Research Agenda


The research interests of the Berliner Kolleg Kalter Krieg | Berlin Center for Cold War Studies are particularly directed at the theme of "Grenzen des Kalten Krieges | Compromising the Cold War". This focus refers not only to borders on the political map, but also to the limits of social perceptions of order and patterns of thinking. What could be said and done under the conditions of the Cold War? When, why and under what conditions were these perceived frontiers crossed, undermined or completely suspended? Who were the actors? What lines could be shifted, and how far? Which ones were porous, and which particularly stable, even irreversible remaining in effect past the Cold War’s end? How pronounced were the tensions between centrifugal and centripetal forces? Such questions direct awareness towards countercurrents, rigidities, passages and bottlenecks, all replete with their innate dynamics and unintended consequences.

This approach lends itself to various fields of research. In foreign, security and intra-German policy the view is drawn to diplomatic negotiations as well as disarmament and detente initiatives. Strained relationships between the blocs’ leading powers and their allies are of special interest here, but so are the policies of the non-aligned states, some of which adopted trans-border "third way" policies while others sought advantage within the context of the Cold War. It is a matter of perceiving perspectives and weighing options during a time when ideologies claiming universal validity raised hopes that were disappointed time and time again.

This approach is equally productive for analyzing the Cold War’s societal and economic histories. As we know, all parts of society were affected by the mobilization of vast resources for the rivalry of antagonistic systems. But this policy provoked rising criticism and protests in East and West, led by new social movements or alternative figureheads who would soon play an important part in public discourse. The question of which actors tested, undermined or overcame the borders of the Cold War, and when and why they did so, is a matter of increasing significance. Hence, the Center focuses special attention on the Cold War’s "middlemen" who cultivated contacts across the blocs: Entrepreneurs and traders, representatives of political parties and religious groups, environmentalists, oppositionists and dissidents. The question here is not only to what extent their initiatives and practices helped soften solidified fronts, but also what other benefits they yielded, from the easing of politically charged emotions to financial and economic profit.

Among others, the history of knowledge and science since 1945 can thus be freshly examined from new angles. The Cold War’s marshaling of resources impacted the institutional fabric of the natural and technical sciences as well as the social sciences at their core. Vast research complexes, for example in nuclear physics, were established and continually expanded for their military usage. The Cold War also displayed epistemic effects, in which e.g. ideas of scientific rationality were reexamined. Conversely, new dynamics unfolded through scientific competition and the circulation of knowledge across the fronts of the Cold War. We should therefore inquire further into the driving forces, scope and consequences of trans-bloc exchange processes.

All in all, investigating the frontiers of the Cold War promises new insights into the ambivalence, contradictions and multi-fractured dynamics of this era. We analyze the adaptability of the prevailing policies as well as the effectiveness of their competing designs. Notably, this approach also links the Cold War to the history of pre-1945 violence and the partially analogous, partially conflicting processes of decolonization, liberalization and globalization. In this way, the Center seeks to locate the Cold War more precisely within the 20th century.