Modern Literature, Culture, and the Archives of the Secret State

archiveA symposium on 28th and 29th March will showcase current research into how secret state agencies affected twentieth-century literary culture across the world. The conference takes place at St. Aidan’s College. The programme can be downloaded here.

The twentieth century saw, across the globe, an unprecedented rise in state agencies dedicated to the surveillance and regulation of domestic populations, and the management of literature and culture soon became a major focus of such activity.

This state interference often took coercive forms. The banning of books, the censorship of theatre and film, the maintenance of dossiers on authors and the blacklisting of performers were just some of the ways in which the secret state profoundly influenced the careers of individuals as well as the shape of broader cultural developments.

However, government agencies also manipulated culture in other, less coercive, ways. Authors were courted and recruited as propagandists, books were commissioned and subsidised, international cultural events were supported and prestigious publications were underwritten, all in order to boost certain ideological positions and deploy culture as a weapon for projecting state power and prestige.

In the wake of continued archival openings and burgeoning scholarly interest, this symposium will showcase current research in this field, bringing together an international array of scholars in order to discuss the various forms this interaction took across the world.

Confirmed speakers include Greg Barnhisel (Duquesne), Laura Bradley (Edinburgh), Sarah Davies (Durham), Jason Harding (Durham), Marina MacKay (Durham), Nicole Moore (UNSW/ADFA), Adam Piette (Sheffield), Petra Rau (East Anglia), Asha Rogers (Oxford), Giles Scott-Smith (RSC/Leiden), and Hugh Wilford (California State University, Long Beach).

Attendance at the conference is free but places are limited, and all attendees are requested to register in advance with the conference organiser, James Smith, at

This event is hosted by the Department of English Studies, Durham University, with thanks to funding from the British Academy.


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