Conflict and the Senses in the Global Cold War: From Propaganda to Sensory Warfare

International Workshop

Di, 13.10.2020, 0:00 bis Fr, 16.10.2020, 0:00
Berlin Center for Cold War Studies
Zimmerstraße 56
10117 Berlin

The workshop was held in form of a closed, internal Online-Webinar.

DOWNLOAD program.

Berlin Center for Cold War Studies at the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ)


in cooperation with the University of Luxembourg, Stiftung Luftbrückendank and Stiftung Ernst-Reuter-Archiv Berlin






Although a conflict in which military strategies and weapons of mass destruction were always on the "horizon of expectation", the Cold War was to a large degree carried out by non-lethal methods. It was also a war of culture, politics, and (visual and sonic) propaganda. Therefore, it can be understood to a great extent as a war not only on the senses, but as a war through the senses. In recent times, sensory aspects of domestic and international conflicts have become a field of interest in both sensory studies and conflict studies, with their methods and questionnaires intertwining in fruitful cooperation. Historiographical approaches include the study of conflicts from the American Civil War to the Russian Revolution to both World Wars, and these examine how wars as the most extreme form of conflict were perceived—and how war changed contemporary perception. The central conflict of the second half of the 20th century, though, is still a blatantly unexplored area in terms of sensory approaches.

Steve Goodman has described how sound was used to carry out conflict—in propaganda, crowd control, and even in military practice and torture. Extending his term "sonic warfare" to "sensory warfare", the workshop aims to discuss sensory aspects of the global Cold War—from sonic and visual propaganda to military forms of conflict in the "hot" wars of the Cold War in Korea or Vietnam. What techniques were developed to attack the enemy with non-lethal and lethal weapons, ranging from irritation to the deadly use of chemicals aimed at the respiratory organs of the enemy? How were the senses trained to motivate the masses into a state of alert, for example, through sonic signals? What sensory methods were used to gain intelligence and information? What were the "micro politics" and affective measures used to influence people unconsciously, with the aim of dividing them into political communities of different perceptions, for example, in gustatory preferences? How did the Cold War not only use but also change perception as a result of division?

By addressing these topics, the conference aims to apply perspectives from the internationally emerging field of sensory studies to Cold War history—and the other way around—with a clear focus on sensing. We are seeking to gain general knowledge about how to apply sensory approaches to a concrete historical phenomenon and we seek to understand the sensory aspects of the Cold War in everyday life, as well as border areas of warfare in the 20th century.

Keynote of Prof. Mark. M. Smith (Columbia): "Redux: Time, Desire, Horror".

Conference Report by Erika Wicky.


German-language Interview with Dr. Bodo Mrozek (Berlin Center for Cold War Studies) and Deutschlandfunk on "Sensory Warfare in the Cold War" (22 Oct 2020)

German-language radio feature in the program "Echtzeit" (28 Nov 2020) on German National Public Radio Deutschlandfunk Kultur about Dr. Marcel Streng's contribution to the workshop on "floating"

English-language conference report on H-Diplo (14 Dec 2020)

Further reports on the workshop will be linked at this website.