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Cold War Humanism

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Organizer: Peter Kalliney

Co-Organizer: Christopher J Lee

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Note: panelists are pre-circulating papers.  If attendees would like to see the materials, please contact Peter Kalliney ( or Chris Lee ( and indicate which sessions are of interest.

This panel addresses the aesthetic trends, cultural institutions, and literary movements that emerged in the Third World during the Cold War. Decolonization in Africa and Asia ushered in a new period of artistic energy and literary production through creative outlooks and political agendas that sought to capitalize on postcolonial independence. This burst of activity not only took form in the novels, poetry, and dramatic works that were produced, but also literary journals, writers’ conferences, and international organizations that served to institutionalize these endeavors. This ACLA panel seeks to address this landscape of literary and cultural activity under the rubric of “Cold War Humanisms.” Through journals such as Présence africaine, Transition, and Lotus: Afro-Asian Writings, through organizations such as the Afro-Asian Writers Association and the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL), and through events like the 1956 Congrès des écrivaines et artistes noirs in Paris, the 1958 Afro-Asian Writers Conference in Tashkent, and the 1966 Tricontinental Conference in Havana, recurrent attempts were made to not only foster literary production, but, in doing so, establish a new humanism in the wake of decolonization, as argued by thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Amílcar Cabral. Political decolonization had occurred, but cultural and intellectual decolonization still remained. These efforts at artistic organization were further promoted—and often funded—by the Cold War rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.  How might we write the intellectual history of the 20th century differently if decolonization and the Cold War were conceived as parts of the same ideological conflict?  In sum, a set of Cold War humanisms emerged that aspired to new forms of living, which also challenge and complicate how definitions of “postcolonial” are understood in the present. Cold War humanisms map an alternative to this established, normative concept by moving beyond colony - postcolony chronologies to an intersectional approach that considers the effects of neocolonial formations during the Cold War period. This panel draws from a range of specializations to examine the implications of this phenomenon.       

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