invitations to the conference will be issued by 31 January 2014. Papers (up to 25 pages in length) should be distributed to all participants one month before the event. All lodging and meals for the duration of the conference will be covered. A limited number of grants will be given to contributors to cover their travel costs.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Laura Deal // Catalog Specialist
  • Pieter Biersteker // Editorial Assistant
  • Charles Kraus // Program Assistant
  • Evan Pikulski // Program Assistant
  • Roy O. Kim // Program Assistant
  • James Person // Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project