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Popkult60: A closer look at popular culture in Europe across the 1960s

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Published on Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A new interdisciplinary research group composed of members of the Luxembourg Centre for Contemporary and Digital History (C²DH), the Institute for History at the University of Luxembourg and Saarland University will investigate transnational transfers of popular culture in Europe in the 1960s.

This three-year project between Germany and Luxembourg has received €2 million in funding from the Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) and its German equivalent, the German Research Foundation (DFG). The research team is composed of three professors from Saarland University (Prof. Dietmar Hüser, spokesman for the research unit Forschergruppe, Prof. Clemens Zimmerman and Prof. Christoph Vatter) and three professors from the University of Luxembourg (Prof. Andreas Fickers, Prof. Sonja Kmec and Assoc. Prof. Benoît Majerus). The grant will provide funding for seven doctoral candidates, four at Saarland University and three at the University of Luxembourg.

Placing the “Americanisation” of popular culture into perspective

Certainly popular culture in Europe was thoroughly influenced by Elvis, fast food and Western movies. But was the “Americanisation” of popular culture after World War II really as pervasive as generally believed? What about intra-European influences, for example between France, Spain, the United Kingdom and Germany? Did they not play a more important role? And how did “mediator” (multilingual) countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg fit into these cultural transfers?

The research unit will attempt to shed light on these questions. Their research will involve analysing the circulation and adaptation of televised variety shows, popular music and youth media. They will also look at cultural, generational and even economic resistance that hindered or prevented the exchange or transfer of cultural formats and productions. A total of seven case studies will be analysed. The Luxembourg-based projects will focus on the history of cartoon strips, commercial radio stations (Europe 1 and Radio Luxembourg) and film fan clubs. The researchers will examine both the content and form of these different media and the producers and consumers involved.

An interdisciplinary, transnational project

The project is innovative in two respects: firstly in terms of its subject, popular culture, which has long been ignored or even frowned upon by the discipline; and secondly because of its transnational, interdisciplinary nature. The comparative approach will enable the team to examine where histories intersect and overlap, shedding light on the many areas of tension that characterised the processes of circulation, adaptation and resistance in the long decade of the 1960s, a period that saw the emergence of mass consumption of popular culture.