Social Science blog

5 posts from June 2013

24 June 2013

Your very good health

Ian Cooke, co-curator of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion writes about the new competition we have launched with ARTS THREAD.

Working with ARTS THREAD, we’ve launched a competition to design a piece of propaganda related to the theme of good health. Whether it’s to convince people to stop smoking, drink less, eat more healthily, exercise more, or something else, we’re interested in how you’d get your message across.

The competition is open to any design student or graduate or anyone working professionally for less than three years in the design industry. More information, and how to apply, is available on the ARTS THREAD website. The deadline is midnight (GMT) on 31 July 2013.

Public health campaigning can be seen as the point where propaganda comes into our homes, and attempts to influence our attitudes about the activities that are most personal and intimate to us: from the food we prepare, to our social habits and sexual behaviour. In our exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, we look at the use of propaganda methods and techniques across a range of public health campaigns, covering healthy eating and exercise; contagious diseases; smoking and drinking; sexual health; and maternal and infant care.

The media used includes leaflets and posters (the waiting room can be an ideal opportunity for propaganda), television and film adverts, instructional manuals, and more ephemeral objects such as match-box covers or a school diary.  As with other subjects, campaigns can make use of a range of media. The Green Cross Code road safety campaign used adverts on television, magazines and on buses, leaflets and posters alongside talks in schools. As well as creating the Green Cross Code man superhero character, the campaign also made use of celebrities such as Kevin Keegan, Alvin Stardust and Joe Bugner.

WEB green cross code man welsh med

Above: The Green Cross Code

The Green Cross Code, and the earlier Kerb Drill, needed to consider language very carefully. Their intended audience was young children, so the language used needed to be easy to understand – many children, for instance, didn’t understand the difference between kerb and pavement – and also memorable. Repetition also proved to be very important, to ensure that children remembered what they were supposed to do.

For campaigns aimed at adults, memorable language and reassuring images could also prove useful, as could the use of humour. All of these can be seen in the current Change4Life campaign to encourage healthy eating and exercise. Other methods could be employed too, such as use of fear, demonisation or shocking images. Use of strong images or messages could be tolerated, so long as there was general acceptance that the campaign was of public interest. Anti smoking campaigns, showing a clogged artery or fat dripping from cigarettes, provide some of the most visceral material in the exhibition. Another campaign presents the ‘first natural born smoker’ as a demonic character, whose appearance seems inspired by Murnau’s Nosferatu.

WEB Tapeworm poster 1856g.14 74

Above: Beware of the Tapeworm

When we were putting the exhibition together we spoke to a lot of people, and some challenged us on the ‘Health’ section, arguing that this was ‘just information’. Indeed, some forms of health campaigning do focus on providing quite detailed information about risks and ways of mitigating them. However, we also found many examples, which we included in the exhibition, where either the information element was almost absent or where the presentation was anything other than straightforward. The use of methods, such as shocking, humour, and demonisation, reminded us of examples of propaganda we had seen in other situations where it is less contentious to identify propaganda. Which does leave the question: if it’s not propaganda, how would you describe it?

Good luck in the competition.

18 June 2013

“Everything is propaganda”

Our Social Sciences intern, Abiola Olanipekun, responds to the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition at the British Library.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.Aristotle

Are these the kinds of minds targeted by propaganda? Something tells me that Aristotle may have considered himself to be in a different class to those who accept propaganda. Yet, the new exhibition at the British Library shows that we can all be vulnerable to the methods and cunning of propaganda.

Damn, Aristotle came out with some the best quotes! I could only dream of writing such titbits of timeless wisdom. I can however, write a blog about our latest exhibition and my responses to it…

Propaganda, Power & Persuasion opened to the public on the 17 May 2013 and will be on for four months. I wasn’t actually sure I would get the opportunity to write about this exhibition as my internship was due to end, and I imagined that by now I would be back in the land of career uncertainty (or even dire unemployment). Luckily I have been given the lifeline of an extended contract and now have a few more months to undertake mischief[i] within Social Sciences (or at the very least upload some more useful articles onto the Management and Business Studies Portal).

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion documents the relationship between the State, the propaganda it has produced in the twentieth century, and the intended audiences of this propaganda. Many of the key themes of State propaganda are covered including war, health, sport and education. Iconic images, old and new, are present within this thought-provoking and visually stunning exhibition.

WEB Freedom American-style, 1971, B. Prorokov

Above: Freedom American-style, 1971. B. Prorokov.

Freedom American-style, 1971, B. Prorokov

The exhibition includes such variety as Chorus (the Twitter wall produced by Field) and the Russian poster depicting ‘Freedom American Style’ from the 70s, to public health messages about the care of babies and children. Recent British forms of what might be considered propaganda are included, such as audio clips from the Diamond Jubilee and footage from the recent funeral of Margaret Thatcher. And let’s not forget the inspiring portraits of sporting heroes who offer the potential of shared national feeling, the moral and ethical guidance inherent to the language of health education, and the tactics of attempted humiliation used to flatten the enemy in times of war.

The variety within the exhibition offered me an alternative to my preconceived ideas about what propaganda is. It presents a broad spectrum of State propaganda but at the same time, reveals the core of what State propaganda has been about during the last hundred years or so. It also shows how propaganda has arguably become more insidious and cunning as technology has developed. I was caught by the tension between how we are at once the active consumers of propaganda and at the same time hapless victims.

As you walk around the exhibition you will see human statues engraved with different quotations about propaganda. These quotations help build the picture of how the State affects our behaviour through sometimes playful and occasionally sinister means. The videos and sound clips from experts and analysts of propaganda show how indoctrination can occur through seemingly innocuous methods. I urge you to go and see the exhibition. Take your siblings, parents or your grandparents who will each have lived through different phases in State propaganda.

The Guardian recently showcased a number of sexual health posters from the Second World War. These posters may not be in the exhibition, but some are of the kind that are included and also show all the silliness as well as biases and prejudices which can be part of State propaganda.

Oh, and if you feel you are beyond the reach of the propaganda that might have others fooled, then here is a final little quote for you:

“Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.” Plato

You can follow Abiola on Twitter @Ola_Ola1

[i] No, seriously, I would not, ever do that, no Social Science mischief for me. I do actually really like working here.

You can follow Abiola on Twitter at @Ola_Ola1.

Abiola Olanipekun is an Intern in the Social Sciences department, working with the Business collections and the Management and Business Studies Portal. All views expressed are her own. You can follow Abiola on Twitter @Ola_Ola1 - See more at:

13 June 2013

Film, art, advertising and propaganda

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, examines different views and expresions of British Identity - See more at:
Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, examines different views and expresions of British Identity - See more at: Friday evening, the British Library is screening Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike, the 1925 Soviet film depicting the savage repression of a strike at a factory in pre-revolutionary Russia. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by The Cabinet of Living Cinema. The film will be introduced by Professor Ian Christie, Birkbeck College. Ian Christie is Vice President of Europa Cinemas and co-founder of the international review Film Studies.

Ian Cooke, co-curator of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion writes about Eisenstein's 1925 film Stike which will be shown at the British Library, in collaboration with the BFI, on Friday 14 June.

This Friday evening, the British Library is screening Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike, the 1925 Soviet film depicting the savage repression of a strike at a factory in pre-revolutionary Russia. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by The Cabinet of Living Cinema. The film will be introduced by Professor Ian Christie, Birkbeck College. Ian Christie is Vice President of Europa Cinemas and co-founder of the international review Film Studies.

Strike was Eisenstein’s first full-length feature film, and was followed within the year by Battleship Potemkin, which depicts the events of a mutiny of the crew against Tsarist officers in 1905. Those paying close attention to the screens at the start of the Nation section of our Propaganda exhibition, will see a short clip from October: Ten Days that Shook the World, the film which Eisenstein was commissioned to write and direct by the Soviet government in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the October revolution.


Above: a still from Strike

At the time of that commission, Eisenstein had already achieved great success internationally, particularly with Battleship Potemkin, a film which is still critically praised today. The use of critically acclaimed directors, artists and writers in the production of propaganda is a common theme that runs through our exhibition. In the early Soviet Union, artists associated with the Avant Garde were valued for their ability to communicate technical and social advances in the new state. Our exhibition shows an issue of USSR in Construction (to which Rodchenko contributed photography, photomontage and design) devoted to the subject of sport. For the 1928 International Press exhibition in Cologne, El Lissitzky created the dynamic and modern designs for the Soviet pavilion, which are printed in a long fold-out insert to the accompanying catalogue.

Commercial success could be as important as artistic, at times blurring any distinction between advertising and propaganda. The Empire Marketing Board (EMB), which operated between 1926 and 1933, drew heavily on the expertise from the advertising industry. The EMB was an advisory committee, chaired by the Secretary of State for the Dominions, with the aim of promoting the production and sale of British and Empire goods. Their activities ranged from research and development, to organising ‘buy Empire goods’ campaigns in shops, to the production of huge advertising posters and films. You can see an EMB poster and film in our exhibition. The organisation of the Board drew in leading advertisers such as William Crawford and Frank Pick, who had organised publicity for the Metropolitan District Railway. The influence of Pick can be seen in the artistic style, and artists commissioned, in the production of EMB posters.

Much of the talent and experience of the Empire Marketing Board transferred to the General Post Office publicity, including their film unit. If you visit our Poetry in Sound exhibition, you’ll see a magnificent example of this in the film Night Mail (1936), which shows the journey through Scotland of a Royal Mail train delivery service, set to poetry by W H Auden and music by Benjamin Britten.

The influence of commercial, and commercially successful, artists and advertisers can be seen also in war propaganda in the USA. Montgomery Flagg’s depiction of Uncle Sam served as an iconic image of recruitment during the First World War. As Carole Holden reveals on the Americas studies blog, the image was modelled on Flagg’s own features. Norman Rockwell’s ‘Four Freedoms’ series of posters helped raise over 130 million dollars in war bonds.   

The use of successful film makers and artists in producing public information and campaigns material can be seen more recently. Nicolas Roeg, famous for films such as Don’t Look Now (1973), Performance (1970) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), was one of the directors of the AIDS awareness adverts shown in the UK in 1987. The campaign has been described as effective in keeping HIV infection rates comparatively low in the UK during that period.

More recently, the 2008 election campaign for Barack Obama used artwork produced by the street artist Shepard Fairey. The ‘Hope’ poster became a well-recognised and widely-distributed symbol of the Obama campaign.    

The use of celebrated artists in the production of materials designed to persuade and influence reflects both the recognition of the importance of propaganda, and also the realisation that, to be effective, it had to use styles and products that were innovative and recognised as being of high quality.

07 June 2013

Celebrating the Coronation and views of ‘English Magic’

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, examines different views and expresions of British Identity.

In our exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, we look at different ways in which British identity has been presented, both to domestic and to international audiences. From images of Empire used in stunning Empire Marketing Board posters, through the Festival of Britain to last year’s diamond jubilee and the Olympic Games, the nature of Britain and British people has been described in different ways. In some cases, you can see similarities such as a focus on technical and cultural innovation, but what can differ is the people used to represent Britain. We’ve just posted to YouTube our interviews with Tessa Jowell, Alastair Campbell and Iain Dale, on bidding for the 2012 Olympic Games, and their impact on perceptions of Britain. 

Earlier this week, the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was commemorated at a service at Westminster Abbey. The readings and addresses were given by those representing the highest levels of state – the Prime Minister, Archbishop of Canterbury and Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The service also included however 11 “representatives of the United Kingdom”. These archetypes of Britishness included a nurse, a teacher, a judge, a ‘lollipop lady’, children, Chelsea Pensioners, and a Guide leader.

Although some of the choices seem a little old fashioned, the range of young and old, the use of health and education alongside representatives of law and military, were not that far removed from the vision of Britain presented at the London Olympic Games. The bid film, shown in our exhibition, presents images of school children, construction workers, air stewards, police officers and city workers (in bowler hats). The inclusion, among several celebrities, of the then London Mayor and the actress Helen Mirren provides a sense of symmetry with the coronation celebrations.

British identity as viewed from the US: street art outside the Mr Brainwash Show, The Old Sorting Office, London. August 2012. Image courtesy of Ian Cooke.

Last week, at our Picturing Propaganda study day, Linda Kaye of the British Universities Film and Video Council showed a clip from Jeremy Deller’s stunning English Magic. Deller, and English Magic, is representing Britain at the 2013 Venice Biennale. The British pavilion is sponsored by the British Council, and the film references work such as an inflatable Stonehenge, birds of prey, and Range Rovers being crushed. The last segment has footage from the London Lord Mayor’s Show, featuring a military parade, ambulance workers, tax advisers, London Freemasons, the Institute of Directors, and a carnival float sponsored by Thomson Reuters. All of this is accompanied by an arrangement of David Bowie’s The Man who Sold the World, played by the Melodian Steel Orchestra. Music plays a powerful role in the whole film, which also includes arrangements of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no. 5, and A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray.  Interviewed in the Summer 2013 issue of Art Quarterly, Deller explains the choice of title, ‘because it’s about deceit and concealment and disappearance’, seeing related themes in tax avoidance, and justifying war in Iraq. 

Finally, a rather different, but oddly traditional view of London is presented on the Southbank with the Festival of Neighbourhood. The events are wonderfully diverse, and aimed at a variety of ages and tastes. The setting draws on various nostalgic themes, such as allotments, sandcastles, greenhouses, street parties and ‘Beanotown’. Nobody going past Waterloo Bridge at the moment can miss the monumental “sweepers”, seemingly made out of privet hedge.

So, what do these different views say about our view of Britain? To an extent, these examples all show a confidence and pride in British culture, although there may not be complete agreement on what that is. There’s a sense of recognising and valuing diversity, whether that’s in age or cultural backgrounds. There’s also a sense of pleasure or nostalgia in tradition, but also a willingness to play with and adapt those traditions. Attitudes to other aspects, such as the traditional sources of wealth or power in Britain seem more ambivalent and unsettled. The title of this year’s show at the British Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, ‘English Magic’, provokes the question of whose identity is represented as “British”?  

04 June 2013

Interested in Business History?

In this post Andrew Dixon, Lead Curator for Management and Business Studies, writes about his engagement activities with Management and Business Studies researchers and asks how we can support the Business History research community   

It has now been almost six months since I took up my present role at the British Library.  This personal landmark seems like a good reason to share some thoughts about how the British Library has been engaging with the MBS research community (here at the Library we refer to the subject as Management and Business Studies or MBS for short).  The phrase “MBS research community” is perhaps a misnomer as it implies that there is one heterogeneous group of like-minded, like-funded and like-reported researchers and projects.  In fact members of the business and management community are a diverse bunch whose interests range from post modernist critiques of capitalism to full on number crunching of raw economic datasets.  Still, this diversity makes for an interesting life and one thing that they do all seem to have in common is that they like to share their thoughts and opinions. 

To give some examples of how we try to engage with the MBS research community for this subject, I have attended a number of meetings and events in order to build contacts and tap into the collective wisdom of academics, policy makers, students, practitioners and stakeholders. The overriding purpose of these activities has been to engage with our readers to help make informed decisions about how best to develop coherent collections to meet their research needs.   Some of these activities have been hosted at the British Library such as the Open Access event that marked the end of my first week in post.   This resulted in a number of contacts that were to prove useful as time progressed.   Attending the Annual Research Conference of the Association of Business Schools held at Lancaster University was another useful exercise.  My colleague Sally Halper and I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the MBS resources at the British Library, to explain our content strategy and to elicit opinions about how best to meet the research needs of the business schools.  This event formed part of a pattern with others undertaken along with colleagues.  These included a presentation about the Business & IP Centre, a Library facility that supports entrepreneurs and innovators in launching and developing businesses, at Brunel University and participation in a Study Conference at Kingston University.  These reinforced our view that there is a large demand from business and management academics for resources that support specialist research rather than the teaching and learning support often offered by their own institutional libraries.  The British Library as a national library has a vital role to play in this.  Of particular interest to participants across events were the implications of the coming into force of the Non Print Legal Deposit regime, British Library plans to engage with Open Access and the use of the British Library MBS Portal as a means of doing this.

Another more specific project that I have been involved in is a review of how we can support the Business History research community.  Anecdotal evidence suggests this group have been seen as “falling in the gap” between MBS and History research support.  As a practical first step we have targeted the development our annual report collection as a type of resource that is particularly valued by many business and management historians.  To this end I have conducted focus groups and targeted interviews with business historians and other stakeholders with a particular interest in using such material.  The Library has traditionally received a large amount of such items but in a rather uncoordinated way as annual reports have not been covered by legal deposit and active collecting had tended to be focused on the leading FTSE companies.  Other material has, however, found its way into the collection often as part of donations of wider collections relating to companies or industries.  So far we have received a variety of opinions as to how best configure and develop our holdings so as to make them of most use to researchers.  Widely proffered opinions have included that we should build collections around industries and sectors across time and that we attempt to develop holdings for the “lost years” from the mid sixties to the end of the century where this kind of material can be particularly difficult to find.  We are also investigating how researchers react to digital storage and provision for such collections.

This is very much an ongoing consultation so if you would like to offer your opinion individually or take part in one of the forthcoming focus groups then please do contact me, preferably by the end of June, at and we can find the best way to feed your ideas into the process.  Indeed, do feel free to contact me on more general MBS related topics as well.  A part of the purpose of all of the activities outlined above and of others that are taking place in the Library is to engage with our users to sense-check that our actions will lead to outcomes that help them to access and exploit our unique resources and collections to best effect.  We are always keen to hear from those in the MBS community, be they students, academics or practitioners, who want to contribute to this ongoing process.