International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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84 Cold war urbanism: strategic plans, secure structures and technocratic politics (1)
Convenor(s) Richard Brook (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Martin Dodge (The University of Manchester, UK)
Chair(s) Richard Brook (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)
Timetable Thursday 09 July 2015, Timeslot 1 (09:15 - 11:00)
Room RGS-IBG Council Room
Session abstract In this session we wish to explore how the threat of nuclear war in the 1950s and ‘60s affected planning at a range of geographic scales. National and international telecommunications networks were built during this time as a direct response to global political conditions. The rise of atomic power and computational technologies required new facilities that were often dispersed and situated variously for secrecy and locally available expertise/experience. The zoning of land and organisation of facilities and the planning towns is not conventionally viewed as informed by processes of the ‘warfare state’ (Edgerton, 2005), but we want to ask; What were the patterns of the built environment, economic structures and aesthetics / cultures of Cold War urbanism in Britain? As Boyd and Linehan (2013) state in the introduction to their recent book Ordnance: War + Architecture & Space, we need to be alert to ‘escalation in the intersections between the fabric of the landscape and the technologies of war and the extrusion and mutation of war from the battlefield into everyday life’. The papers draw on a range of different evidential bases, archival research, personal histories and lived experiences and theoretical ideas to understand the spatiality of technological development, primarily focused upon city scales and architectural resultants.
Linked Sessions Cold war urbanism: strategic plans, secure structures and technocratic politics (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
Cold war urbanism: the challenge of survivable city infrastructures
Martin Dodge (The University of Manchester, UK)
This presentation provides an introduction to the session and the theme. It discusses the role of survivable infrastructure design and planning in the face of atomic weapons in the 1950s.
Promise and threat: The dawn of the atomic age and the architectural Imaginary
Russell Rodrigo (University of New South Wales, Australia)
The dawn of the atomic age focused the imagination of professionals in the built environment. While early commentary concentrated on communicating what was understood of the technical aspects of the new technology of atomic power, by the 1950s the impact of atomic energy on architecture is framed not only in terms of the promise of abundant power, but also now in terms of its potential destructive power. Here the most important effect of the atomic age is predicted to be on the design of communities and cities – particularly in relation to reducing the destructive effect of nuclear blasts and the efficient evacuation of cities, and the improvement of building standards to address future attack. Methods for designing decentralised and dispersed cities were also seen as potential solutions for reducing the impact of future atomic blasts on populations. Atomic power represented a paradox. On the one hand it held great promise for humanity as a form of industrial power and on the other hand it also represented the threat of nuclear annihilation. This paper examines the way in which the anxieties of the age were manifested in the early imagination of the built environment profession, a period when science also became more visible in the aesthetic codes of mainstream culture.
The iconography of the nuclear war threat in Cold War Bologna
Eloisa Betti (University of Bologna, Italy)
The paper will explore the iconography of the nuclear war threat created at multiple levels by the Communist propaganda in early 1950s Bologna. The city was uninterruptedly governed by the Italian Communist Party (PCI) from 1945 to 1989, positioning itself ideally in the Eastern bloc even if it belonged formally to the Western sphere of influence. In the late 1940s – early 1950s the flip side of the widespread myth of the Soviet Union was a bitter demonization of US policies, their so-called warmongering and their use of the A-bomb. The Bolognese Committee of the “Partisans of Peace” promoted dozens of rallies and demonstrations together with a local petition for the Stockholm Appeal outlawing nuclear weapons. Thus, dozens of articles on the effects of a possible A-bomb explosion along with drawings and various kinds of images were published in the local Communist press to shock and sway the Bolognese left-wing supporters. Leaflets, placards and photographs of 1950s exhibitions revealed how the nuclear war threat was perceived within the city. Downtown Bologna was considered to be the main possible target of a nuclear attack on the part of the United States, unlike the British cities – taken into consideration as a point of comparison in the paper – which were worried about a possible attack from the Soviet Union.
Airspace in the nuclear age
Jonathan Hogg (University of Liverpool, UK)
In this paper, airspace in the nuclear age is articulated as a physical site for jets, nuclear weapons and military personnel, as well as central to a complex nuclear imaginary based on the technological manifestations of cold war that could be seen, heard, smelled and felt. In the British context, this imaginary contributed to spatial discourses of nuclear threat and nuclear deterrence, influenced the notion of city-as-target, and added to the cold war aesthetic. Thinking about airspace in the cold war era promises to contribute to our understanding of the psycho-social aspects of nuclear culture, and the cultural meaning of the cold war. Conceptions, perceptions, representations and experiences of airspace in the nuclear age will be presented as an under-acknowledged and powerful part of everyday life, and the militarised cold war landscape. This paper builds on my recent research on cold war cities, which suggested that complex nuclear cultures that existed in British cities were shaped by ideas and assumptions discursively reinforced at both a national and local level. To what extent were ideas and assumptions reinforced about airspace in the nuclear age?