Masculinity at War: Images of Men in First World War Propaganda Posters
Despite the manifestation of technological breakthroughs during the beginning of the First World War, governments had few mass media options that could be used for their propaganda campaigns. Radio had yet to become a popular household item, and the purchase cost of newspapers limited its potential audience. Ultimately, the poster--an artistic-based mass media format that contained visual images with accompanying text--remained a viable option for government-based propaganda campaigns. Posters were inexpensive and did not require intricate technology to be created and produced in mass quantities. They were also easy to display, and could be placed in public areas to maximize their potential audience. Perhaps most importantly, the poster's combination of pictures and text provided a fertile breeding ground for propaganda ideas.
The posters chosen for this display are a sampling of how different countries used masculine images to "sell" the messages and themes presented in their First World War propaganda posters. Such images were presented in a manner that would not only attract the attention of viewers, but would also compliment the poster text to create an agreeable and convincing sales pitch. This was especially crucial for the countries that were attempting to recruit volunteers for combat and/or raise money through war loans and savings certificates. It is no accident that the posters in this display all relate to recruitment efforts and financial campaigns--with wartime casualties and expenses reaching previously unheard-of levels, posters reflected the often-dire needs for troops and funds.
Although it is difficult for modern viewers to fully understand how propaganda posters affected the lives of those that experienced the First World War, the posters command both artistic and historical study. Analyzing the history of these posters serves to remind us of the role propaganda has played in shaping history.
Many posters can also be studied for their artistic qualities, though some countries (notably Britain) have been criticized for producing artistically bland and uncreative posters. Whether or not First World War propaganda posters contained powerful images of men, they still remain a fascinating and important window into our past.
This online exhibit is based on Archives and Special Collections graduate student Chris Martin's exhibit "Masculinity at War: Images of Men in First World War Propaganda Posters", on display in Bracken Library from April 2003 through May 2003. The posters are from the Elisabeth Ball Collection of World War I posters. This collection includes more than 2000 World War I posters. Slides have been prepared of the posters and a guide is available in Archives and Special Collections. This web page provides an overview of the exhibit with images of select items that represent the type of material on display. For further information on this and other exhibits, please contact Ball State University Archives and Special Collections, Bracken Library, Room 210, Muncie, IN 47306, (Tel.) 765-285-5078.