Call for Papers: Refugees and the (Global) Cold War

Deadline: May 7, 2021

Location: Germany

Date: 29-30 October 2021

Subject Fields: Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Diplomacy and International Relations, Immigration & Migration History / Studies, Human Rights, World History / Studies

This international workshop will bring together established and emerging scholars to chart the intersection between refugee history and Cold War history. The most well-known connection between these two fields is the figure of the political refugee fleeing from the socialist East to the democratic West. As recent research in both areas has highlighted, however, forced displacement and Cold War competition were global phenomena. While postwar international refugee law, as manifested in the 1951 Refugee Convention, centered on European anticommunist refugees, ongoing crises of displacement beyond the West, in for instance Korea or resulting from the Chinese Civil War, and later in Vietnam, were also shaped by the Cold War. Furthermore, conflicts of decolonization in Southern Africa and elsewhere led to deep tensions – not least among European actors – between Cold War alignment and a rising politics of humanitarianism that pursued impartiality. Superpower interventions in the Global South more generally – for instance in Central America by the United States or in Afghanistan by the Soviet Union – combined with regional political dynamics to both contribute and respond to refugee flows. By exploring the entanglement of refugee and Cold War history, the workshop will enable us to reassess established narratives about the globalization of both refugee politics and Cold War competition. It will contribute to ongoing efforts at writing the transnational history of the Cold War and integrating refugee history into international history broadly construed. And finally, it will enable analysis of the continuities and discontinuities between Cold War and post-Cold War displacement.

The workshop is open to a broad range of contributions in terms of chronology, geography, and methodology, from PhD students, early career researchers, and established scholars. This includes contributions relating to European refugees such as those mentioned above, who remain a key part of the story. The workshop is also not limited to contributions concerning those formally recognized as refugees; it approaches the term flexibly to refer to displacement more generally. Potential topics include, but are by no means limited to: contestations of the term ‘refugee’ and related concepts like ‘(economic) migrant’, ‘asylum-seeker’ or ‘exile’; the role of political ideology; the development of international organizations like IRO, UNHCR, or the IOM; flight from not only East to West but for instance West to East, South to East, or South to South; regional refugee regimes and intraregional displacement; the agency, motivation, and experience of refugees as well as those staying in place; the impact of the rise of human rights, humanitarianism, and development aid, including in the form of nongovernmental actors; representation, including memory and public history; national and local refugee and migration policy and administration, including refugee camps and borders.

To apply, please send a 250-word abstract and a 2-page CV to by 7 May 2021. The workshop will take place from 29-30 October 2021 at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Participants will be asked to pre-circulate working papers ahead of the workshop. While the workshop will be conducted in English, and English-language submissions are preferred, German- or French-language submissions will also be considered. The envisioned result is an edited volume with a leading academic press and/or a special issue in a leading journal, which will provide the first fully-fledged survey of the subject.

A decision as to whether the workshop will take place in-person, in a hybrid format, or solely online, will be taken in the coming few months. For participants attending in person, meals and accommodation (two nights) will be provided, and limited funding for travel reimbursement will be available. For participants attending online, limited compensation for participation will be available. The workshop is funded by the Research Unit ‘Borders’ of the Cluster of Excellence ‘Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)’.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact the organizer: Bastiaan Bouwman, Freie Universität (


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