Throwback Look: Culture, Politics and the Cold War Series

One of the best-known series produced by the University of Massachusetts Press, Culture, Politics, and the Cold War reexamines the Cold War as a distinct historical epoch, considering culture as inherently political and political struggles as culturally constructed. Established in 1998 with series editor Christian G. Appy and joined by Edwin A. Martini as co-editor in 2014, UMass Press showcases the emerging scholarship regarding the political and cultural discussions of this fascinating period in U.S. history.

In proposing this series to UMass Press, series editor Christian G. Appy recognized a growing trend of among Cold War historians. Looking beyond the traditional diplomatic and military interpretations, cultural historians had begun a rich exploration of the political and historical significance of particular cultural forms and expressions. Early publications in this series, such as James T. Fisher’s Dr. America and Christian G. Appy’s Cold War Constructions expand the definition of culture for the series by  incorporating “ways of life.” In Dr. America (1998)Fisher presents the biography of “jungle doctor” Tom Dooley, the famous physician during Vietnam,  in context with the broad range of developments in postwar U.S. culture – from the “Americanization” of Catholicism to the rise of mass media. In Cold War Constructions (2000), Appy’s collection of essays highlights the shaping of Cold War policy and policymakers by cultural values and assumptions. Stepping away from the idea of studying politics and culture, this volume was distinctly an investigation of political culture.

As the series evolved, several authors took an interest into the Cold War’s transformation of individual and collective identities. In particular, Tony Shaw’s Hollywood’s Cold War  (2007) looks at America’s self-image through the Hollywood’s role as a propaganda machine. In his analysis of declassified government documents, studio archives, and filmmakers’ private papers, Shaw reveals the criticual dual role of Hollwood: portraying communism as the greatest threat the country had ever faced, and selling the liberal-capitalist ideas of America. The book argues that movies were at the center of the Cold War’s battle for hearts and minds, and in doing so, created an entirely new understanding of American film.

A similar discussion takes place in Lee Bernstein’s The Greatest Menace: Organized Crime in Cold War America (2009). In its reinterpretation of citizenship and “Americanism,” The Greatest Menace points to the forging of a Cold War consensus that allowed the popular image of the sinister gangster to persist. His broad range of evidence, from government records to pulp novels, takes note of the deep social and political anxieties that plagued the American people across shifting lines of race, class, and ethnicity.

To date, the series is composed over thirty volumes, with at least one addition coming out this year. Chad Parker’s upcoming Making the Desert Modern: Americans, Arabs, and Oil on the Saudi Frontier, 1933-1973 (May 2015) tells the story of the Arabian American Oil Company’s contribution to defining U.S. foreign policy during the early Cold War. The emergence of the term “modernization” was a key component of post-World War II American foreign policy, and the company quickly became the principal American diplomatic agent in Saudi Arabia for four decades. As a valuable case study of ‘private diplomacy,’ series editor Christian G. Appy commented that Making the Desert Modern “will serve as a model for … scholars in diplomatic history who are turning their attention to … economic globalization and the interplay between corporations and states in an international context.”

We know that the Culture, Politics, and the Cold War series will continue to be one of the key components of the UMass Press catalog.

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 Emily Esten is an editorial intern at UMass Press. She is a junior History/Digital Humanities major at UMass Amherst. 

 

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