Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory

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Event Date: 29 April – 1 May 2011
East Midlands Conference Centre
University of Nottingham  
University Park
Nottingham NG7 2RJ



Landscapes of Secrecy: The CIA in History, Fiction and Memory


The overall purpose of this conference is to allow many of the world’s leading scholars in the field to explore and debate the history of the Central Intelligence Agency and its place within the wider realms of post-war American politics and culture. There will be a focus on the place of the CIA in the post-war of American diplomacy and foreign policy, and also the more general public reception of the subject through the medium of memoirs, film and fiction.

The conference coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs episode, when the CIA’s failed attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba placed the Agency under the public spotlight and triggered debates over its role in US foreign policy that have never really subsided.

This conference also marks the end of a three-year UK Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project on the various facets of the CIA’s history and its representation in fiction, memoirs and film. Based on collaboration between the Universities of Nottingham and Warwick, the project has brought together several academic specialists in intelligence studies, and seen extensive archival work and interviewing carried out in the United States by a dedicated research team.

American espionage and covert operations have enjoyed a uniquely high profile within our understandings of American involvement in international and world affairs. CIA activity has often been symbolic of wider issues, such as a long-standing oscillation between interventionism and isolationism, and between presidential leadership and democratic foreign policy, alongside questions of accountability and oversight. This is partly because of a taste for ‘covert’ interventions that were often impossible to keep hidden from public view. Throughout this period, the history of the CIA has constituted something of a battleground with conflicting official and unofficial accounts, while over the past decade the CIA has itself sought to engage with its own past through its publications programme, and recent years have seen the Agency accelerate the declassification of significant new sources. Yet apparent steps toward greater openness have also generated fresh criticisms as major episodes in the CIA’s past remain largely inaccessible to researchers. Some of these struggles over declassification have been fought over State Department’s publication of the Foreign Relations of the United States series of documents, where coverage of the CIA’s involvement in the record of American foreign policy has been attempted, but often with controversial results.

The conference seeks to integrate international and cultural approaches to provide a comprehensive approach to CIA history. In addition to examining the treatment of the CIA within American diplomatic history and national security policy, it also views history as a form of cultural production. Accordingly, this is an inter-disciplinary conference brings together a wide array of distinguished experts from the fields of history, international relations, American studies, film studies and literature. Overall, this conference represents a unique opportunity to examine and debate the multi-faceted development of the CIA within post-war American and international history.

Full Programme here

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