Simon Ottersbach

SimonOttersbachInternational Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC)
Alter Steinbacher Weg 38, 35394 Gießen, Raum 107
Tel: 0641-99-30025




Simon Ottersbach ist Doktorand in Geschichte an der Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen sowie Stipendiat und Akademische Hilfskraft am International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC). Er ist desweiteren Mitherausgeber von On_Culture: The Open Journal for the Study of Culture. In seiner Dissertation beschäftigt er sich mit der transnationalen Wissensgeschichte des sog. Kalten Krieges. Er untersucht Radio Freies Europa hinsichtlich dessen epistemischer Dimension, d.h. nicht als Radiosender, sondern als Forschungseinrichtung mit Fokus auf das östliche Europa. Zuvor hat er Geschichte, Englisch, Sozialkunde und Erziehungswissenschaften (Lehramt Gymnasium) an den Universitäten Regensburg und Sheffield (Großbritannien) studiert und mit dem 1. Staatsexamen abgeschlossen.


Knowledge as Propaganda? Radio Free Europe’s Production and Circulation of Cold War Knowledge (1950-1971) (Arbeitstitel)

The present historiography on Radio Free Europe (RFE) has mostly focused on the broadcasting activities to Eastern Europe (e.g. Johnson, Cold War Broadcasting, 2010). This inner-European focus, however, neglects the role of RFE as a Cold War research institution with focus on East and Central East Europe. The resulting ‚Cold War knowledge‘ was not only used for broadcasts. It also circulated on transatlantic channels from RFE’s Munich headquarters to the USA.
RFE was founded in 1950 and secretly funded (until 1971) by the CIA as a propaganda radio station for the „captive“ audiences in the Soviet hemisphere. RFE’s own Research Department provided the editors with information and analyses of East and Central European political, cultural, and economic affairs. Information was obtained e.g. from monitoring most communist and selected western media. This data served as the basis for analyses of topical events and longer socio-political processes. My previous research suggests that – despite its propagandistic social setting – the work of the Research Department can be characterized as knowledge production. Its output was stored in an archive that supposedly soon became „the envy of [those] journalists and scholars all over the world“ (Arch Puddington, Broadcasting Freedom, 2000, p.38) interested in Eastern and Central Eastern Europe.
This archive, however, was not for internal use only. External journalists, researchers, students, governments, and intelligence agencies could access this „envy“ by either scribing to published research reports or by being granted physical access in the Munich headquarters. Thus, RFE research and knowledge not only pierced the Iron Curtain by airwaves. It was also circulated in a West European space and transferred on transatlantic channels to the USA.
My dissertation project focuses in an innovative perspective on this epistemic dimension of a Cold War broadcaster: RFE’s role as a generator of knowledge and its transatlantic entanglements through circulation of its Cold War knowledge. Did RFE’s knowledge – produced in a highly ideologically charged environment – therefore also serve as propaganda in a transatlantic, western space? The project will contribute not only to the institutional history of RFE but also to the recently burgeoning historiography on the role and position of (social) science in and for the Cold War.


Rezension zu: Anna Bischof und Zuzana Jürgens (Hrsg.): Voices of Freedom – Western Interference? 60 Years of Radio Free Europe, Göttingen 2015, H-Soz-Kult,15.09.2016,

‚Exploring the Languages and Sciences of/during the Cold War. Tagungsbericht zum Studientag: Science that Came in from the Cold: Epistemology, Rationality and Cold War Scientific Culture.‘ kult_online 47