14 Mar 2017 5:00pm - 6:30pm SG1, CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


A public lecture with Ute Caumanns (University of Düsseldorf)


The lecture considers the relevance of visuality and visual sources in conspiracy theory research. It argues that conspiracy theories are meant to be disseminated amongst a given public. To achieve this, they are communicated not only through written texts, but also with the help of speech and visualization. It is open to question, whether graphic images and visual representation can contribute to a chronological classification of conspiracy theory including pre-modern history.

The presentation focusses on post-war Eastern Europe, where to – following the Moscow Purge Trials of the late 1930s – the model of Stalinist show trials was transferred. Against the background of historical case studies from Stalinist Czechoslovakia, Poland and Eastern Germany, show trials are presented as performative acts as well as (multi)media events. Onstage, they offer an elaborate and refined narrative – in order to destroy someone politically and morally by means of fabricated recriminations, but also as a means to reinterpret history in conspiratorial terms.


Ute Caumanns teaches History at the Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Germany (Dep. of History and Cultures in Eastern Europe). She holds a PhD in East European History from the University of Düsseldorf. For her dissertation she focused on political Catholicism in interwar Poland analysing the Jesuit press. Between 1996 and 2000 she was Researcher at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw, working on a case study on Public Health in the Russian Part of partitioned Poland, 1815-1915. Since 1999 she focuses also on conspiracy theories (Verschwörungstheorien. Anthropologische Konstanten – historische Varianten, coed. Mathias Niendorf, Osnabrück 2001; „Der Teufel in Rot. Trockij und die Ikonographie des „jüdischen Bolschewismus“ im polnisch-sowjetischen Krieg, 1919/1920“ in: zeitenblicke 10, 2 [22.12.2011], online available at http://www.zeitenblicke.de/2011/2/Caumanns/index_html [last access 04/01/2017]; Wer zog die Drähte? Verschwörungstheorien im Bild, coed. Lars Gronau, Christian Lange, Tim Mörsch, Düsseldorf 2012). Her present project on show trials in East Central Europe deals with conspiratorial narrative, performative and media aspects (“Der Feind im Innern. Stalinistische Schauprozesse und Verschwörungsdenken im Kalten Krieg“ in INDES. Zeitschrift für Politik und Gesellschaft 2015, 4, 80-87; „Verschwörungsdenken in der politischen Führung Polens im Kalten Krieg. Bierut, Berman, Werfel und der ‚Prozess der Generäle’“ in Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung 2016, 181-194). In 2014/2015 she was heading the student project Schauprozesse. Inszenierung und Medialisierung politischer Justiz in Osteuropa, online-exhibition available December 2015-December 2018 at http://www.schauprozesse.de.

This event is open to all and will be followed by a wine reception. 

This is part of a series of public talks from the Leverhulme-funded project Conspiracy and Democracy. More information at http://www.conspiracyanddemocracy.org/

Enquiries – conspiracy@crassh.cam.ac.uk

Conspiracy theories and their visual representation: Stalinist Show trials in Eastern Europe

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