This NEH Institute for college and university teachers seeks to break new ground in the study of culture during the Cold War, applying a sustained interdisciplinary examination into the role of arts and artists to the case of East German society. Please note: it is not necessary to speak German to participate in this program.

Drawing on the latest research in art history, musicology, film studies, history and German studies, the Institute seeks to: re-evaluate debates about artistic freedom and censorship; consider relations between high and low (popular), as well as official and alternative arts cultures; and establish the importance and timeliness of revisiting this period of recent history in today’s college classrooms.

The Institute will also offer college teachers across disciplines the chance to critically assess a wide selection of materials that present a dynamic and compelling historical perspective on issues being raised in classrooms today: the role and reach of the state; freedom of expression, individual rights and protest; surveillance and secret police; the role of race and gender in art and politics; wealth and the power gap; cultural canons and the role of cultural heritage. Four full weeks are required to do justice to the complex questions being addressed in the Institute, as well as to the wealth of musical, artistic, and cinematic materials that bring this history to life and form the basis for evaluating the questions at hand.

Newer scholarship on the arts under socialism seeks to re-appropriate the field by bringing contemporary interests and research questions to bear upon it. Such work is yielding more nuanced and in-depth insights into how the arts functioned in socialist society, which highlight commonalities as well as differences between socialist and capitalist modernity. Because the different disciplines we engage exhibit significant interpretive differences—and the experience of East German artists working in different media was also quite varied—the Institute expects to break new ground by challenging conventional assumptions about periodization and socialist ideology and cultural policies.

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The Institute and the website have been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. For further information concerning programs funded by NEH, consult Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the Institute or this website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.