14 May

On 9 May, Vera Tolz gave the lecture "Entangled Identities, Troubled Pasts: Towards a New History of Soviet Propaganda." The talk was part of the prestigious Ilchester Lectures series at the University of Oxford.

This lecture was delivered at one of the lowest points in Russia’s relationship with the ‘West’. At such points the contrasting ways in which each side perceives the other appear at first glance to be neatly complementary. As this lecture argues, contrary to this perception, in periods of heightened mutual antagonism, Russia and Western states become entangled with each other in a particularly complex way and counter-intuitive affinities between the fiercest of opponents develop.  Therefore, the binary paradigms which dominated academic studies of the USSR during the Cold War and are returning today are analytically unhelpful. The lecture develops this point by offering a new interpretation of a topic that was particularly prone to be studied in binary and contrasting terms – the history of modern state propaganda. Critically assessing the existing scholarship, the lecture rethinks the birth of Soviet state propaganda from the new public communication techniques developed by belligerent powers during the First World War. It goes on to highlight underappreciated mutual influences between the Cold War geopolitical enemies and their self-reinforcing logic. The lecture will conclude with brief reflections on the lessons of this new historical account for our understanding of contemporary politics.

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