Late Cold War Tandems: Solidarities and Anxieties of the 1980s

The purpose of this workshop, organised as a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Universiteit Utrecht, is to explore the possibilities of ‘tandem history’ (Kate Brown) as a transnational approach in new research on the final decade of the Cold War. The period was marked not only by the renewal of superpower tensions, but also by new concerns that poorly fit the Cold War framework and which have remained with us since the collapse of the binary order.

We will thus examine some of the key issues of the 1980s, such as how state institutions and civil society actors on both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’ addressed emerging anxieties linked to environmental devastation and HIV/AIDS. The decade was also shaped by concerns about security inherited from earlier stages of the Cold War as well as practices of secrecy that would themselves leave a legacy after its end. Nevertheless, protest movements for peace, democratisation, and international solidarity all flourished in parallel, extending not only to different parts of Europe, but across the East-West and North-South divides both within and beyond Europe’s borders.

Each workshop panel is structured to include two ‘tandem partners’ addressing analogous or entangled developments in different blocs, or which cut across the systemic divide. We hereby seek not to reify East-West divisions or reinforce a Eurocentric perspective, but rather to test and challenge these conventional boundaries and the binaries associated with them.