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NEH Grant Supports Cold War Arts Research by Duquesne English Professor

A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will support the completion of a forthcoming book about experimental art in the Cold War by Dr. Greg Barnhisel, associate professor of English in Duquesne University's McAnulty College.

The book, Cold War Modernists, will examine the use of experimental art in American cultural diplomacy during the first decade of the Cold War. Ultimately, Barnhisel believes the book will make a case for the value of liberal democracy, freedom of speech and artistic experimentation.

"At the time, the U.S. government supported book and magazine publication, traveling art shows and also the Voice of America radio shows with the aim of persuading audiences-particularly intellectuals in Europe-that the United States had a really thriving culture," Barnhisel explained.

"Showcasing sometimes-challenging art and literature caused conflict in the government, with some conservatives in Congress unsupportive while a number of Department of State officials called the works positive evidence of America's cultural freedom. I'm looking at how it went from being seen as un-American to really championing the American ideal," Barnhisel said.

Some controversial artists he's examining include novelist William Faulkner, painters Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Jackson Pollock, and poet and editor Stephen Spender.

To find out more about the internal debates of the government regarding the effort, Barnhisel will travel throughout the year to research government archives. Stops will include:

  • National Archives in College Park, Md.
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kan.
  • Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Mo.
  • Princeton University Library in Princeton, N.J.

Cold War Modernists, the result of eight years of work, will be published by Columbia University Press in 2014.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.