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Making sense of America: Representations of the Americas in the 1980s West European Protest Movements and their Aftermaths

Making sense of America: Representations of the Americas in the 1980s West European Protest Movements and their Aftermaths

Jan Hansen (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin); Christian Helm (Leibniz Universität Hannover); Frank Reichherzer (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Vom - Bis
23.05.2013 - 24.05.2013
Hansen, Jan

The 1980s saw a variety of highly heterogonous protest movements. People from all over Europe joined mass protests articulating fears of environmental abuses, nuclear catastrophes and increasing global injustices. They thus committed themselves to the protection of natural resources, to peace and disarmament and to rethinking their relations with the countries of the global south.

These movements can be seen as linked by a very intensive attention toward the United States of America. On the one hand, protest activists constructed a representation in which the U.S. appeared as being responsible for all the world’s deficiencies. It was especially U.S. President Ronald Reagan who personified the American neo-conservatism and, therefore, played a key role in establishing a generally accepted enemy stereotype.

On the other hand, protest movements all over Europe tried to associate themselves with inner-American debates, in order to create and intensify a transnational civil society. Therefore, Atlantic crossings and transfers - for instance with the nuclear weapons freeze campaign, the solidarity movement with Latin America, and many other oppositional movements in the U.S. - were aimed at boosting and legitimizing shared protest goals.

However, Europeans did not only establish connections with North American activists, nor did they merely blame the U.S. Administration for harming the world’s environmental, nuclear and social peace. In the 1980s, they also started to build up transnational networks with leftist and indigenous movements south of the U.S. The Nicaraguan Sandinistas as well as other oppositional, revolutionary or guerilla movements in Latin America were also, as point of reference, of highest importance for protesters in Europe. Acting as a kind of negative backdrop, the U.S. remained ubiquitous in these transnational networks.

To be held in Berlin on 23/24 May 2013, the international workshop seeks to historize the representations of the Americas in West European protest movements of the 1980s. Therefore, papers researching the perception and interpretation of America among protesters in West Europe are welcome. Although the term "America" does not only refer to the U.S., the workshop pivotally asks about how to assess the significance of the United States for constructing representations of America in Europe, even if the protest movements’ networking with activists in southern America is the subject of research. Every paper should address this question explicitly.

Papers could deal with some of the following topics:

1. Negative and positive images and representations of the Americas within West European protest movements, e.g. internal discourses, popular culture and activists' media.

2. Narratives, which aimed at criticizing the politics of U.S. Government or the American political culture in general, at adapting to claims of protest movements from the U.S. itself and at linking advocacy work for leftist guerillas, indigenenous peoples and democratization movements in Latin America with a critical assessment of U.S. American politics.

3. Impact of these representations on the activists' perception of West European societies.

4. Actors, networks and forms of this transatlantic exchange.

5. Ways, in which these representations transcended manichean Cold War antagonisms.

Aiming to provide a polycentric view on representations of the Americas within West European protest movements during the 1980s, we also welcome papers dealing with case studies based on a regional or local movement.

The workshop has an interdisciplinary focus and is interested in papers with perspectives from history, social science, arts and anthropology. We would especially like to invite graduates, PhD students and young Post-Docs to present their ideas on these topics. Presentations during the workshop should not exceed 20 minutes (followed by discussion). The workshop will be held in English.

Please send your proposal (400 words max.) and a short, one-page CV to The deadline is 15 September 2012.

We are working on a solution for reimbursement of expenses for travel and accommodation.

A publication of the workshop results is envisaged.


Dr. des. Frank Reichherzer/Jan Hansen, M.A.
Geschichte Westeuropas und der transatlantischen Beziehungen
Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Unter den Linden 6
10099 Berlin

Christian Helm, M.A.
Geschichte Lateinamerikas und der Karibik
Historisches Seminar
Leibniz Universität Hannover
Im Moore 21
30167 Hannover



Christian Helm

Historisches Seminar, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Im Moore 21, 30167 Hannover

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