Media, Communication and Communism in International Context

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

This course is a history of media in communist societies with particular attention to the modes and institutions of production, dissemination, and reception in an international context. The course begins with the premise that the mass media - the press (increasingly accessible in conjunction with the literacy campaign), radio, cinema and later television - were central to the communist goals of political socialization and cultural enlightenment. A second premise is that understanding “everyday socialism” requires understanding how the media “works,” so special attention will be paid to concepts like propaganda, censorship and public opinion that figure prominently in interpreting the way in which communication takes place in communist societies. A third premise is that the media environment during this period was never isolated, but exported to, exchanged with and penetrated by “western” media; thus the international context of media reception and interpretation is part of the history.

The course begins with the emergence of what Kenez calls the “propaganda state” during the Bolshevik Revolution and addresses how the Soviet press, radio and film industries were formed and operated, with attention to socialist realism and Stalinism. The second part looks at media as enlisted in World War II and early Cold War diplomacy, including propaganda, “sovietisation,” and international radio broadcasting. Part 3 specifically addresses Central and Eastern European media – the press, film and television – during the Cold War period. In addition to case studies on individual countries, sessions will also look at the influence of Western media and cultural resistance through underground and alternative cultures. The last weeks will discuss glasnost and media reform efforts, media and political crisis followed by reflections on how the socialist past is represented in post-socialist media.

Learning Outcomes: 

Students will be encouraged to use the RFE/RL files and reports, in order to develop skills in interpreting documents and media products in larger political, historical and conceptual frameworks. In addition to visual materials like posters, newsreels, feature film, and television, attention will be paid to music, radio and other forms of media culture reflecting the interests of the class. During discussions students will share descriptions and analyses of the media of their area of specialization through individual presentations in order to talk about how media may operate differently in different national contexts. Finally, the importance of media flows across boundaries, including East-West and more globally, will encourage a broader understanding of the international context of socialist media.


Students are expected to prepare for and attend all classes, which will include lectures and class discussion (10 percent of the grade). A student who misses more than two classes without a verified explanation must submit an 8-10 page paper on the material from the missed class no later than 3 weeks after the missed class.

Each student will make one Presentation (25 percent of the grade).  This presentation may be on one of the recommended or choice readings, or on your own selected story from the press, a film, or another medium, or a relevant topic for the course. In each case the presentation should go beyond content to provide historical context and significance. The presentation topic should be proposed to the instructor during the first 4 weeks of the class - after class, in office hours, or through email.

Each student should select one of the readings from the first half of the course on which to write a very short Reflection Paper of no more than 2-3 double-spaced pages (15 percent of the grade).  This paper should “reflect” upon the reading, its historiographical significance, and its potential conceptual or critical contribution. This paper will be due by midnight on Friday, November 3rd.  

A final paper of 3000 words (50 percent of the grade) will complete the course assessment. A brief proposal for the final paper should be uploaded no later than midnight on Friday, November 10th. The instructor will be available to discuss the paper during office hours. The paper will be due in the beginning of January 2016, the exact date to be announced in class, one week before grades are due to the History Department.