Covert Cultures: Art and the Secret State, 1911-1989

4 February 2011 - 5 February 2011

CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge




Dr James Fox  (Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge)
Mr James Purdon (Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge)

The early years of the twentieth century saw the birth of the age of the covert state. Crises of international relations, nationalisms and revolutionary politics led governments to create secret institutions whose activities would long remain hidden from citizens, while those same governments sought through stricter legislation to map and control the flow of their own sensitive information. As the century progressed, espionage and surveillance moved to the centre of popular culture, while real intelligence agencies became more advanced and more powerful, using cultural production as a weapon in the ideological battles of the Cold War. More recently, covert activity has returned to the public consciousness, with espionage, secret weapons programmes, torture and civil liberties again at the forefront of debates on the conduct of the modern state. 
This renewed interest has coincided with the centenary of British intelligence services, and has been well served by the flourishing field of intelligence history. Yet the relation of this new, clandestine world to art has remained relatively under-examined. From the spy novels of the First World War to the CIA’s secret funding of art exhibitions and Encounter magazine in the 1950s, visual art, film and literature have acted in complicity with, as well as in resistance to, the aims of secret state action. This conference – which will take place in the centenary year of the 1911 Official Secrets Act – hopes to investigate the terms on which art and intelligence meet, and the cultural ramifications of that interaction. We invite twenty-minute papers from researchers in the fields of intelligence history, art history, film studies, geography, sociology and English and European literatures.
Topics of discussion will include, but are not limited to:
- Restricted Spaces
- Cultural Complicity and Manipulation
- The Visual Culture of the Secret Services
- Berlin: Intelligence East and West
- Defection
- Torture
- Surveillance
- Spy Fever and Public Paranoia

Accommodation for non-paper giving participants

Conference participants can find information about accommodation in Cambridge at the following URLs:
NB. CRASSH is not able to help with the booking of accommodation.

Administrative assistance: Helga Brandt (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Friday 4 February

8.30 - 9.30




Sir Richard Dearlove KCMG OBE (former head of the British Secret Intelligence Service)

10.00 - 11.30

Panel I: Surveillance & Paranoia

    Dr Kristin Veel (University of Copenhagen): Surveillance Narratives: overload, desire & representation in contemporary narrative fiction

    Dr James Smith (Oxford): Stalinizing Bloomsbury? John Lehmann, the Comintern and the British secret state

    Mr Vladimir Dobrenko (University of Konstanz): Cold War Conspiratorial Imagination: Vigilance & Spy Mania in Soviet Cold War Posters & Film

    Moderator: Dr Alex Houen (Cambridge)

    11.30 - 12.00

    Coffee break

    12.00 - 13.30 

    Panel II: Air Wars, Air Waves

      Dr David Hendy (University of Westminster): Radio, Mind-Control & Air War in the Early Twentieth-Century Britain

      Helen Macdonald (Cambridge): Maxwell Knight, Radio, Naturalism & the Secret State

      Ms Lily Ford (London Consortium): Views from the Air, Viewed in the Archive

      Moderator: Dr Ian Patterson (Cambridge)

      13.30 - 14.30 


      14.30 - 16.00

      Panel III: Exhibiting Ideology

        Ms Maria Mileeva (Courtauld Institute): Soviet Culture for Export: The Case of the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries (VOKS)

        Dr Rebecca Elliott (Australian National University): Two Decades of American Painting: MoMA, USIA and the Cold War

        Prof. Neal White (Bournemouth University): Exploring Dark Places

        Moderator: Dr Luke Skrebowski (Cambridge)

        16.00 - 16.30

        Coffee break

        16.30 - 17.30

        Keynote Address

        Dr Trevor Paglen

        Saturday 5 February

        9.00 - 10.30

        Panel IV: Spy Fictions

        Mr Glyn Salton-Cox (Yale): From the Boarding-house to the Safe House: John Le Carré as Petit-Bourgeois Realist

        Mr Tim Crook (Goldsmiths): Mythologizing the first ‘C’ Captain Mansfield Smith-Cumming in spy fiction and spy novel writing as an intelligence operation

        Prof. Richard Keeble (Lincoln): Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Spooks

        Moderator: Dr Leo Mellor (Cambridge)

        10.30 - 11.00

        Coffee break

        11.00 - 12.15

        Keynote Address

        Prof. Adam Piette (Sheffield)

        12.15 - 13.00 


        13.00 - 14.30 

        Panel V: Cold War Screen Cultures

          Prof. Mark Dorrian (Newcastle):  The Political Imaginary of Powers of Ten

          Prof. John Tulloch (Lincoln): Paranoia, Mysticism, Revenge and the Secret State: Contrasting Versions of Edge of Darkness as Political Texts

          Dr Dietmar Kammerer (Freie Universität Berlin): Propaganda, surveillance, instruction: the filmic production of the GDR’s Ministry for State Security

          Moderator: TBC

          14.30 - 15.00 

          Coffee break

          15.00 - 16.30

          Panel VI: Berlin

            Dr John Heath (Vienna): Hermeneutics & Surveillance: Literary Criticism for the Stasi: the File on Stefan Heym

            Ms Lorna Muir (Aberdeen): Democracy and its Discontents: Rainer Werner Fassbinder and surveillance in 1970s West Germany

            Dr Pam Skelton (Central St Martins): Who Dwells Where? Art and the Stasi Archive

            Moderator: Prof. Andrew Webber (Cambridge)

            16.30 - 17.00


            17.00 - 18.00

            Exhibition talk

            Dr Nicholas Hiley (University of Kent): Cartoonists and the Secret State