Nature Protection, Environmental Policy and Social Movements in Communist and Capitalist Countries during the Cold War

Konferenz, DHI Washington, 29.-30. Mai 2015

Conference at the GHI
Conveners: Astrid Mignon Kirchhof (Georgetown/GHI) and John McNeill (Georgetown)

Call for Papers

From the late 1940s until 1989, Cold War pressures and constraints affected environmentalism and environmental policy in Europe. Broadly speaking, for the first two decades of the Cold War, security concerns and the emphases placed on economic growth, on conformity, on (re)industrialization worked to limit both expressions of environmentalism and environmental regulation. For the last two decades of the Cold War, however, environmentalism became one of the pressures of the Cold War, one of the arenas in which capitalism and communism competed for supremacy. Popular environmental movements and state environmental policies combined in complex ways, helping to shape the contours of the Cold War itself, as well as domestic politics and daily life in all those countries caught up in it.

This workshop will explore the similarities and differences in environmental policies and movements on both sides of Europe's Iron Curtain in the Cold War decades. We are seeking papers that explore the transnational entanglements of the topic. There are no restrictions on geographical region or environmental problems, but we ask the contributors to address in their papers at least some of the questions raised below:

  1. What environmental issues were at stake and what were the environmental policies pursued to address those issues? In this connection: why did some issues take priority over others? Why did some policies and programs win support more than others? What role did scientific establishments play in shaping priorities and policies? What role did academic exchanges and East-West cooperation play?
  2. What social movements developed as a reaction to environmental issues and policies? In this connection: To what extent did environmental groups exchange or share values, information, or techniques across the Iron Curtain? How relevant were the developments of local nature conservationists for the rising environmental movements in their own countries? To what extent, if any, did eco-criticism or environmentalism lead to the erosion of state legitimacy in communist and socialist countries?
  3. What were the Cold War's effects on environmental policies? In this connection: How did the Cold War influence the decisions politicians made and what effects did these decisions have on the environment? Does the environmental history of Cold War Europe raise problems for traditional periodization of contemporary history? 


The conference will take place at the German Historical Institute in Washington and will consist of panels with pre-circulated papers and 15-20 minute presentations. There will be no conference fee and the travel costs and accommodation will be covered. Coffee and meals as well as the conference dinner will be included for presenters.

Paper proposals of up to 500 words and an abridged curriculum vitae as well as all queries should be sent toAstrid Kirchhof by November 15, 2014. The workshop language will be English.

This conference will take place with the generous support of the VW Foundation, German Historical Institute, Washington, and the BMW Center of German and European Studies, Georgetown.