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Cold Books in Hot Lands: Winning and Losing of Hearts and Minds in the Middle East

Project description

A Cold War publishing experiment in the Middle East

The Middle East, particularly Egypt and Iran, was impacted by the Cold War after the death of Joseph Stalin, the second leader of the Soviet Union in 1953. The creation of the Franklin publishing house in Egypt, which offered translations in languages used in the Middle East, helped convey US culture. The deterioration of the situation in the area due to America’s support to Israel coupled with the rise of Arab nationalism and Iran Islamism led to the failure of the publishing house’s aim. The EU-funded coldbihot project will study Franklin’s role in furthering US cultural diplomacy and investigate the reasons behind Franklin’s failure.


COLDBIHOT is an interdisciplinary and historical research project that explores the connection between Stalin’s death, the US-backed coup in Iran, and the opening of a US-sponsored publishing house (Franklin Publications) in Cairo in 1953. After Stalin died the American “battle of ideas” with the spread of communism entered a new phase. Key to this “cultural Cold War” was the use of various channels to spread (pro-US) liberal ideas around the world. Franklin was founded to support the translation of American books into the languages of developing countries. Franklin’s record was extensive: it operated for 27 years in 12 countries, publishing 3000 books. However, deep suspicions of US intentions in the Middle East and support for Israel, as well as the rise of Arab nationalism and of nativism and Islamicism in Iran, have complicated assessments of Franklin’s role in cultural life. Existing scholarship sees Franklin as propaganda, a mistake, or a form of cultural imperialism, borrowing from Cold War terminology to write it off as a lost battle for hearts and minds. COLDBIHOT looks beyond such a zero-sum game by investigating it as a US cultural diplomacy initiative to better understand what winning and losing hearts and minds means in practice. Two main questions are posed: 1) how and why did books come to play such a role in US cultural diplomacy, 2) how and why did Franklin fail to win the hearts and minds? These questions are important because the legacies of America’s cultural influence in the region remain contentious, and the contest between different forms of modernity and traditionalism continues throughout daily social life. By exploring Franklin’s dynamics, impact, and legacy in Egypt and Iran, this critical history of Franklin uses primary and secondary sources and employs documentary research, case studies, and semi-structured interviews to collect and analyse the data. Among others, this innovative project contributes to the global Cold War studies.


Net EU contribution
€ 281 358,72
Rapenburg 70
2311 EZ Leiden

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West-Nederland Zuid-Holland Agglomeratie Leiden en Bollenstreek
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00