[PAPER] Propaganda with a Mission: Learning from the Second World War for the Christian Sector in a Digital Age


A paper submitted for the first European Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture, to be held in September in Durham:

In the Second World War, British propaganda posters were circulated using the techniques of persuasion, education, information, celebration, encouragement, morale boosting, and identification of enemies to encourage civilians to understand and undertake their responsibilities in ‘The People’s War’.

In the face of oft-reported declines in church membership, there is urgency for the church to recognize the possibilities of online spaces. The author of a PhD on the above topic developed The BIGBible Project in 2010. The Project blog curates contributions from #DIGIdisciples, questioning what it means to be a Christian in a digital age and in the digital environment. What do digital technologies allow us to do differently, and what can we learn from the past?

The conference paper will draw from the rich collection of over 2,750 #digidisciple posts to demonstrate the potential that the digital has offered the Christian sector, whilst also emphasizing continuity with the past.

BBC2: How We Won the War

There’s a series currently in planning for BBC2, to be presented by Jules Hudson, for Autumn 2012, a travelogue across the UK uncovering civilian stories of the Second World War.

Having come across ‘The Art of War‘ at the National Archives (which they hadn’t realised was written by me), and then I guess coming across my website, I have just been in talks with them about being an expert for an episode on government propaganda (before they talk about black propaganda). I am anticipating talking about:

  • The MOI and its production/planning of posters. What purpose they thought it would achieve.
  • The artists who produced these posters, professionals, but civilians, encouraging people to partake in war.
  • Digging around in my research for reference to competitions held in factories/schools re posts.
  • Why were particular ‘famous faces’ chosen for some posters in The People’s War
  • Stats which demonstrate any effectiveness of posters, or why this can’t be established!

Look out for more info…

Osley, A. Persuading the People 1995

A government publication aimed at the younger generations, although older generations would also be interested in the many illustrations of posters, leaflets, etc.

The book begins with a brief chronology, and an explanation of why the subject is still of relevance, before outlining the wartime publicity machine which produced so many campaigns. The book then deals with various themes such as morale, mobilisation, salvage and health. The book ends with a brief bibliography that contains many of the key works still relevant at PhD level!

Davies, J. The Book of Guinness Advertising, 1998

When I bought this book, it was the cover which caught my eye! A multiplicity of colourful Guinness advertising (particularly posters) was tiled across the front. However, the new cover is also instantly recognisable as Guinness advertising – reminiscent of the ‘black and white’ campaign which has again been replaced! One cannot stand still in the world of advertising as interest in the product needs to be maintained!

Guinness advertisements have been running since 1929, necessary in a world in which pubs were/are tied to breweries, the independent drink needed to create such a demand for the drink that pubs would be FORCED to stock it! The entire history of Guinness advertising is dealt with intelligently in this book, which is finished off with a bibliography for further research.

A wonderful, informative, nostalgic book – and I don’t even LIKE Guinness!!!

You can see more at the Guinness website.

Buy from Amazon.

Darracott, J., Loftus, B. Second World War Posters London: HMSO, 1972 (Reprinted 1981)

A well illustrated work that accompanied an exhibition of war posters at the Imperial War Museum. It was edited by Joseph Darracott, the head of the Art Department at the IWM, with many illustrations prefaced by a short introductory piece. Each of the colour poster illustrations, most of which are British (a reflection of the holdings of the IWM, which contains some 20-30,000 British posters) are accompanied by biographical information about the artist, and contextual information about the situation in which the posters were produced.

“Posters are not designed to last, rather, they are intended to catch the mood of the moment and turn it to advantage. … As we look at war posters, we see our modern world reflected.” [p9]

Campaign: The 100 best posters of the century, 1999

A really fascinating book which considers, as the title says, the 100 best posters of the twentieth century. BUT, who decides what can be considered the ‘best’. The decisions were made by a wide range of people working for some of the most prolific current British advertising agencies.

Apparently a lot of time was required to produce a list of the ‘100 best’, but of particular interest to me, studying for a PhD in British WW2 posters, are the 5 posters from that period which are chosen, by Abram Games, who worked for the War Office. Also of interest was the fact that the First World War poster, Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You‘, which is so well remembered, and has been so much imitated, at number 2!

When I first received this book, my friends and I spent an enjoyable time looking at those we remembered, and considering the reasoning behind which some of them had been picked. A very good spread of posters from the entire century, which considering the time it was written, does not focus too much upon the recent campaigns to the detriment of past campaigns. A few more historical comments would have been interesting, but that was not really the remit of this work!

Purchase from Amazon