United Kingdom

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion at the British Library

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the British Library to see their current exhibition, Propaganda: Power And Persuasion. This exhibition shares different types and forms of propaganda spanning the 20th and 21st centuries from countries all across the globe. Although the classic WWI poster depicting Uncle Sam pointing a sharp finger at onlookers is used heavily in promotion of the exhibit, you’ll find so much more to see inside.

(Please excuse my crude photography throughout this post. Cameras were not allowed within the exhibition, so I had to get creative and take photos outside of posters behind glass.)

Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library

If you’re anything like me, when you think of propaganda, your mind immediately drifts to its use in times of war to build morale, influence citizens to accept the war, and demonize other nations or people. There is a wealth of information at the exhibition on this subject, from political cartoons to radio and television broadcasts and more. During a war, propaganda becomes a weapon just as deadly as a bullet. And it appears that no country is immune to pulling the trigger, or being on the receiving end.

Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library

The Space Race and Cold War rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union, Hitler surrounded by German youth being depicted as the benevolent father of the nation, and Americans in Vietnam portrayed as greedy capitalists are just a sampling of the wartime propaganda you’ll find on display at the exhibition.

Wholesome Norman Rockwell scenes urging citizens to buy war bonds, Rosie the Riveter inspiring women to chuck their aprons and get to work, and Potato Pete, the heroic potato designed to influence Britain to grow their own vegetables due to food scarcity showcase the “lighter” side of war propaganda.

Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library

However, the use of propaganda is certainly not restricted to times of war. Often it is used in times of prosperity to continue to maintain positive perceptions among a nation’s people.

Along this line, there is an excellent smaller section in the exhibition on how sports can contribute to national pride. The ability of a nation to excel in sports symbolizes their health and strength, and as a byproduct, their power. Paying particular attention to the effect hosting the Olympics has on a nation’s self pride, there are multiple videos to watch about the games held in London in 2012 and information about how China’s turn hosting gave them the opportunity to showcase the benefits to communism and their advances in technology.

Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library

My favorite section of the exhibition came at the end with classic public service announcements from the last thirty or so years. I’d never really considered public health recommendations and things of that variety to be under the blanket term of propaganda, but at its most basic definition, propaganda is purposeful persuasion. And I suppose that is exactly what is happening when China campaigns for “One is Enough” to try to reduce the growing population, and public health organizations attempt to tell mothers how to raise their children. There is a particularly funny advertisement in this section using nuns to urge sexually active adults to use protection. (Just follow the chuckling of other visitors – you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library

From a coin dating back to 290 BC portraying Alexander the Great as Hercules to your own Twitter feed, it’s clear that propaganda has and will continue to be around for a long time. Gruesome or humorous, a truth or a lie, an appeal to pride or a play on fears – propaganda can come in many forms and play on every emotion. If you can believe the French political thinker, Jacques Driencort, when he says, “Everything is propaganda,” you’ll begin to see it in more places than you’d think!

Propaganda: Power And Persuasion At The British Library

Take advantage of the dwindling crowds as Propaganda: Power And Persuasion draws to a close, and allow yourself a minimum of two hours inside to really see all that is on display. Admission for adults is only £9 and children under 18 are free. Last day to see the exhibition is September 17th.

British Library: Website
Address: 96 Euston Road, Kings Cross, London NW1 2DB

We were guests of The British Library, but all opinions and amateur photos are our own.

Share this post:

  • Jo
    September 3, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    What an interesting exhibition!

  • Janette Johanson
    August 29, 2013 at 9:43 AM

    They should hire you to write reviews and post them on their site!! Awesome exhibit and so much to learn! I need to google Uncle Sam to see where that face came from– so awesome! I’m easily swayed by propaganda and now I’d like to go to that library myself. See how persuasive you are!?!

  • Katrin
    August 28, 2013 at 5:12 AM

    This exhibition looks so interesting! I wish I would be able to visit! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Nicole
    August 28, 2013 at 2:36 AM

    Look at you! A local for a couple months and you’re already getting offers to do reviews for super cool stuff :) Work it girl!

  • Kerry
    August 27, 2013 at 10:32 PM

    Wow, what an interesting place to visit! You are going to see and do and learn so much during your three years in London, and Lexie is going to gain so much from it all too!!

  • Emmymom
    August 27, 2013 at 4:55 AM

    You know you are right there really is so much propaganda out there as well let’s admit it, it often works. That would be a very interesting exhibit.