What lessons do citizens draw from experiencing major armed conflicts, and how do they think about international politics in their immediate aftermath?
Using public surveys conducted on behalf of the US Department of State in several European countries between 1945 and 1970, the CIVICA Research project PIPPE – People and International Politics in Post-War Europe aims to understand how people formulate coherent ideas about emerging tensions and the best ways to ensure peace, security, and stability.
The project is a collaboration between EUI Professor Stephanie Hofmann and Professors Mareike Kleine and Chris Anderson, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
"We found all these surveys that were done by the US government in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s," explains LSE Professor Chris Anderson. "For us it's interesting to find out, going back in time, what Europeans thought about the world around them. Most of the time when we study things like that, we study them in current times, right? We might look at how people feel about the war in Ukraine, how people feel about China, or about NATO."
"We have a lot of assumptions of what people might have thought in the 1950s and 1960s, but we actually don’t have much evidence to support it. This data actually taps into some empirical basis that we didn't have until now," adds Professor Stephanie Hofmann, who is Joint Chair in International Relations at the EUI’s Department of Political and Social Sciences and the Robert Schuman Centre.
"We can see, for example, the questions that the US was interested in at the time, in Europe. They could be asked again today, in the exact same way, for example: ‘What do you think about NATO? What do you think of the EU?’," said Hofmann. "People’s attitudes to these questions were relevant then and are relevant now. The world is changing, but what interests us in this project is what people think about these changes."
In PIPPE, the investigators highlight the importance of the public opinion in European history. "Today you take it for granted that public opinion matters to people who make important decisions about war and peace, life and death, European integration, whatever it might be. In the 1950s, that wasn't necessarily the case," notes Anderson. "The story that we tell in textbooks about how Europe came to be often doesn’t include the Europeans themselves, ordinary people. It was instead all about statesman getting together at big meetings, signing agreements and so on. PIPPE aims to bring people back into that story, shining a light on the role that Europeans play in the story of Europe. The EUI and CIVICA are perfect vehicles for doing that", he adds.
As a first step in this project, the investigators identified, pooled, and cleaned the historical survey data. "A large part of the project was to digitalise a lot of data that comes out of the archives," says Hofmann. In June 2023, a workshop organised by Hofmann at the EUI inspired the three collaborators to start looking at data more systematically, and also to "ask other people what ideas they have when they see this kind of data."
"We are a project in search of a question," explains LSE Professor Mareike Kleine, pointing out that PIPPE is not yet at the stage where it is a question-led project. "At the moment, we have a treasure trove of data, but we now have to find our angle," she says. "The big finding is that the data varies in ways that we did not expect, and this variation asks to be explained."
CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research and innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
Photo credit: Hans Weingartz