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Sanctioned Laughter: Humour, War and Dictatorship in Twentieth Century Europe

Event Date & Time: 10th May, 2013 12:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Location: The Wiener Library, 29 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DP
Speakers: Professor Orlando Figes, Birkbeck, University of London; Professor Stephen Gundle, University of Warwick; Dr Patrick Merziger, Freie Universität Berlin
Tags: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin
Theme: Fascism, National Socialism/ Nazism
Region / Country: Europe, Germany, Italy, Russia/Soviet Union
Historical Period: 20th century


What was the relationship between power and laughter in the fascist and communist dictatorships of the twentieth century?

This workshop will examine why European dictatorships found it so difficult to dispense with humour, even though this risked subverting claims to total political commitment made by the regimes of Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini. Was official humour simply a tool for keeping the masses pliant, or was it shaped as much by the rulers as by the ruled? Was there a clear line between official, unofficial and subversive humour? Speakers will address these questions and others as they consider state-sanctioned humour in Europe, with a particular focus on Germany, Italy and Russia during the 1930s and 1940s.


Introductions and Chair: Dr Nickolaus Wachsmann, Birkbeck, University of London

The Soviet Joke: Tiny Revolutions and the Art of Survival. Professor Orlando Figes, Birkbeck, University of London

Laughing under Fascism: Comedy, Jokes and Ridicule in Italy 1922-1943. Professor Stephen Gundle, University of Warwick

German humour in the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’: the failure of National Socialist Propaganda. Dr Patrick Merziger, Freie Universität Berlin

Round-table discussion

Chair: Professor David Feldman, Director, Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck, University of London

Professor Jane Caplan, St Anthony’s College, University of Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London

Dr Julia Lovell, Birkbeck, University of London

Dr Jan Rüger, Birkbeck, University of London

Statement – 5

The Pears Institute’s world-leading research underpins its extensive teaching, policy advice and public engagement work.

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