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Danielle Fosler-Lussier’s most recent book examines the Cold War-era efforts of the U.S. State Department to deploy music in its cultural diplomatic missions throughout the world. This summary might suggest that the intentions and goals of State institutions would constitute the foundational trajectory of the book’s argument. It is, however, one of Fosler-Lussier’s major achievements here that these institutions do not occupy center stage as monumental entities in their own right. Drawing on an impressive array of archival materials and personal interviews, she constantly shifts focus to the many individuals (politicians, diplomats, impresarios, performers, audience members, etc.) who were involved in planning, executing, and consuming American cultural diplomacy.
In this narrative, the personal is political and vice versa. While the State Department had its own ideological and political goals [End Page 258] for sending musicians out as ambassadors of American culture, it was difficult to predict how those musicians and organizers would execute or interpret those goals. And it was even more difficult, perhaps, to anticipate the responses of audiences in host nations. Fosler-Lussier argues convincingly that the study of such contingencies reveals a great deal about the ever-shifting power dynamics between nations, and between states and their own citizens, during the Cold War. Further, in her close readings of personal testimony, official documentation, and media accounts, Fosler-Lussier demonstrates that the unplanned personal encounters, unexpected organizational hiccups, and messy negotiations that characterized these cultural diplomatic missions actively shaped geopolitics and international relationships. When she includes the memories of a young Oberlin student who exchanged copies of her Sing Out! Magazine for a collection of Russian and Romanian folk music (p. 197), or of folksinger Bill Crofut’s unexpected performance at a Communist school in Burma (p. 158), these are not merely anecdotes, but evidence of meaningful exchanges that affected individuals and nations alike.
Questions of power are central to this book’s narrative, and this power flows in many different directions. In the introduction, Fosler-Lussier includes a diagram from a 1953 State Department publication (p. 5). The diagram, drawn to resemble a canal, imagines a strictly unidirectional flow of information and influence from the United States into other nations. Throughout the rest of the book, though, Fosler-Lussier dismantles this strictly top-down image of power transference, whether between the United States and its citizens (as performers, facilitators, organizers) or the United States and its host nations. Regarding the first of these two relationships, the book presents nuanced accounts of American citizens who had widely divergent reasons for participating in the Cultural Presentations program, and who often were able to generate agency for themselves through the encounter. Challenging the notion that these Americans were participating unwittingly in acts of State propaganda, Fosler-Lussier defines cultural diplomacy as “an emergent practice that joined citizens’ values closely with the state’s power in a mutually reinforcing way” (p. 216). In this way, she also challenges reductive “bottom-up” narratives of power, which hold that participants in cultural diplomacy were often working actively to subvert State expectations and propaganda. Neither the top-down nor bottom-up models are sufficient; in their stead, Fosler-Lussier traces the intricate networks across which power was diffused in these cultural diplomatic missions. On both the domestic and foreign sides of the encounter, there were many points of contact and many different opportunities for cultural and political actors to advocate for their own interests.
One of the strengths of this book, which will recommend it to students and scholars beyond the subfield of Cold War studies in music, is the way that it captures the intensely dialogic nature of these cultural diplomatic exchanges. Fosler-Lussier makes a very strong argument that all of these different kinds of encounters—between superpowers, between superpowers and their own citizens, between superpowers and unaffiliated nations, and between...