Primary sources are the staple of every good historical work. “Primary” means the document existed and was produced during the period under study. Like all things produced by humans, documents can be flawed, and in the case of your primary document (a propaganda poster) clearly biased. This is why academics search for contradictory or supporting pieces of evidence when they reflect upon past events. Historians appreciate that primary documents must be analyzed critically. This is the crux of your written assignment.
To critically examine your propaganda poster, you must question:
- Who produced it, under what circumstances, and especially, for what purpose? In other words, what was the author’s objective?
- How did the political, social, racial, or economic climate of the time impact the writer’s motives, or how they thought?
- How would these same issues have influenced the way the document was received? For instance, is its purpose to build a distrust or hatred of the enemy? To foster patriotism at home and overseas? To justify the need for war?
- What is the tone of the document? Tone means the writer’s attitude toward the material and/or readers. Tone may be playful, formal, intimate, angry, serious, ironic, outraged, baffled, tender, nostalgic etc.
- What larger themes does it speak to in society? For instance, what does the poster tell you about what society thinks about manhood (or womanhood depending on your poster), duty, sacrifice and citizenship, family, work, freedom, peace, technology, industry, or ethnicity etc.
- Can this document be considered a reliable source and what other potential sources might be useful to corroborate this information? What documents might contradict it?
- After you have picked this document apart and looked at it from several angles, how does it affect our understanding of that time in history, about notions of patriotism?
- How is propaganda a useful or effective tool of war? Is it possible for it to “backfire?” After all, according to Life Magazine, “one of history’s most insightful critics of propaganda, George Orwell — himself a propagandist for the BBC during World War II — wryly observed: ‘All the war propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.’”
Crucial to this assignment will be how well you are able to analyze the primary source in relation to at least 2 secondary sources (check for online Historical Journal articles or for books on WWII in library or any Public Library.) Keep in mind secondary sources are simply interpretations of a compilation of primary documents, and as such are constantly debated and contested.
This assignment should be written as a formal essay, complete with an introduction and thesis, arguments, and a conclusion.
*Attach your primary source document to the end of your assignment*
Websites to help you find your Propaganda Poster:
Ø Canadian War Museum: Propaganda from WWII
Ø The National Archives (US): Powers of Persuasion
Ø Canadian War Poster Collection, McGill University
Ø A Catalogue of Political Cartoons by “Dr. Seuss”
Ø LIFE MAGAZINE, WWII: Intense Propaganda Posters
Ø Centre for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota: Visualizing Otherness
Ø Brandies University World War II Propaganda Posters
Ø German Propaganda Catalogue (English Translations), Calvin College
Ø University of North Texas Digital Collection of War Posters
Ø World War II Poster Collection Northwestern University
- 1500 words.
- Times New Roman 12 point font
- Standard sized margins
- Number your pages
- Do notuse extra spacing in between paragraphs, the entire assignment is simply double spaced
- Use paragraph breaks for new ideas or sections
- Include a title page with the following information:
- Title of Assignment. Be Creative, do not simply write “Propaganda Paper.”
- Your name and student number
- HIST 017
- This assignment should be free from spelling errors and most grammatical errors.
- Papers will also be graded on the clarity of your writing and communication skills, and papers which have many spelling and grammar errors tend to be unclear and confusing to read. If necessary read each sentence out loud—this will help you catch any mistakes and improve the flow of your essay.
- Use specific examples from your propaganda poster to support your points. Avoid writing in a vague and generalized manner.
- You may use the first person (“I”) since I am asking you to share your opinions.
- As stated earlier, there are many resources online and through the Humber Writing Centre to assist you with writing skills.