Skip to main content

The Cold War Goes Pop! Visualizing the Cold War through European Films and Comics


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Rui Lopes
  • Assessment: a 5500-word essay (100%) and 60% attendance requirement (0%)

Module description

At a time when tropes of surveillance, paranoia and East/West tension and conflict permeate European public discourse, it is important to critically contextualise the origins and historical evolution of those images. Rooted in rival visions of world order and social life, the Cold War in Europe was crucially fought in the realm of perceptions, expectations, ideologies and identities, to the point that recent literature has framed it as an ‘imaginary war’.

In this module, we will discuss the material construction of imagination through the analysis of two prominent visual media in the European popular culture of the second half of the twentieth century: cinema and comic books. Looking at cultural objects as more than propaganda tools, we will assess the interplay between agendas driven by internal as well as outside forces. How did the European industries compete in a public sphere saturated with American and Soviet products? What role did the everyday visualisation of geopolitics play in the development of national or regional identities and divisions? Did it reify or undermine the international system? Did it enact or challenge notions of raison d’état and political violence? How was the gender imbalance among creators, distributors, censors, critics and fanbases reflected in their depictions of modernity? Ultimately, how did films and comics materialise the ‘imaginary war’ and how did that global conflict shape Europe’s popular imagination?

In each class, we will examine specific objects from Eastern and Western Europe in order to interrogate the connections between creative movements, industrial conditions and the many facets of the Cold War. We will combine theories and analytical methods from media and cultural studies with historical research, engaging with the latest insights and findings about Cold War Europe.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Introduction: an imaginary war?
  • Year Zero: filming among the ruins
  • Transnational Thrills: turning geopolitics into adventure
  • Voyages into the Future: projecting modernity
  • Heavens and Hells: dramatising division
  • Crossed Borders: commodifying espionage
  • War Games: anticipating the nuclear apocalypse
  • New Waves: challenging power and cinema
  • Cities That Never Were: designing utopia and dystopia
  • Hot Wars and Invasions: fantasising about conflict

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • identify and analyse influential films, comic books and creative movements, problematising their images of the Cold War
  • critically assess and explain the Cold War’s articulation with the development of the production of European cinema and comics
  • recognise and evaluate the latest historiographical interpretations and debates about this topic
  • interpret and critique primary sources that include films, comics and archival documents about their production and circulation, drawing on interdisciplinary methods to incorporate visual media into a discussion of contemporary European history.