Social Science blog

37 posts categorized "Propaganda"

02 July 2013

Napoleon riding backwards on a donkey

Jennifer Howes, the British Library's Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, writes about some of the many different versions of Napoleon.

The picture on this medallion shows Napoleon with a rope tied around his neck, seated backwards on a donkey. Satan is holding the end of the rope, and is leading the donkey forward. The inscription on the medallion reads, ‘INSEPARABLE FRIENDS TO ELBA’.

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Above: ‘Inseparable Friends to Elba’ Medallion. BL reference: F4577. Photograph by Peter Warner Cc-by

This little medallion was made in Britain to commemorate the exile of Napoleon to the island of Elba in April 1814. Medallions like these were popularly sold in the UK, and many of them, including this one, were punched with a hole at the top, so the medallion could be worn as a piece of jewellery.

The picture on the medallion relates to a popular caricature that was printed in London in May 1814. The caricature shows Napoleon weeping, seated backwards on a donkey. In his right hand he holds a broken sword, and in his left, the donkey’s tail. A line of text is wafting out of the donkey’s bottom. It says, ‘The greatest events in human life is turn’d to a puff’.  A copy of this caricature is in the Library of Congress, Washington.

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Above: ‘The Journey of a Modern Hero to the Island of Elba'. Printed by J Phillips, London, May 1814. Held at the Library of Congress.

The medallion and the caricature clearly reflect the virulent dislike that the British felt towards Napoleon during that period. It is impossible to calculate the total number of British casualties during the Napoleonic Wars, but no doubt, many people had young male friends and relatives who either died or were crippled during the numerous battles Napoleon prompted.

In the British Library’s ‘Propaganda’ exhibition, there is a massive portrait of Napoleon surrounded by emblems of power. It was painted in 1813, immediately before his protracted downfall began. The portrait shows self-glorification to the extreme, while the medallion is a raw, angry expression of collective ‘schadenfreude’. It is amazing that these two objects relate to the same person.


Above: Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte painted in 1813 by Jean Baptiste Borely. BL Reference: F32. 
Public Domain Mark

‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ runs until 17 September 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.

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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.

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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.

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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”?  

30 May 2013

Every time you cross the road ...

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition, examines how propaganda can often be fed by public opinion.

I had a great time last week at a private view of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion for secondary school teachers, put on by our Learning programme. Professor Jo Fox, University of Durham, gave an excellent talk on the evolution of propaganda between world wars and into the cold war. One concept that stuck in my mind was the idea of propaganda being a reciprocal arrangement, which responds to public opinion and may require the complicity of its audience to work.

In our exhibition, we look at the London 2012 Olympic Games as a point at which there was a considered attempt to present a view of Britain that was in some ways new - about a population that was diverse, and drew confidence and innovation from that diversity. In some ways, there are echoes of the 1951 Festival of Britain, but, as the Sport at Heart bid film shows, the emphasis on people was much more central. The 2012 Olympic Games are also interesting in terms of public opinion, and we look at this as expressed through Twitter comments in the last section of the exhibition. It's been suggested that print media followed public opinion, expressed in part through social media, in its positive coverage of the games.

Carole Holden gives an example of public opinion shaping the form of propaganda on the Americas Studies blog. Norman Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms', initially turned down by the US Office of War Information for not being sufficiently representative of "fine arts", were later enthusiastically adopted by the same office once they had proved their popularity in the Saturday Evening Post.

Seeing Rockwell's 'Four Freedoms' up close in our exhibition brings home the emotional power in the images and it's not hard to see why they were so successful. However, the exhibit that's had the most impact on me personally is one that takes quite a different approach and at first didn't strike me as very impressive at all.

Road Safety
This poster, 'Road Accident Deaths to Children and Teenagers, Great Britain 1960' (click to view large image), presents a series of simple line graphs and I very nearly ignored it when I was looking through our set of posters from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. But I was drawn to the small graph in the left-hand corner headed 'Pedestrians'. The big peaks at ages 3- 4 and 6-7 was shocking and made me think about the risk to my own young children. Having been brought up with TV images of the Green Cross Code man, I was already running through the version of the code that I could remember (which I discovered is actually closer to the kerb drill) whenever I crossed the road with my children. However, seeing this poster made me much more diligent about doing this. And also now means that I take even longer to get anywhere.

Like a lot of propaganda, it didn't make me do something that was completely different than before. It worked through reinforcing attitudes and behaviour that I was already expressing. It's also quite odd in working even though I was looking at the poster in context of the exhibition - I was thinking about it as propaganda, but still influenced by it. The reason why it had such an effect was that I was exactly the right audience for it, which comes back to the idea of reciprocity and complicity in propaganda.

That's the piece of propaganda in our exhibition that's had the biggest impact on me. But how about you? What's the most effective or powerful message in your opinion or experience? Let me know #BLPropaganda.        

21 May 2013

Propaganda and Politics in the Modern Age

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the Propaganda exhibition, reflects on the first few days of the exhibition and public responses to it, especially those relating to propaganda in the modern age.

These past four days since Propaganda: Power and Persuasion has opened have been very interesting, finally finding out reactions to our exhibition. I've been talking to lots of people, and it's been good seeing the reviews and discussions online and in the press. Particularly great has been following comments on our #BLPropaganda Twitter feed. Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far, even if it does feel odd to send tweets from an exhibition that asks whether we're all propagandists now.

Chorus (c) Field
Above: Chorus © Field

One thing that people have been particularly interested in so far is how propaganda operates today, and whether we recognise it as such. The fantastic Twitter wall 'Chorus' has been getting lots of attention. Through the exhibition, you see how propaganda moves with the available and popular cultures: from monumental architecture, through print and posters, to cinema, radio and television.

There's also the suggestion, from Lord Northcliffe during the First World War, that propaganda that looks like propaganda is 'third rate'. So, we were interested in asking whether propaganda techniques have changed to take advantage of new media and social media. And, if it has, can you recognise it? Eliane Glaser examines the opportunities that new media offers for those wishing to influence us in 'The west's hidden propaganda machine'.

That's one question about propaganda in the 21st century. There's also the question of how reporting in mass-media is changing, with the emphasis on 24 hour news. Also, there's interest in how states themselves are changing in the way that they communicate, and in some cases mediate communications, with their own citizens but also internationally. Recent stories relating to North Korea have focussed on some of the more obvious propaganda images and broadcasts.

So, have things changed less than we think? Here at the British Library this Friday 24 May, we'll be looking at Propaganda and Politics in the Modern Age. In partnership with the New Statesman, we're holding a debate featuring Charles Crawford, Isabel Hilton, and Nick Cohen. It will be chaired by Sophie Elmhirst, features editor at the New Statesman. Expect discussion on state-media relations, communications and dissent in China, and the challenges of diplomacy in the 21st century.

17 May 2013

Picturing Propaganda

Ian Cooke, Lead Curator in International Studies and Politics at the British Library and co-curator of the recently launched Propaganda exhibition writes about an upcoming study day that will examine the power of visual materials. Ian also provides answers to last Friday's quiz.

After nearly two years of planning, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion has opened today. Last night’s launch was great fun, with David Welch and Armando Ianucci speaking, followed by our very own leaflet drop. Over the past couple of days, I’ve very much enjoyed showing people around and talking about the exhibition.

It’s fantastic to finally see everything in place. There’s a huge difference between seeing the exhibits in small groups, as we were doing during planning, and seeing everything displayed together. In the gallery, the emotional power of the more-visual elements is astounding.

We’re going to be examining the power of visual materials in a study day on Saturday 1 June. We’ll be looking at both printed materials, such as posters, and moving images. The programme for the day reflects the themes in our exhibition, covering nation-building, health campaigns, and propaganda in war time. We’re working with the British Film Institute to look at research covering film and other visual materials, and how these kinds of resources can be studied in combination.


Above: Policemen look out of the eyes of the Statue of Liberty, with a policeman's baton forming a tear shape. The image is from a Russian poster, originally titled ‘Freedom American-Style’ by B Prorokov, as featured in the British Library exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.

Scott Anthony and Linda Kaye will talk about public relations in Britain and the use of film to reinforce images of Britain. Bryony Dixon will talk about public health in early silent film, and Sarah Graham, who features in our exhibition, will compare methods in visual communication in AIDS awareness campaigns. Luke McKernan will talk about newsreels in World War One, and Peter Johnston will discuss government-media relations during the Falklands War. The day starts with David Welch, talking about the use of visual materials in creating a sense of the enemy, and Sue Woods, providing an introductory guide to government film-making.

The day will be a great chance to find out more about current research and resources using these powerful and striking materials. You can find out details and book tickets on our web page.

Last week, I posted three national anthems questions. Here are the answers:

1. South Africa uses five languages in it’s national anthem: isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans, and English.

2. The national anthem of Poland has the chorus: ‘March, march, Dąbrowski, March from Italy to Poland, Under your command, We shall reach our land’.

3. The European Union uses music from Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the setting of Friedrich von Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’, as both its anthem and to symbolise Europe in a wider sense. 

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