| Vol. 15, No. 1 (page 1)
A Unit of Study
Over the course of history, posters have been used to inform, persuade, and protest issues in society. War posters were created because they were a cheap way of motivating the public to act in a certain way.
Similar to modern advertisements, the style of the war posters, colors used, and compositional choices, all contribute to the way the poster persuades an audience to think or feel. There is always meaning behind what the artist creates. Since World War I, posters have acted as both advertisement and propaganda. Propaganda is defined as the systematic dissemination of particular ideas. Advertisement, on the other hand, is the announcement of things needed or things for sell. Both propaganda and advertisement play a major role in shaping national attitudes and sentiment. While posters were a popular method for persuasive campaigns during World War II; print and television ads are an effective marketing strategy today.
The first large-scale propaganda campaign in the U.S. began when the Committee on Public Information was created to promote the war domestically and to publicize war goals abroad. The committee procured the best cartoonists and ad illustrators to create posters urging Americans to enlist in the military, recycle cans and tires, buy bonds, start victory gardens, and save gasoline. Enduring hardship for the war effort was a common theme due to the rationing and lifestyle changes brought on by the war. Citizens were urged to recycle or to collect scrap metal and women were called upon to fill the vacant positions in a once male dominated workforce. The darker side of war posters united citizens in the war effort by emphasizing the danger of the enemy, often through portrayal of Germans and Japanese soldiers in crude and often monstrous stereotypes.
This lesson uses posters from World War II, alongside modern advertisements to give students the tools to deconstruct persuasive art and view it objectively.
Note: The target audience for this unit is tenth grade since lessons in the unit focus on requirements of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills in World History Studies. However, the material in the lessons can be adapted for other grade levels.