Envisioning Socialism

Television and the Cold War in the German Democratic Republic
Heather L. Gumbert

The first examination in English of East German television during the early Cold War


Envisioning Socialism examines television and the power it exercised to define the East Germans’ view of socialism during the first decades of the German Democratic Republic. In the first book in English to examine this topic, Heather L. Gumbert traces how television became a medium prized for its communicative and entertainment value. She explores the difficulties GDR authorities had defining and executing a clear vision of the society they hoped to establish, and she explains how television helped to stabilize GDR society in a way that ultimately worked against the utopian vision the authorities thought they were cultivating.

Gumbert challenges those who would dismiss East German television as a tool of repression that couldn’t compete with the West or capture the imagination of East Germans. Instead, she shows how, by the early 1960s, television was a model of the kind of socialist realist art that could appeal to authorities and audiences. Ultimately, this socialist vision was overcome by the challenges that the international market in media products and technologies posed to nation-building in the postwar period.

A history of ideas and perceptions examining both real and mediated historical conditions, Envisioning Socialism considers television as a technology, an institution, and a medium of social relations and cultural knowledge. The book will be welcomed in undergraduate and graduate courses in German and media history, the history of postwar Socialism, and the history of science and technologies.

Jacket photograph: Chimneysweep and television antenna, 1953. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-21841-0001.

Heather L. Gumbert is an Assistant Professor of History at Virginia Tech.

Praise / Awards

  • "Gumbert's thesis is that East German television was not primarily a propoganda machine to defend a dictatorial socialist regime -- which is the stererotypical view of the medium in the GDR... Gumbert provides a number of examples of television programming aimed at expanding the audience, programming with little emphasis on socialism. The book is thoroughly documented, with extensive footnotes and bibliography..."
  • "Heather Gumberts book Envisioning Socialism remarkable in several respects study has now been published. It is one of the first English-language monographs on East German television and its importance for politics, culture and society of "actually existing socialism". Thus, the US-American discourse opens up a wealth of research for the international (media-) historical debate that has been done in the last 15 years, especially in German language. Noteworthy is Gumberts view 'from outside', so here is the link the German theory roll cover with Anglo-American works. It also points to parallels in the US development of television with its East and West German counterparts during the Cold War, and uses this for historical analysis - with remarkable results."
    ---Claudia Dittmar, H-Soz-Kult
  • "Envisioning Socialism offers a useful rethinking of television’s place in the context of East German history and convincingly rebukes older models of the relationship between the SED, station executives, producers, and viewers."
    --Stewart Anderson, German Studies Review

  • "Especially effective in illuminating tensions and debates within the party-state structures that were not purely ideological but also related to practical concerns such as the shortage of East German and Eastern Bloc production."
    --Contemporary European History

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 256pp.
  • 6 photos, 1 table.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11919-6

Add to Cart
  • $59.95 U.S.

  • Open Access
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-90095-4

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  • East Germany, German Democratic Republic, GDR, DDR, television, media studies, broadcasting, history, Cold War, censorship, socialism, technology