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Johns, Anna K.

Julius and Ethel's Ghosts: History and Memory of the Rosenbergs in American Life, 1953-2008

 

Since their execution in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's ghosts have continued to haunt American culture and society, and the perceptions of these highly symbolic characters have changed dramatically over the years, responding to the political and social needs of a contemporary audience. Commentators on the Rosenbergs are a diverse group, including not only historians and legal scholars, but also novelists, poets, and songwriters. For example, the birth of the New Left in the late 1950s created interest in "understanding" and humanizing Julius and Ethel, and when the Watergate scandal broke in the early 1970s, the Rosenbergs were resurrected as victims of another government conspiracy. In post-9/11 world, the Rosenbergs serve as symbols of the excesses of popular hysteria and overzealous prosecution when the American public is afraid of a new "menace". With each new revelation about this complex and mysterious couple, the accepted meaning of the Rosenbergs at a given time -- as villains and lovers, Jews and Americans, martyrs and spies -- reflects the contemporary hopes, dreams, and nightmares of a generation of Americans.

Friday 30 Oct 9.00-11.00 SESSION 4
Panel: The Cold War's Impact on Historiography