Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives
Place: Blinken Open Society Archives, Central European University (Budapest), Hungary
The workshop aims to contribute to the discussion on knowledge practices in times of reflexive disbelief by addressing the role of scholars with regards to different truth regimes. Michel Foucault once remarked that the analysis of “truth” should go beyond the evaluation of isolated statements: truth regimes are power systems which produce and sustain certain truths in a circular way, through political and economic institutions. William Davies of “The Guardian” traced back the current popular skepticism vis-à-vis professional expertise to a paradigm shift in truth regimes: the immediacy of self-revelatory data has been replacing, through a multitude of revelations, leaks and informational wars dating as far back as the Cold War, the interpretative work by experts and journalists. It is worth re-assessing, from this point of view, how historical knowledge about the past can be used to address and carefully interpret facts and events reported or produced by those very informational wars before 1989, when the East and West were systemically opposed. In an era when individuals and academic communities are increasingly divided over matters of common concern, we consider it the duty of both historians and archivists to engage in a more reflexive manner with the problematic nature of records of the past.
In her 2015 book Religion in Secular Archives, Sonja Luehrmann mapped different Cold War archival ecologies and noticed that if state archives in the Soviet Union made religious practices look politically contained and embedded in complex relationships, the documents collected by West-based human rights groups for advocacy purposes offered a binary view of religion versus communism. She concluded that the same type of document or fact could be appropriated by different discourses about dissidence depending on the archival architecture it belonged to. It is worth investigating further if archives and “counter-archives”, as Luehrmann calls the thematic, West-based records of political and humanitarian activism, can offer objective glimpses of the past, or rather shape knowledge in particular ways.
Why [at] Blinken OSA?
The Radio Free Europe and samizdat collections as well as the human rights records located at Blinken OSA fall within this dialogical architecture, of alternative record-keeping they were created in the past [mostly in the Cold War] to counter Communist propaganda and to collect evidence to counter the allegations of authoritarian and violent regimes. The Visegrad scholarship program at OSA supported researchers exploring these collections, and important individual reflections emerged on knowledge practices related to human rights, dissidence, social movements, public opinion and audience research. Despite the variety of searches, one common concern addressed the relationship between the “objectivity” of the reports and the broader political frame of entire collections. A systematic and collective methodological reflection on Cold War archives therefore seems necessary. This would allow us to go beyond the rigid dualism of the period when they were created without succumbing to the relativization of truth regimes either.
The call is addressed to researchers who have been working on cultural, economic, political, social and scientific aspects of Communism and the Cold War and who feel challenged by some of the suggested questions in transdisciplinary ways:
- How to interpret the ethnographic detail in state, advocacy and police archives while keeping an ethical standpoint?
- How do we position ourselves on the issue of the political construction of issues in / through the archives? Is it possible to assess the truth value of documents beyond the constructivist approach?
- How to assess scientific knowledge and expert data on both sides of the Iron Curtain beyond the propaganda wars and the ritualized appropriations of socialist discourses?
- How to continue accounting for the specificities of socialist economies/ societies while critically using Cold War conceptual schemes and still engaging with the re-emerging concerns regarding “recurrent totalitarianism”?
- How to assess the cultural canon of the past and the possibilities of professional criticism beyond ideological, memory and culture wars? How to re-assess the need for studying intellectual agency as a historically relevant perspective after decades of contesting expertise, prestige and moral authority?
- Do (or should) archives and memory institutions recontextualize Cold War related collections in line with new scholarship, combining adjoining archival projects and a generalized need for authority through curation?
Scholars are therefore invited to discuss their use of Cold War archives for writing political, social, or cultural histories, and to reflect on their ethical, methodological and epistemic dilemmas and choices. They should turn their particular case studies into reflexive contributions about the challenges of different archives.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Visegrad program at Blinken OSA, we invite former scholarship holders and a broader range of scholars who have already done research in and on various Cold War archives to reflect on the appropriate theories and methods needed when rigorously analyzing phenomena through the combined and comparative perspectives of advocacy, state or police archives and their distinct truth regimes.
The call is addressed to any students and researchers with historiographic meta-reflexive sensitivities, to artists and film directors with a broad experience with Cold War documents. So, the call particularly addresses Visegrad fellows at OSA who have already worked with the OSA collections, but it is definitely not limited to them.
The workshop aims to contribute to a methodological debate as well to a collective exploration of the relationship between Cold War conceptual schemes and current topics and concerns. We seek to establish a new scholarly network of archival and research institutions to engage in a public discussion about source literacy. The workshop will result in collective volume dedicated to Epistemologies and Tools in Cold War Archives. Discussions will take place on the basis of pre-circulated papers as drafts of future articles.
Please email an abstract of no more than 500 words and a short CV to Nora Ungar, at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30, 2021. Notification of acceptance will be received within one month.
Due to the hybrid format of the workshop, partial travel grants can be provided to participants from the region on a competitive basis. Please submit a brief justification for your travel grant request along with the conference abstract, if you tentatively project to come to Budapest for the workshop.
It is difficult to predict which conditions will still apply in October 2021 with regards to the Covid-19 travel restrictions and physical distance, both in Hungary and abroad. Therefore, we will prepare for the time being a workshop in a hybrid format, allowing speakers to participate both live and online. The workshop will be organized at the Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest, on October 14-16, 2021. Scholars could visit the Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest, take part in small group discussions, or request archival materials from the Blinken OSA’s collections within short explorative queries along the thematic lines of the workshop.
Ioana Macrea-Toma, Anastasia Felcher, Oksana Sarkisova, Robert Parnica, István Rév
Ioana Macrea-Toma, Nóra Ungar, Katalin Gádoros, Nóra Bertalan, Julianna Lendvai, Miklós Zsámboki, Károly Timári, Robert Parnica
The project is initiated by the Blinken Open Society Archives with support from the Academic Cooperation and Research Support Office at Central European University.