Book Proposal: Turning PhD Thesis into Publication

It’s a modern way to announce something:

Just submitted my @ww2poster book proposal to @I_W_M – let’s see if they’re interested!

A photo posted by Bex Lewis (@drbexl) on

Yes, I’m waiting to see if the Imperial War Museum, or other, will be interested in publishing my PhD as a book. I still have many people ask when it’s going to be published, and despite the wish of many, I don’t think Keep Calm and Carry On is going to go away! It’s an 11 page document, but here’s the initial overview:

Keep Calm and Carry On: Visualising The People’s War in Posters
(British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War)

Keep Calm and Carry On PosterIn 1939, the poster ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was designed, printed, but never distributed by the British Government. The poster was part of a series designed for the Second World War, but came to prominence in 2008/9 alongside the economic crisis. Ten years later, in 2019, eighty years after it was designed, the tourist gift shops continue to be full of mugs, aprons, bags with the slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, or one of its many subverted versions. It was ‘discovered’ by Barter Books in 2001, was picked up by the media in 2005, and resulted in the BBC questioning in 2009 if it was ‘the greatest motivational poster ever’? Why do people from so many corners of the globe recognise it, love it, and purchase it? Do they understand where this poster fits within the wider story of propaganda posters produced by the British government, designed largely for the British civilian population in the Second World War? This book will give that wider picture.


Following introductory chapters in which propaganda theories, poster design from the 1890s through to 1939, and the production and distribution processes of the Ministry of Information (MOI) are addressed, the book will continue with four themed case studies, examining poster foci in depth, each structured around its context and planning, design, and reception. The themes will address the ‘imagined community’ that people believed they were fighting for, industrial propaganda campaigns, a focus upon ‘the enemy within’ (particularly ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’), and those compromising the war effort through their sexual behaviour, putting themselves at risk of venereal disease.


The book will conclude by bringing us back from the past to the present, seeking to understand why wartime propaganda posters have intruded upon the public consciousness at particular points in recent decades. In particular, it will focus upon how the commercialization of history, and the development of ‘a digital age’ have contributed to the popularity of Keep Calm and Carry On.


There is the potential for an appendix to contain biographies of poster artists from the Second World War, collated alphabetically.

Contents List:

‘Keep Calm and Carry On’: Introduction

Chapter 1: ‘Your Country Needs You’: The Pre-War British Experience of the Propaganda Poster

Chapter 2: ‘Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution’: Commissioning, Design & Distribution: The MOI and Morale

Chapter 3: ‘Your Britain: Fight for it Now’: Representations of ‘Your Britain’, Urban and Rural

Chapter 4: ‘The Attack Begins in the Factory’: Industrial Posters

Chapter 5: ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’: Fighting the ‘Enemy Within’

Chapter 6: ‘VD: Delay is Dangerous’: The ‘Problem’ of Venereal Disease in Wartime

‘The Dawn of Victory’: Conclusion – From the Past to the Present

Let’s see what happens – there’s always a crowd-funding option as a possibility, but the Imperial War Museum is where my interest in this topic started … when I saw the ‘Women of Britain, Come Into the Factories‘ poster caught my eye… and – on a pragmatic level – they manage the copyright to all the posters.


[NEWS] Remembering Lord Asa Briggs 1921-2016

Image: University of Sussex

On a sunny day in June 2004, I was sat chewing my fingers in the grounds of what was then University College Winchester, awaiting the arrival of Lord Asa Briggs, the external examiner for my PhD thesis entitled ‘The Planning, Design and Reception of British Home Front Propaganda Posters of the Second World War’ (available on Ethos). He’d got stuck in traffic around Thruxton, but on arriving an hour late, indicated we should get on with it … and contrary to all the warnings I’d had that one shouldn’t expect to know the results, immediately informed me that the thesis had passed. Along with Dr Adrian Smith (University of Southampton) we then proceeded to discuss a little Foucauldian discourse analysis, and a few other suggestions for around 25 minutes.

It took a while to sink in that I had passed my thesis without corrections (apparently only 5% of people do this). Briggs described my work as ‘one of the most readable I had ever had the privilege to examine‘, and it was recommended that it be re-worked and edited into a book, likely to be ‘highly saleable’, and the rest of the viva concentrated on this.

A range of part-time, contract, hourly-paid teaching/research jobs, global travel, two serious illnesses, two redundancies, five city moves, and twelve years later the book has not yet made the light of day, although the book proposal/sample chapters should be ready to send to a publisher by mid-August (see abstract), and I have used the work in ‘The Art of War‘ for The National Archives, for a chapter for London Transport Posters, and in an article on ‘The Renaissance of Keep Calm and Carry On‘ for The Poster. The book will contain an additional chapter focusing on the story of Keep Calm and Carry On as a product of the digital age, rather than a story of the Second World War. Lord Briggs had agreed to write the foreword for the book, but obviously this won’t happen now. The last email I had from him in August 2015, when I was asking if he would endorse for publication:

Congratulations on turning your thesis into a book!  [You don’t need an introduction from me]. Your book speaks for itself. Yours sincerely,  Asa Briggs.

A supportive and encouraging man, who remembered who I was, and was very encouraging about my work – and I see that he’s been mentioned in the book I plan to read in a couple of weeks Saving Bletchley Park by Dr Sue Black. Condolences to his family.

Obituary: The University of SussexThe Guardian; The Open University