Academic Life, Public Spheres and Political Cultures in Western Europe and the United States (1945-1990)

Conference | 27 April 2012, Bonn, Germany

Convenors: Riccardo Bavaj (St Andrews/Saint Louis University), Dominik Geppert (University of Bonn), Mark Edward Ruff (Saint Louis University)

In what ways – and to what extent – did academic life change in Western Europe and the United States during the Cold War era? Why did it change the way it did? These are the leading questions of a workshop that will examine the evolution of scholarly life within the context of far-reaching transformations of public spheres and political cultures. Both the changing fabric of the mass media and the shifting landscape of political ideas are at the heart of this workshop, which is primarily interested in professors who time and again intervened in the political sphere – the latter being defined as a space of communication in which collectively binding decisions relevant to larger social entities were negotiated. Indeed, the workshop is not concerned with scholars who were largely confined to the proverbial ‘ivory tower’, writing books and articles that only their closest colleagues would read. Rather, it is focused on professors who frequently transformed themselves into intellectuals, political advisers or expert commentators for the media, continuously transcending the realm of the university.

Situated at the crossroads of university history, the history of science, media history, the history of intellectuals and cold war history, the workshop will primarily address the following set of questions:

1) How did national differences within the structure of public spheres shape the production and dissemination of academic knowledge and ideas? What kind of journals, newspapers, publishers, radio and television broadcasts were available to professors to express their thoughts? Which significance can be ascribed to think tanks, foundations, the state, and institutions such as the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung?

2) In what ways did national differences within the realm of the university have an impact on the shaping and transfer of academic knowledge and ideas? Which significance can be ascribed to divergent notions of intellectual authority and professorial habitus, diverse disciplinary traditions, and conflicting ideals of rationality, objectivity and truth? How was the production and dissemination of knowledge affected by the expansion of universities and the foundation of reform universities in the 1960s and 1970s?

3) In what ways did transnational spaces of communication and intellectual networks counteract national differences? Which significance can be ascribed to transnational agencies such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the Trilateral Commission, the Harvard International Seminar, and the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies? What role did academic émigrés play in bridging and mediating between national differences?

4) In what ways did professors shape political cultures of the Cold War era, and how were they themselves affected by political events, socio-cultural developments and shifts in political ideas?

For the conference report see here. The workshop proceedings have been published as a theme issue of Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht.