Travelers in a Divided World: Cold War Tourism

AHA Session 255
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Stevens C-5 (Hilton Chicago, Lower Level)
Evan R. Ward, Brigham Young University
Guillaume de Syon, Albright College

Session Abstract

What roles did the leisure activities of private citizens play in reinforcing and bridging a world divided by political, economic, and cultural schisms? During the Cold War, states East and West opened seemingly impermeable boundaries to domestic and foreign tourists. Through the very act of traversing these boundaries, travelers became informal agents of cultural diplomacy, foreign and economic policy, and propaganda. Their pursuit of pleasure on both sides of the Iron Curtain challenged and reaffirmed their loyalties to nations and ideas.

In studying diverse opportunities for tourism in the Cold War, we ask: Under what circumstances did states and private companies facilitate tourism? What attracted travelers to specific sites, even to spaces of political and ideological conflict? What happened when the aims of states and citizen-travelers did not align? In which ways did people and objects function as ambassadors in a divided world? What forms of knowledge circulated with tourists, and what was their impact at home and abroad? Each of the panelists addresses these and other questions through particular case studies of Cold War tourism.

In her paper “Making New Friends and Generating Profits: People-to-People, TransWorld Airlines, and International Friendship Tours,” Victoria Grieve explores efforts by the federal government, American businesses, and private organizations to encourage American citizens to travel abroad as representatives of the nation, and to spread American “friendship” throughout the world via Cold War public diplomacy. She argues that group tourism to the “Old World” of Western Europe reaffirmed American travelers’ existing loyalty to a democratic, capitalist worldview.

John Soares follows the exploits of Canadian hockey teams on tour in Europe in his paper “‘Hooligans, Drummond Villains, and Canada’s Largest Invasion of Europe Since WWII’: Ice Hockey Tourism in the 1960s and ’70s.” Soares notes how, because of hockey’s status as Canada’s national game, players’ conduct on and off the ice was of political consequence. He frames athlete-tourists as agents of cultural diplomacy who, more often than not, created conflict rather than goodwill across Eastern and Western Europe.

In her paper “‘The World’s Champion Souvenir Collectors’: American Tourists, Consumption, and Power during the Cold War,” Sara Fieldston attends to the experiences of American shoppers abroad. In their pursuit of souvenirs, Fieldston argues, Americans tourists grappled with the politics of the Cold War. She uses the lens of material culture to complicate narratives of U.S. cultural and economic hegemony.

Emily Margolis examines domestic tourism to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in the early years of the Cold War. In her paper “Ambassadors for Apollo: NASA, Tourism, and Cold War American Values,” she shows how NASA employed tourism to frame its lunar program as a national imperative. Rather than demonstrating Apollo’s relevance to American culture, visitor programs, including guided bus tours and exhibitions, presented the lunar landing program as manifestation of American culture. By appealing to an existing set of loyalties, NASA made its millions of visitors into ardent ambassadors of the Apollo program.

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