2019 Cohen Tucker Dissertation Prize
The 2019 Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize was awarded to Louis H. Porter for “Cold War Internationalisms: The USSR in UNESCO, 1945-1967” UNC at Chapel Hill
Louis Porter’s lively, insightful, and tightly-argued dissertation examines the reciprocally influential relationship between the Soviet Union and UNESCO. Through the lens of that relationship, Porter reveals important domestic policy dilemmas that the Khrushchev and early Brezhnev governments faced when participating in Western-dominated international organizations. The Soviet government sought to use UNESCO as a means to spread Soviet influence abroad and thereby legitimate the Communist party’s rule at home, but found that participation required risk-taking (such as sending skilled professionals to Paris) and a degree of openness for which the Soviet leadership and domestic institutions were often unprepared. Porter’s innovative historiography draws on Soviet state and party archives as well as the UNESCO archives, and examines a wide range of materials, from documents that trace the fraught relationship between Soviet officialdom and UNESCO, to reports and correspondence written by Soviets working as “international civil servants” in Paris, and letters from Soviet citizens to UNESCO’s magazine. In so doing, Porter uncovers the Soviet state’s efforts to influence UNESCO, as well as UNESCO’s impact – both on its Soviet employees and on Soviet citizens who read UNESCO literature at home, changing the Soviet population’s views about the boundaries of their community, and introducing them to an internationalism alternative to the Marxist version. With its focus on cultural transmission, geopolitics, and ideational exchange at levels below that of the top state leadership, Porter’s dissertation makes a valuable contribution to the new post-war diplomatic history, as well as to our understanding of Soviet domestic political change after Stalin, and the country’s complicated and contradictory process of opening to the West.