Webb Lectures Question Cold War Isolation

Pulling back the Iron Curtain to reveal the political and cultural participation of the Soviet Union with the rest of the world during the 20th century is the focus of the Department of History’s annual lecture series.

The 46th Annual Walter Prescott Webb Lecture Series, which will be held Thursday, March 10, in the University Center, will explore “Transnational Perspectives on the Soviet Bloc, 1944-1991.” Organizers said the lectures will reveal how despite extreme isolation, communist societies engaged with each other and the outside world in multiple ways during the Cold War.

“Everyone talks about the Iron Curtain being closed off, but there were ways to share ideas and information with people on both sides,” said Dr. Jennifer Lawrence, an adjunct faculty member and chair of the Webb Lectures committee. “People don’t explore all the sides of Soviet influence enough. It wasn’t just the political issues. There were other cultural elements at work during that time, not just what was happening diplomatically. These lectures will explore those issues.”

Dr. Marsha Siefert of Central European University will kick off the all-day event with a look at how Soviets worked and were portrayed in film during the 1960s. Constantin Katsakioris (Hellenic Library and Historical Archives) will detail how the Soviet Union made its presence known in Africa and how their strategic partnerships shaped the political and cultural elements of that region. UT Arlington’s Dr. Patryk Babiracki will present a look at Polish peasant’s trips to the Soviet collective farms to solicit support. And Dr. Michael David-Fox (University of Maryland) will deliver a keynote address titled “Beyond the Iron Curtain” at the end of the program.

Babiracki said the lectures will support evidence that Soviet Bloc nations were far more involved in the global marketplace than many observers during the Cold War realized or were willing to admit. As more and more historians and scholars are focusing on transnational history, this year’s theme for the Webb Lectures is designed to challenge preconceptions about how the Soviet Union interacted with Eastern Europe and other parts of the world, he said.

“We tend to think it [the Soviet Bloc] was 100 percent isolated, that it was a world unto its own,” said Babiracki, who developed the lecture theme and is the faculty organizer. “It’s interesting to know how people there had access to the rest of the world. It’s a way of looking at the world and the Cold War instead of simply as a struggle between two super powers.”

Lawrence, who is also an associate professor of history at Tarrant County College, said those with a passing interest in Cold War-era history may be surprised to learn what was really going on behind the Iron Curtain.

“The lectures aren’t just for history students,” she said. “There’s a lot [scheduled to be discussed during the lectures] that will appeal to a broader audience.”

The Webb Lectures are named for Walter Prescott Webb (1888-1963), a longtime supporter of UT Arlington and the Department of History. Originally, the lecture series and their publication were made possible by a generous endowment from C.B. Smith, Sr., a longtime Austin business leader.

Leading up to the Webb Lectures, the department held an essay contest and received submissions from students across the country. Elidor Mehilli (Princeton University) and Nick Rutter (Yale University) were named co-winners last month and their essays will appear in a future publication of the lecture series.

The 46th Annual Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lecture Series:

“Transnational Perspectives on the Soviet Bloc, 1944-1991”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

9:30 a.m., Rio Grande Ballroom
“Meeting at a Far Meridian: American-Soviet Cooperation in and on Film in the 1960s”
Dr. Marsha Siefert, Central European University

11 a.m., Rio Grande Ballroom
“The Soviet-African Partnership in the Cold War: Political, Cultural and Scientific Dimensions”
Constantin Katsakioris, Hellenic Literary and Historical Archives

1:30 p.m., Rio Grande Ballroom
“Seeds of Doubt: How Polish Peasants Toured Soviet Collective Farms, 1949-1952”
Dr. Patryk Babiracki, UT Arlington

7:30 p.m., Rosebud Theatre (Keynote Address)
“Beyond the Iron Curtain”
Dr. Michael David-Fox, University of Maryland

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