#FacultyFeature – Lauren Brown

Welcome back to the 255! We send all our students our best wishes as we quickly approach midterms season. This week we wanted to give a quick update on one of our former #FacultyFeature posts. Last semester we highlighted the work of Professor Lauren Erin Brown and her book project Cold War, Culture War, and War on Terror: The Art of Public Diplomacy in a Post-Cold War World. Professor Brown’s work was one of our featured reading posts which you can check out here. Recently, the Wilson Center, a non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research, interviewed Professor Brown about her motivation and inspiration to conduct her study. Check out snip-bits of the interview below and use the following link to read the entire entry.

As a quick refresher Dr. Brown’s work examines how the National Endowment for the Arts lost funding during the 1990s and reframes the conversation around the relationship between the arts and larger U.S. foreign relations in the Cold War and War on Terror. Dr. Brown discusses her own work by explaining “I’m forever interested in how and why America supports the arts and the impact those policy and money decisions have on the art that actually gets made.” She elaborates on the mission of her project by adding “These are important stories to tell in 2020, as we face a new chapter in the culture wars in an unstable economy where continued support for artists is far from guaranteed.”

“Q: What project are you working on at the [Wilson] Center?

My current book project, “Cold War, Culture Wars, War on Terror: The Art of Public Diplomacy in a Post-Cold War World, 1990-2010” is an expansion of a recent article published in Cold War History.  I’m asking three essential questions.  First, what role did cultural agencies like the NEA/NEH, the Kennedy Center, and the Smithsonian play in American public diplomacy?  Second, how did the Cold War’s end impact their operations?  Third, was the resuscitation of agencies gutted in the mid-90s and subsequent programming related to the War on Terror. Preliminary research suggests the Bush-era launched a public diplomacy operation—a marketing campaign straight from the Cold War playbook—to rebrand the NEA, enlist other agencies in reaffirming American cultural values, and support the war.

Professor Brown

“Q: How did you become interested in your current research topic?”

There’s the romantic answer and the intellectual answer to that question. The intellectual answer is that I’ve had the great fortune, over my career, to be mentored by some outstanding consumer historians–Daniel Horowitz at Smith, Charlie McGovern, with whom I overlapped at the Smithsonian, and Lizabeth Cohen at Harvard. And what is cultural diplomacy if not marketing America? . . . I remain endlessly interested in how cultural policy reflects and creates “America,” especially abroad, particularly when the version we sell to others conflicts with an “America” actively contested at home.

The romantic answer? A rose from a Russian ballet dancer. A child of the 80s, I had the good fortune to present the after-show flowers on stage to a touring group of Soviet dancers who performed Sleeping Beauty’s “Bluebird” pas de deux. I handed the dancer her bouquet and as they do, she pulled out a rose to hand back to me . . . I knew this was the enemy (being the last generation to grow up with atomic bomb duck and cover drills) and she was so beautiful. That I’d find myself decades later sitting at the Bolshoi and the Maryiinsky, studying the exchanges that brought that dancer to stand in front of younger me, seems fitting.

Prof Brown

“Q: Why do you believe that your research matters to a wider audience?”

The Russian government shuttered the U.S. Embassy’s American Center in Moscow in 2015, housed for two decades at a local library.  I lectured there while a Fulbrighter—an unassuming spot for the people-to-people interactions Cold War programs promoted.  The American Center reopened, but within the Embassy’s campus, thus necessitating Russian visitors present passports and eliminating the casual visits people-to-people exchange intends.  These are important programs which are not always maintaining support . . .  Calls to eliminate the NEA/NEH increased over the previous administration . . . Whether these agencies—domestic and international culture exchange workers that they are—survive (hopefully thrive) or follow the USIA’s path depends on our understanding of the work they do in the world.  America lives with institutions and policy approaches, cultural diplomacy especially, that are by-products of the Cold War.  It’s time to understand historically how the Cold War’s end impacted their well-being and missions as we’ve moved into a post-Cold War world, especially one with new Russian antagonism and instabilities.

Prof Brown

“Q: What do you hope the impact of your research will be?”

Simply put, for more people to see the value a coherent and thoughtful cultural policy offers our nation, both as an avenue for self-understanding domestically as well as a path for positive impression management and connections abroad.  And for these efforts to be funded appropriately, dare I even suggest, richly.

Prof Brown

Congratulations to Professor Lauren Erin Brown for the success of her research project. We are excited to have her back sharing her research findings with students this semester in AIP 317 Cold War Diplomacy. Thanks for joining us this week on the 255 and reading our #FacultyFeature. Stay on the look out for our updates that give you the 441 on the awesome works of our MMC faculty. As always, a gentle reminder to be kind, stay safe, and tune into your creative side.

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