[ABSTRACT] The Planning, Design and Reception of British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War

[ABSTRACT] The Planning, Design and Reception of British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War

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This project focuses upon propaganda posters produced during the Second World War (1939 to 1945), primarily by the British government, aimed chiefly at their civilian population. The project uses Foucauldian discourse analysis and content analysis to investigate the images and their context, and identify key themes across a wide range of posters, over a long time-frame. This thesis contributes to an historical understanding of the British popular propaganda experience, largely ignored in previous historical research.

Drawing upon material from several archives, including the Imperial War Museum (IWM), the Public Record Office (PRO) and Mass-Observation (M-O), the project also uses questionnaires to elicit memories of the posters, and a poster database to collect together material which would otherwise remain dispersed. The thesis sets the posters against a background of contextual material, it identifies key propaganda theories, discerns relevant poster styles and recognises British poster style as one of pragmatic functionalism. The thesis outlines the poster production and distribution processes of the Ministry of Information (MOI) and considers the first (highly criticised) posters before concentrating on four case studies, each of which is structured in three sections: the planning (context), the design, and the reception of the posters.

The first case study examines what people were fighting for, and identifies their ‘imagined community’, by considering urban and rural representations of Britain in the posters. The second case study considers industrial propaganda, emphasises the idea of the island nation, and identifies those involved in the industrial effort. The third case study looks at ‘the enemy within’, and examines who was excluded from, or was considered damaging to, the war effort. The fourth case study explores in detail who was compromising the war effort through their sexual behaviour, putting themselves at risk of venereal disease. The thesis argues that the posters drew heavily upon longer term discourses emanating from new and established institutions, although there was often a clear distinction between those that drew on the past and tradition, and those that pushed forward to the future.

The content of the PhD is currently available in a number of locations, including the British Library, Imperial War Museum, National Archives, and the University of Winchester library. Conversation of PhD to book is currently in process.

  • Introduction
  • Sources and Methods (see questionnaire; quotes)
  • Propaganda & The Poster
  • Commissioning, Planning, Distributing and Displaying Posters, with a particular focus on the Ministry of Information (extract; extract)
  • Case Study: Urban and Rural Representations of ‘Your Britain’
  • Case Study: Industrial Posters
  • Case Study: ‘The Enemy Within’
  • Case Study: The Problem of V.D.
  • Conclusion

See PhD Proposal and Bibliography.


On 25th June 2004, “Rebecca Lewis successfully negotiated her PhD viva for her thesis entitled ‘The planning, design and reception of British home front propaganda posters of the Second World War’. The thesis was described by the examiners, Lord Asa Briggs and Dr Adrian Smith, as excellent, with no corrections. The supervisory team was Dr Martin Polley (Southampton University, formerly of University College Winchester) and Professor Joyce Goodman, with external advisor Dr Terence Rogers (Bath Spa University)

The upgrade viva had been undertaken by Dr Malcolm Smith (Lampeter)

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Second World War Posters
Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.

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