Remaking the World in the Shadow of the Cold War

Migrants, Workers, Soldiers, Spies in Post-1945 Reconstruction

Central European University, Vienna

1-2 June 2023

“The new world will be different,” wrote the housewife Nella Last in her wartime diary on May 10, 1945.  In the wake of World War II, amidst all of the destruction, visions and ideas of how to rebuild communities started to simmer, igniting minds of politicians, refugees, and ordinary citizen across the globe. How did these ideas differ in various regions, especially across the growing East-West divide? How were policies and practices of reconstruction carried out and by whom? How did various social groups experience the process of shaping the new order? What cultural representations of this period became dominant and which ones remain marginal?

This conference explores the post-war reconstruction as a global process informed by the intensifying Cold War and advancing decolonisation. Adopting this broad-spectrum perspective, it hopes to fill it with details of on-the-ground struggles and hopes of various social actors in the historiographical tradition of people’s history. It will focus on political, economic, social, and cultural aspects of the transitions from war to peace and highlight tensions and convergences between the projects and practices of reconstruction in the forming Eastern and Western blocs, as well as in non-aligned countries. In particular, we are looking forward to exploring how the experiences of Jewish refugees, who found themselves caught in these geopolitical changes in various locations from Shanghai to Leningrad, shed light on the intricacies of political and social reshaping of the world order.

Three main themes will be guiding the conference:

1) Migration in a Global Perspective

2) Religion and the Politics of Post-War Revival

3) Cultural Representations of Reconstruction

Suggested topics include but are not limited to: 

  • cultural and social reconstruction, including representations in art and personal documents
  • population displacement and management
  • experiences of various groups of refugees
  • legacies of the Holocaust in constructing the post-war order
  • experiences of Jewish Displaced Persons, in particular in comparative perspective
  • cultural history of anxieties in the early Cold War
  • contemporary visions of the future
  • role of international organizations (including UNRRA, IRO, UNRWA, UNHCR) in the reconstruction
  • reconstruction of families and rethinking the social order
  • resettlement and making of post-war societies
  • transcontinental networks of aid
  • religious assistance, religious communities, and their visions of the new moral order
  • Cold War espionage in relation to the work of reconstruction
  • materiality of the reconstruction
  • vulnerable groups of population in the new order

This conference seeks to foster dialogue between scholars working on various geographical areas and on histories of various ethnic and religious groups.

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