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Response to Winning Women’s Hearts and Minds: Selling Cold War Culture in the US and USSR

I am very grateful to Dr Thomas Ellis for providing such a thoughtful review of my monograph, Winning Women’s Hearts and Minds: Selling Cold War Culture in the US and the USSR. He thoroughly explains its central tenets, the goals of America’s overseas information program in the Soviet Union during the early Cold War era, and elaborates on my use of the rarely discussed Amerika magazine, as a core component of that program, when it was reissued beginning in 1956. In writing on the Cold War through the not often enough discussed lens of gender and consumption, I am honored to be part of a community of historians of cultural diplomacy, both female (and male!), whose work has shaped my own, several of whom Ellis notes.

I appreciate the thoroughness of Ellis’s review. What I appreciate most are his final paragraphs. This is where he insightfully articulates potential avenues of future research, each of which I wholeheartedly agree would be fruitful. First, he articulates an interest in seeing more stories of how Russian readers encountered, interpreted, and internalized Amerika, and its clearly Westernized (and often biased) messages and images. As a Canadian historian writing on American foreign policy I intentionally focused on the American overseas information program, Western interpretations of Russian women, and how it attempted to sway these women towards a supposedly superior way of life. Part of my approach was practical. For example, in speaking with the lead archivist at the National Archives at College Park, in Maryland, I was told that Amerika’s records were quite literally on the verge of being shredded before they were “rescued’ at the last minute. Unfortunately, within American archives (and Presidential Libraries), stories of Russian women’s responses to Amerika were difficult to obtain. The sources I did find that described Russian women’s responses to Amerika were akin to finding a pot of gold. They were extremely fascinating to read. This is an unfortunate testament to the fact that cultural records are rarely taken as seriously as those of a political or military nature—although times are fortunately changing. Aware of the limitations of these archives, and my great interest in print culture, my approach was to discuss Amerika from a U.S. perspective, rather than exploring a fulsome Russian reaction, even if I wish I could have. Letters and responses to the magazine may exist in Russian-based archives, and this would be an interesting avenue of further research. Whether positive or negative, they would certainly contribute to a thorough analysis of the impact of Amerika on Russian women, their access to the magazine, and their thoughts and interpretations.

Second, Ellis also expresses a curiosity about the nature of the magazine after 1971, when my analysis ends. I have received this comment on many occasions. My logic for concluding my study at this point (with a sizeable gap during the 1960s) was that during this year the magazine’s editors created what I believe to be a pinnacle issue, at least in relation to women’s rights. This issue was one that finally contained a “special report” on the feminist movement, after years of neglecting this subject matter. I agree with Ellis. The years beyond 1971 to the end of Amerika’s existence in 1994 would provide a fascinating case study on its relationship to gender and the Cold War. The 1980s would be of particular interest, when the women’s rights movement stagnated, but the Cold War escalated under the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, as would the 1950s, when we witnessed a veneration of women’s traditional roles during a heightened conservative era. During these periods, how avidly were women’s roles, and the Cold War, reflected in Amerika, or in other U.S. cultural pursuits in relation to the Soviet Union? This question highlights another area to be further explored, namely the many national exhibitions, 23 in total, that the U.S. organized from 1959 to 1991. In each of these exhibitions, with the exception of the 1959 American National Exhibition, known for its “kitchen debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev, Amerika was banned. This is a testament to the impact of this magazine, particularly amongst women. As Ellis articulates, and regardless of how we refer to it, the statement remains the same: public diplomacy, or cultural diplomacy, or propaganda, or soft power, can and should be explored further for its larger impact on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and should be studied in conjunction with political and military might in inciting that collapse. Each of these aspects is important. To this I ask, perhaps this is the subject of a future book? One which I look forward to pursuing, as I hope other researchers do as well. Thank you, Dr Ellis for your thoughtful review, and important insights.