Third-party funded project

Crafting Entanglements: Afro-Asian Pasts of the Global Cold War (CRAFTE)

Research department: Contemporary History and Archive

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Christoph Bernhardt Dr. Rita Gudermann

Consortium: Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (Coordination) Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space Leibniz-Centre for Contemporary History

Funding Organization: Leibniz Association / Leibniz Competition, Programme Cooperative Excellence

Duration: 07/2023 - 06/2026

The project explores entanglements of Afro-Asian actors during the Cold War, focusing on persons, practices and their everyday sites of interaction. The Cold War’s ambit of influence extended far beyond the geographical bounds of Europe and America and the Soviet Union. Recent research has taken note of voices from Africa and Asia, yet little is known about their interconnections. Overlooking these has given us a one-sided picture of the Cold War in which the global South only appears as a theatre of bloc politics. CRAFTE proposes to fill this gap by critically engaging with the lived world(s) of Afro-Asian connections, to show how these were embedded in, but also, how they shaped the global Cold War.

CRAFTE’s central aim is to foreground the vitality of South-South connections and reveal how they were “crafted” through material, symbolic and everyday practices. Going beyond existing scholarship’s focus on state-driven programmatics, CRAFTE’s novelty lies in that it: (1) questions the assumed passivity of Afro-Asian actors, restoring their agency as critical co-shapers of the Cold War; (2) employs the framework of global-entangled histories, thus expanding the narrow spatial ambit of Cold War research; (3) privileges the histories of non-elites, focusing on groups such as students, women, shopkeepers, not-so-well-to-do migrants, radio journalists/listeners; (4) calls for a nuanced approach to entanglements, which are not only seen as romanticized forms of solidarity but also as spaces that bred friction and competition, thus mapping the pre-history of existing discourses on sameness/difference/racial othering across Afro-Asia. A first-of-its-kind in Cold War research, the interdisciplinary project combines archival research, oral history and ethnographic fieldwork to expand the remit of the Cold War archive.

Four kinds of actors and their specific sites of engagement constitute this project:

Students’ networks within the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), the International Union of Students (IUS) and the International Student Conference (ISC);

Women’s networks emerging from the Afro-Asian Women’s Conferences (Colombo 1958 and Cairo 1961) (AAWC), the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) and the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-85);

Media entanglements enabled by foreign broadcasting radio stations and their global listening audiences (Deutsche Welle (DW), Radio Berlin International (RBI), British Broadcasting Service (BBC), Radio Moscow and Voice of America (VOI)), and International Film Festivals (Moscow, West Berlin, Leipzig, Cannes, and Afro-Asian Film networks at festivals in Beijing, Tashkent and Cairo);
Everyday lives of Afro-Asian actors in the divided Cold War city (East and West Berlin), particularly focusing on non-elite groups such as traders, shopkeepers, journalists, migrants, political asylum seekers, students, friendship societies and Afro-Asian unions on both sides of the Wall.

In setting out to write uncharted histories of Afro-Asian interconnections, CRAFTE’s objectives are as follows:

Mapping an inclusive, entangled and polycentric history of the Global Cold War. Afro-Asian pasts are not seen here as alternative histories to, or a counter illustration of, existing Cold War histories. Instead, they reveal how actors from Africa and Asia were deeply enmeshed in these pasts as ‘active’ co-shapers, advantage seekers and “political engineers” of postcolonial futures.

Envisaging non-elite, social histories of the Cold War. In doing so, it moves beyond existing international and diplomatic histories which dominate Cold War historiography. Historiography on South-South engagements during the Cold War, NAM being the best example, has also largely remained confined to state programmatics. At its best, we now have intellectual histories which dominate “South-South Solidarity” research. CRAFTE will push this strand from intellectual towards social history in which a variety of social actors such as radio listening publics, women, students, migrants, traders etc. find a prominent place.

Expanding the remit of the Cold War archive by moving beyond state and national archives to include local and regional archives, private collections and oral testimonies. Particularly in the two continents, the last generation of actors who were at the forefront of these exchanges is now slowly dwindling. Their narratives are an important source base (as has duly been recognized in the case of their counterparts from the blocs). Incorporating voices from the global South not only makes CRAFTE significant in its aims but also timely in its execution. One of the envisioned objectives is to establish a database of oral testimonies “Crafting the Cold War: Afro-Asian Voices” as an ongoing digital source-base.

Substantially expanding the spatial ambit of Cold War. Actors’ life stories reveal that Cold War divides were often not as rigid as they are made out to be. The trajectories of people, technology and ideas moved, overlapped and intersected in spite of existing constraints and control mechanisms.

Casting a new lens on the pre-history of South-South relations. Entanglements are not approached as a set of romanticized solidarity networks. A crucially missing element is how historical interconnections have not obliterated discourses of otherness. For instance, in spite of interstate cooperation, South Asians were expelled from Uganda in 1972. Similarly, the racial profiling of/discrimination against African students is widespread in several Asian countries today. With growing academic interest in contemporary South-South relations, uncovering the recent pre-histories of these existing discourses becomes pertinent, though it is largely missing. Economic ties and cooperation did not always produce cultural empathies, and prejudices were part of the processes that forged entanglements.The part of the project located at the FS 3 is focused on the establishment of data management and database co-ordination, i.e. the creation of a digital archive of the materials available in the hands of the actors and the audio-visual sources to be newly created within the framework of the project (oral history).


In the history of the Cold War, the Global South often appears only as a theatre of bloc politics between East and West. In recent research, voices from Africa and Asia have been noted, but little is known about their interconnections. To shed light on these, the collaborative project "Crafting Entanglements: Afro-Asian Pasts of the Global Cold War", starting in July of 2023, looks at student and women's networks, media entanglements through radio stations and film festivals, and the divided city of Berlin as a site of South-South connections. more info