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Culture Wars: Competing World Views in the Cold War


Admission requirements

This course is available for students of the Humanities Lab.
If you have received your propaedeutic diploma within one academic year, your academic results are good and you are a very motivated student, you may apply for a place in the Humanities Lab.


The Cold War is generally understood as a confrontation between capitalism and communism, represented in particular by the United States and its allies on one side and the Soviet Union and aligned states on the other. This confrontation is often portrayed foremost as a nuclear standoff which almost exploded into direct confrontation, notably over Cuba in 1962 but also during the Korean War in the 1950s and in the 1980s with President Ronald Reagan. But the Cold War was also a contest between different social and economic systems, with different views on how best to organize society and run economies, and different conceptions of freedom, justice, and equality. This wider ‘battle of ideas’ is known as the ‘cultural cold war’ and it affected all areas of social activity, permeating all fields of intellectual life and popular culture. Sometimes this was done openly, but there are many examples of covert attempts to influence opinion and thought for specific political interests. This course dives into a set of case studies to illustrate how this worked in the fields of film, publishing, music, and cultural production in general. It includes two study trips, the first to the site of the 1958 World Expo in Brussels, and the second to the city of Berlin in order to visit specific sites of public memory related to the everyday life of the Cold War in a ‘frontline state’. Connections will also be made with current-day issues of propaganda and ‘fake news’ to compare how this ‘battle of ideas’ continues in different forms today.

Course objectives

  • Introduce the ways in which historical perspectives on the Cold War have changed since 1989

  • Explore the ways in which the Cold War contest involved the intertwining of politics, economics, and culture, making use of different theoretical perspectives

  • Investigate different interpretations of propaganda and the extent to which it influenced everyday life

  • Consider the meaning of ‘culture’ and its importance as a political tool from different perspectives

  • To explore the ways in which ongoing “battles for hearts and minds” continue to inform and shape our global world


Visit MyTimetable.

Courses of the Humanities Lab are scheduled on Friday afternoon from 13.30 to 17.00hrs.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture / Seminar

  • Study Trip (Berlin)

Assessment method


  • Weekly Assignments (4): 20%

  • 2 P2P Assignments: 50%

  • Reviews: 30%


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


A resit of the weekly assignments is possible, if the weighted average of all three components results in a score of 5 or less.
It is not possible to resit the P2P or reviews because they are directly related to the study trips. Should a member of the group be unable to attend one of the study trips, an alternative form of assessment worth 40% will be devised. Failure to attend both study trips must result in a course fail.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Barnhisel, Greg, ‘Cold Warriors of the Book: American Book Programs in the 1950s’, Book History 13, 185–217, 2010.

  • Haddadian-Moghaddam, Esmaeil, ‘The Cultural Cold War and the Circulation of World Literature: Insights from Franklin Book Programs in Tehran’, Journal of World Literature 1(3): 2016, 371–390.

  • Iber, Patrick I, ‘The Cultural Cold War’, Oxford Research Encyclopedia: American History, 2019.

  • Lacy, Dan, ‘The Role of American Books Abroad,’ Foreign Affairs, 34(3): 1956, 405-417.

  • Laugesen, Amanda, Taking Books to the World: American Publishers and the Cultural Cold War. Amherst/Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 2018.

  • Lüthi, Lorenz M, ‘From High Imperialism to Cold War Division,’ In Cold Wars: Asia, the Middle East, Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020, 13-36,

  • Major, Patrick and Rana Mitter, ‘Culture’, In Dockrill, Saki R. and Geraint Hughes (eds). Palgrave Advances in Cold War History. New York, 2006, 240-262.

  • Osgood, Kenneth, ‘Propaganda’, Richard Burns, Alexander DeConde, and Frederick Logevall, eds., Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, Vol. 3, 2002.

  • Reisch, Alfred A. Hot books in the Cold War: The West’s CIA-funded Secret Book Distribution Program Behind the Iron Curtain, Budapest–New York: Central European University Press, 2013.

  • Scott-Smith, Giles, ‘Congress for Cultural Freedom’, Palgrave Dictionary of Transnational History, 2009.


Students of the Humanities Lab will be registered in uSis by the administration of the Humanities Lab. More information about registration for courses will be provided by email and on Brightspace (in the general Humanities Lab Brightspace module).
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Esmaeil Haddadian-Moghaddam
Humanities Lab office: e-mail


This course is part of the Humanities Lab programme, visit the website for more information.
Visit the Honours Academy website for more information about the Honours College.