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Seminar "Boundaries of History" "Global History and Anthropology of Media"

On March 23, 2017, the guests of regular international scientific seminar "The boundaries of history" were three anthropologists Barbie Zelizer (University of Pennsylvania), Arvind Rajagopal (NYU) and Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov (HSE St Petersburg) followed by discussion chaired by Alexander Semyonov (HSE St Petersburg).

The first report by B. Zelizer's “US Journalism's Cold War Mindset” was devoted to examining the ways in which American journalism remains correlated to the thinking that was established during the Cold War. Such conditions continues to determine the main aspects of this thinking and form current journalism in both explicit and implicit form. According to the author, after the end of the Cold War, journalism went underground, waiting to surface whenever events in need of meaning needed explanation. B.Zelitser talked about the evolution of Cold War thinking, which was fixed in American journalism and its attributes, which turned it into a solid and deeply entrenched mnemonic scheme.

The second report by A. Rajagopal “The Global Career of the Communication Concept” focused on the concept of "communication", which was interpreted as a philosophical term, but experienced many transformations of the ongoing trend. The report was aimed at presenting this concept to historical analysis and explaining how the concept with power ambitions first became global and then narrow before becoming again cosmopolitan. Approaching it first from the history of the United States, and then from the Global South, it uses a technical and disciplinary history for their mutual correction and explains the shifting policy of one of the most important features of the 20th century.

According to the author’s conception, the idea of communication was widely known in the years of the early Cold War as a concept that links scientific disciplines and transfers modernization to a non-Western world. By the 1970s, the notion had acquired a negative connotation, at the same time the newly formed terms gained prestigious positions, not having those in the history of previous periods. "Media" and "the formation of the public sphere" have now become a project of national states, while the international consequences of these concepts have been rejected. By the end of the Cold War, globalization, at first glance, seemed to prophesy about the end of nation states, and the "information revolution" promoted the transformation. A. Rajagopal analyzed how, in the context of globalization, the concept of communication is changing in its diverse incarnations, from the inter-war political culture of the United States and the debate on mass society and propaganda, to the deployment of communication infrastructure as a key aspect of the American soft power in the Cold War and after that.

The emerging consensus on a new, unifying concept in the social and human sciences was short-lived, and accusations on the cold war agenda and covert operations led to a retreat of discipline into narrower problems and research in the field. However, the influence of the American soft power was indeed global; India was a key field for superpower rivalry, where the United States successfully promoted communication infrastructure and expertise, as in many other countries around the world. We can say that the goal of the United States is to turn India into a demonstration of non-communist democratization in a poor country. Expansion of the media infrastructure is crucial for the postcolonial triumph of the "Indian radiance". Although the analysis of communication was formed by tension between East and West, it was North-South dynamics that turned out to be the most saturated.

The last speech by N.Ssorin-Chaikov “Media, 'Anthropology at a Distance' and Soviet Studies at the Wake of the Cold War” touched upon the study of Soviet studies that arose in the United States in the late 1940s, the main sources of which, in addition to interviews with former Soviet prisoners of war, were mass media. The media were important not only as material, but also conceptual for the very setting of the subject of Soviet research in the form of "anthropology at a distance" and "anthropology of the enemy." The author of the report considers the issue of the global distribution of the enemy figure from Soviet discourses in the US to Soviet research.

The speeches ended in a lively discussion, during which some of the questions indicated by the speakers during the speech were clarified.

Report by Alexander Korobeynikov