The 1970s: Cold Wars, Hot Art and the Legacy of the Sixties

Curious Minds Online Course

No Longer Available

Film Info


The 1970s were a tumultuous decade in which societies around the world grappled with new social freedoms, enduring political divisions and lots of unfinished business from the swinging 1960s. In this new series, Curious Minds favourite Dr. Peter Harris (The 1960s: From Berkeley to Berlin, La Belle Époque & The End of Empires) takes you beyond the bell bottoms and terrifying hairstyles to explore how the time’s most notable people and movements left their mark on history. As we survey Cold War hotspots like Washington, Berlin, London and Moscow, we’ll examine the geopolitical players that defined the era and the thrilling works of art and culture that took shape in their shadow. We’ll explore a fascinating decade whose cultural aftershocks are still being felt today.

Led by Peter Harris, the former Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science of the University of Toronto. He previously helmed the popular Curious Minds series The Age of Upheaval: The 1920s and 30s in Paris, Berlin and New York; The 1960s: From Berkeley to Berlin; and Designing the World: The Global Starchitects.

Course registration: $49 (Hot Docs Members: $33, $27, Free)

Curious Minds Speaker Series sponsored by

Hollywood Suite

The six lectures in this series are now available to stream. You can access each lecture at your leisure by clicking on links in your confirmation email, or by visiting your My Shows page.

Lecture #1: 1970 - 1972
The early 1970s were the best and the worst of times: a period of Cold War detente and domestic terrorism; an era of Nixonian "dirty tricks" and artistic inspiration, epitomized by “Land Art” and its massive, stunning “earthworks.”

Lecture #2: 1972 - 1974
The Munich Olympics massacre, the Israeli-Arab conflict, an oil embargo and stock market crash, followed by Watergate and the rustbelt phenomenon in US industry: the headlining events of the early-to-mid 1970s still have the power to shock.

Lecture #3: 1975 - 1977
As the debacle of Vietnam finally reached its climax, 2nd Wave Feminism left its mark on the culture. The Montreal Olympics featured a Perfect 10, while Star Wars debuted and shattered box office records. A period of change and transitions.

Lecture #4: 1978 - 1979
The fragile promise of the Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt was soon overshadowed by the Iranian revolution and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. On the cultural front, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party provided a delicious scandal for the art world, while Frank Gehry’s house did the same for the architectural world.

Lecture #5: 1979 - 1982
After Canada scored a diplomatic coup by spiriting six US hostages out of Iran, and former actor Ronald Reagan Jimmy Carter for the US Presidency, the Cold War entered a new period of brinksmanship. As the USSR was consumed by economic and political instability, the Capitalist West witnessed the arrival of an invention that would reshape the way we live: the Apple computer. 

Lecture #6: 1983 - 1985
Turnover in the Soviet leadership set the stage for a new, dynamic leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and possibly, just possibly, an end to the Cold War– a political legacy that still shapes society today. We’ll conclude our journey by taking up again the land art we looked at in the first lecture; this time it’s the small, ephemeral creations of Andy Goldsworthy, and the contrastingly huge wrapped structures of Christo!

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