6-7 February 2015 | Birkbeck College, University of London
Supported by the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies, The Wellcome Trust (Small Grant in the Humanities), The Society for the Social History of Medicine, and The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities

Listen to the podcast of the workshop

In May 1962, shortly before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet premiere Nikita Khrushchev toured Bulgaria. Under banners declaring “Forward, to Communism!” at a mass meeting in Varna, a Bulgarian health resort, Khrushchev lauded the Bulgarian people for the way in which they had developed the Black Sea coastline. Model health resorts like Varna, which drew visitors from all over the world, were the pride of the Bulgarian people, he claimed. These resorts demonstrated the commitment of the socialist states to the health and welfare of the people. He contrasted the health resorts on the socialist side of the Black Sea to the NATO missile build-up across the sea in Turkey. The health resorts of the Black Sea demonstrated the peace-loving nature of the socialist states to the world. “The Black Sea should be a sea of peace and the friendship of the peoples,” he argued.

While interest in the place of the Black Sea in the history of tourism, public health and architecture has grown rapidly in recent years, leading to ground-breaking studies, these works have treated each topic and national context in isolation. Works on Cold War diplomacy, too, have not taken into full consideration the position of the Black Sea as a site of cultural and political diplomacy in the socialist world.

This workshop brings together historians studying the Black Sea or whose work involves the Black Sea from a variety of perspectives and both historians of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. The objective of the workshop is to develop the idea of the Black Sea littoral as an international meeting place of the socialist world.

As Khrushchev’s words suggested, the idea of the socialist Black Sea was closely linked to ideas of health and welfare during times of peace. The Black Sea littoral became a favoured health retreat of the political elite and soon became a setting for high politics and diplomatic negotiations. With the Yalta conference (February 4-11, 1945), the place of the Black Sea as a site of East-West diplomacy was formalized. But the Black Sea also became a place of less formal international exchange. From international children’s camps to delegation visits, at the Black Sea people from the socialist world introduced visitors from all over the world to the socialist way of life, in a Cold War contest fought over standards of living.



10:45am                     Welcome and Introduction (Johanna Conterio)
Chair: Kristin Roth-Ey (UCL SSEES)

Sam Hirst (European University, St. Petersburg, Russia):  “Oil for Oranges: The Politics of Soviet-Turkish Trade in the Interwar Period”

Claire Shaw (Bristol): “‘I Finally Understood in Sochi’: Fighting the Deaf Cold War on the Black Sea”

Stephen Bittner (Sonoma State University): “A Problem of Taste: An American Connoisseur’s Travels through the Soviet Union’s Black Sea Vineyards and Wineries”

12:30-1:30pm            Lunch


Diane Koenker (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne): “From ‘Pirate Ship’ to ‘The Old Mill’:  Black Sea Tourism in the Internationalization of Soviet Culinary Tastes”

Mary Neuburger (University of Texas at Austin): “Eat, Play, Love:  Consuming Socialism on the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast”

Erik Scott (University of Kansas): “Mobility, Immobility, and Diaspora on Socialist Georgia’s Black Sea Coast”

Philippa Hetherington (University of Sydney): “Laboratory of Migration: Multiple Mobilities in the History of the Black Sea”

3:30-4pm                   Tea Break

4:00-6pm                   PANEL THREE: HEALTH RESORT URBANITY

Chair: Elidor Mëhilli (Hunter)

Elke Beyer (Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning and ETH Zurich) and Anke Hagemann (Technical University, Berlin): “Building a ‘tourist product’ on the Black Sea Coast: Holiday Architecture at the Bulgarian Seaside since 1956”

Juliana Maxim (University of San Diego): “Enchanting Views: The Politics of Seduction in Early Romanian Socialist Resorts”

Johanna Conterio (Birkbeck): “Socialist Design Around the Black Sea: Romanian and Bulgarian Models for the Development of Soviet Health Resorts, 1958-1982”

William Nickell (University of Chicago):  “Sochi as an Instrumental City, 1934-2014”

6pm                          PANEL FOUR: USSR NOW (1958): Film Screening

Birkbeck Cinema (41 Gordon Square, London)

Screening and discussion is open to the public. Registration through Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities here.


Chair: Simon Huxtable (Loughborough)

Ian Christie (Birkbeck)

Raisa Sidenova (Yale University)


10am-11:30am          PANEL FIVE: MAPPING THE BLACK SEA

Chair: Nick Baron (Nottingham)

Kelly O’Neill (Harvard University): “The Lion and the Chora: Soviet Archaeology and the Remapping of the Black Sea World”

Susan Grant (University College Dublin and University of Toronto): “The Pride of Sochi: Middle Medical Workers as Purveyors of Health and Happiness”

Ruxandra Petrinca (McGill University):  “Make Love Not War: Cultural Dissent on the Romanian Shores of the Black Sea”

11:30am-12pm                     Tea Break

12pm-1pm                   FINAL DISCUSSION PANEL

Diane Koenker (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne)

Valeska Huber (German Historical Institute, London)

Elidor Mëhilli (Hunter College)

Conference convener:

Johanna Conterio

Birkbeck, University of London