Cold War University. Humanities and Arts Education as a (Battle)field of Diplomatic Influence and Decolonial Practice



  • Judith Rottenburg
  • Lisa Skwirblies



Recent calls to “decolonize the university” have captivated campuses all over the globe. From the #RhodesMustFall movement in Cape Town and Oxford to campaigns against casteism in Indian universities, the supposed universality of the university and its epistemologies are under public scrutiny. Students and scholars across the world increasingly question the terms upon which the university and education more broadly exist and operate. In 2012, Ramón Grosfoguel, Capucine Boidin and James Cohen dedicated a special issue to the question, asking “what it could mean to decolonize the Westernized university and its Eurocentric knowledge structures'' (Boidin, Cohen, and Grosfoguel 2012). They claim that “one important path to renewal would involve opening the university resolutely to interepistemic dialogues with a view to building a new university”. This university is imagined as a “pluriversity”, based on an understanding of “universal knowledge as pluriversal knowledge” (ibid.).

This special issue seeks to address these epistemological questions from historical, geopolitical, and institutional perspectives by investigating the mutual influence of Cold War politics and universities. The contributors to this issue elaborate on the role Cold War politics played in the development of the university and arts education – in particular theatre education – as we understand them today; and, conversely, the role that the university and arts education – again, in particular theatre education – played in Cold War politics and the politics of decolonization that formed part of it.

Author Biographies

Judith Rottenburg

Judith Rottenburg is an art historian who specialises in histories of modern and contemporary art of Africa and Europe in the 20th and 21st centuries. As a member of the international doctoral program MIMESIS at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU) and as a research fellow at the German Centre for Art History in Paris, she completed her PhD in 2017 on the arts in post-independence Senegal, circa 1960-80. Between 2017 and 2020, she was a postdoctoral research associate in the ERC-funded project “Developing Theatre. Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945” at the LMU. Currently, she is a research associate at the Institute of Art and Visual Studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin and a member of the international research group “Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology”.

Lisa Skwirblies

Lisa Skwirblies is a theatre historian and works currently as a post doc researcher at the institute for theatre studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Her research interests are theatre and performance historiography, postcolonial and decolonial theory, and the history of protest. She obtained her PhD from the University of Warwick in 2018 and held an EU Marie Curie COFUND fellowship between 2018 and 2020.