International symposium probes Berlin and Cold War, impact on history and import for the future

Berlin and the Cold War, an international symposium sponsored by Ohio University's Contemporary History Institute

The Ohio University Contemporary History Institute hosts a virtual international symposium on “Berlin and the Cold War”—convened by Drs. Seth Givens and Ingo Trauschweizer—that brings together some of the leading diplomatic, military and political historians of the Cold War.

In three panel discussions on Oct. 1 and 2, scholars will consider Berlin’s role and place in the Cold War but also zoom out to broader issues of strategy and defense plans, national and alliance politics, and Cold War culture.

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“Berlin and the Cold War will provide perspectives on the original cold war that should help us engage with historical and contemporary questions," said Trauschweizer, professor of History and director of the Contemporary History Institute. "With this conference we’re building on the rich tradition of Baker Peace Conferences over the past three and a half decades, but we also know that this symposium will chart a new path forward for the study of Cold War frontiers, balancing the rising awareness of the conflict in and over the Global South with the need to keep a close eye on one of the hottest spots of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and the city that became a symbol for the Cold War’s end when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989."

"Today’s news often suggest that we’re entering into a new cold war—maybe with China? Or with Russia? Or with regional actors such as North Korea and Iran? The details are uncertain, and it is unclear whether the comparison fits, a point that will be discussed in our final talk by Wolfgang Mössinger, the German Consul General at Chicago who spent three-year terms in Moscow, Baku, and Donetsk, the latter two at the contested frontiers of what was once the Soviet Union," Trauschweizer said.

Advancing new and innovative studies of the Cold War has been one of CHI’s missions since the institute’s founding in the 1980s. Many history Ph.D. graduates have excelled in that field—including co-convener Givens, now a historian at the United States Marine Corps History Division at Quantico, Va. Givens earned a Ph.D. in History and Certificate in Contemporary History from Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences in 2018 and was the 2014-15 Baker Peace Fellow. He also earned his bachelor's degree at OHIO, double majoring in political science and history.

“We believe that Berlin during the Cold War offers lessons for our contemporary world,” Givens said. Many of the challenges the West faces today are unresolved issues from the 1940s and 1950s, including Korea, the Taiwan Strait, and countries that border Russia, particularly Ukraine. Givens argues these areas, like Berlin during the Cold War, test Western resolve and unity. “Complicating these challenges are questions of the durability of liberal democracies in Europe and the United States, a brazen Russia that meddles in Western polices, and the emergence of a mighty Communist Party-led China.”

There may be new frontiers—notably, cyberspace, added Givens. "Washington Post national security correspondent David Ignatius argued just a few weeks ago we’re in a cyberwar with Russia, but is it the same old enemies and dynamics that shaped the second half of the 20th century?"

Throughout the years, the institute has brought leading scholars to Athens—and some of them are back for this event, notably Vladislav Zubok, who had one of his first jobs in “the West” here at Ohio University, Hope M. Harrison, Thomas Schwartz, and Christian Ostermann. Stephan Kieninger provided insightful comments and a terrific book chapter for the 2019 Baker Peace Conference and the institute also welcomes Petra Goedde, Erin Mahan, and Peter Ridder.

“This program would not be possible without our sponsors and partners—and three of them made us think of it in the first place: the main impetus was a grant competition of the Berlin-based Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, and we sharpened some of our thinking in communications with the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies and the Allied Museum,” Givens said. “For additional grant support, we are grateful to the German Foreign Office and its Consulate at Chicago and the Society for Military History.”

This event is also supported by the Baker Peace Studies Program and the Contemporary History Institute at Ohio University.

The symposium is free and open to the general public and will be livestreamed.

Friday, Oct. 1, Schedule

1 – 1:30 p.m. Welcome and opening remarks

  • Dr. Joseph Shields (Vice President for Research and Creative Activity, Ohio University)
  • Professor Ingo Trauschweizer (Contemporary History Institute, Ohio University)

1:30 – 3 p.m. Postwar to Cold War (1945-1957)

  • Seth A. Givens (U.S. Marine Corps History Division): The U.S. Army and the Defense of Berlin, 1945-1950. Givens is a historian at the United States Marine Corps History Division in Quantico, Virginia. At the History Division, he has published on Marine operations in the Vietnam War and is currently preparing the official history of U.S. Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He earned a Ph.D. in military history from Ohio University and has published on U.S. policy and strategy during World War II and NATO during the Cold War.
  • Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center): Berlin and the 1953 uprising
  • Petra Goedde (Temple University): German-American cultural diplomacy and GIs in Berlin. Goedde is Professor of History at Temple University, Chair of the Department of History, and editor of the journal Diplomatic History. Her research interests are in U.S. foreign relations, transnational, culture, and gender history. She is the author of GIs and Germans: Culture, Gender, and Foreign Relations, 1945-1949 (Yale 2003) andmost recently of The Politics of Peace: A Global Cold War History (Oxford 2019). Together with Akira Iriye, she is the author of InternationalHistory: A Cultural Approach (forthcoming Bloomsbury Press 2022). She has published widely on Cold War history, the history of cultural globalization, human rights, and gender in foreign relations history.  

Saturday, Oct. 2, Schedule

10 – 11:30 a.m. Crises (1958-1971)

  • Erin Mahan (Office of the Secretary of Defense): : The Never-Ending Problem of Berlin:  Kennedy, De Gaulle, and the Limits of Alliance Politics. Mahan is Chief Historian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the U.S. Department of Defense. She is also an adjunct professor for the School of International Service at American University and a non-resident senior fellow at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. She previously held positions at the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Defense University and in the Office of the Historian at the Department of State, where she edited several volumes in the Foreign Relations of the United States series related to Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the former Soviet Union, the Vietnam War, and South Korea. She is the author of Kennedy, De Gaulle and Western Europe (Palgrave, 2002) and has published several chapters and articles on a variety of topics:  biological and chemical weapons, NATO, World War I, and World War II. Her forthcoming co-authored book entitled Averting Doomsday:  Arms Control During the Nixon Presidency will be released by the University of Virginia Press in November 2021.
  • Hope Harrison (George Washington University) East German-Soviet Relations and the Decision to Erect the Berlin Wall. Harrison is Professor of History and International Affairs at The George Washington University and the author of two books on the Berlin Wall: Driving the Soviets up the Wall: Soviet-East German Relations, 1953-1961 (Princeton University Press, 2003); and After the Berlin Wall: Memory and the Making of the New Germany, 1989 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2019). The recipient of fellowships from Fulbright, the Nobel Institute in Oslo, the American Academy in Berlin, Harvard, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Harrison has published in the Washington PostFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Berliner Zeitung. She serves on the board of three institutions in Berlin connected to the Cold War and the Berlin Wall and has been featured widely in the media, including on CNN, C-SPAN, the BCC, the History Channel, the Science Channel, and Deutschlandradio.
  • Thomas Schwartz (Vanderbilt University): Berlin and the Johnson and Nixon administrations

1:30 – 3 p.m. Beyond the Cold War in Berlin (1972-1990s)

  • Stephan Kieninger (independent scholar): The Quadripartite Agreement (1971) Kieninger is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is the author of two books on the history of U.S. Cold War diplomacy toward Europe: The Diplomacy of Détente: Cooperative Security Policies from Helmut Schmidt to George Shultz (2018) and Dynamic Détente: The United States and Europe, 1964–1975 (2016). His current research looks into the Clinton Administration's NATO-Russia policy through the prism of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott's statecraft. Kieninger received his Ph.D. from Mannheim University in 2011. Formerly, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS, a fellow at the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies, and a senior researcher at the Federal German Archives.
  • Vladislav Zubok (London School of Economics): Berlin, Soviets, and end of the Cold War
  • Peter Ridder (Berliner Kolleg Kalter Krieg): Berlin 1989 and the ‘New Atlanticism’: US and West German Visons for the Post-Cold-War Architecture of Europe. Ridder is a Research Assistant at the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies at the Leibnitz Institute for Contemporary History, Munich-Berlin.  He has previously been a Fellow at the Global Humanitarianism Research Academy in Mainz/Geneva/Exeter, and was part of the Fritz Thyssen Foundation Working Group “The History of Human Rights in the 20th Century.” He is currently working on a project titled “The Search for a New (World) Order? Envisaged Futures in the US and West German Governments at the End of the Cold War, 1988-1992.”

3 – 3:30 p.m. Concluding remarks

  • Wolfgang Mössinger (German Consul-General at Chicago): Are We in a New Cold War? Moessinger is Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Midwest, based in Chicago. After school and military service, he studied German, French and history at the Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg. He joined the Federal Foreign Office in 1987. His first postings abroad were Dakar, Helsinki and Moscow. From 2008 to 2012 he was Consul General in Edinburgh, from 2012 to 2015 Deputy Ambassador in Baku, from 2015 to 2019 Consul General in Dnipro (Eastern Ukraine). On July 1, 2019, he joined the Consulate General in Chicago.