Propaganda, Power and Persuasion
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Kent
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
This case study refers to civil society, cultural life, public discourse
and education. As an international authority on propaganda and persuasion,
David Welch has raised public understanding of this key component of
contemporary life across a number of countries through:
- Acting as lead consultant on three major television series on
propaganda and war commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
- Acting as co-curator and historical consultant for two exhibitions:
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's `State of Deception: The
Power of Nazi Propaganda' (2009) and the British Library's `Propaganda:
Power and Persuasion', and author of the accompanying book (2013).
The television series has been broadcast in five countries and achieved
global viewing figures in excess of 7 million. Public attention to the
museum exhibitions was equally significant with 384,000 people visiting
the Holocaust Memorial exhibition in its first year and 68,250 that at the
British Library. Reactions to these contributions have been overwhelmingly
positive, revealing the reach and significance of the impact.
The research was carried out by David Welch (Professor of Modern History
1992-) who has an international reputation as a leading expert in the
field of propaganda studies. In this REF assessment period, his expertise
has been targeted at consolidating his research into the relationship
between propaganda, war and the state in the twentieth century. His
research has drawn upon a wide range of evidence including film, radio,
television, newspapers, state documents, art, cartoons and posters from an
equally broad range of archives across the world. In particular, Welch's
- Plotted the ways in which propaganda and warfare have become
inseparable companions in the functioning of the modern
- Explored the ways in which propaganda, while maligned as a label and
viewed as a synonym for misrepresentation and falsehood, actually
performs a critical function of the state in the twentieth and
- Considered the strengths and weaknesses of propaganda techniques and
- Investigated the extent to which, in the total wars of the twentieth
century, propaganda was actually produced by the state or by private
organisations working under the loose supervision of the state.
- Explored the concept of the role played by propaganda in asymmetric
warfare in the twenty-first century.
- Demonstrated the effects of technological developments on
communication and the political function of propaganda within different
- Considered the historical development and the iconography surrounding
the idea of a `just war'.
- Examined the deployment of history and attendant manipulation of
historical memory as a propaganda tool.
- Explored propaganda as an agent of reinforcement by looking at a wide
range of propaganda artefacts such as stamps, coins, place names etc.
- Reappraised previous simplistic assumptions by analysing `resistance'
or `immunity' to propaganda.
The research has been disseminated through a number of outputs including
a monograph, edited volumes and contributions to a multi-authored volume
and journal articles. (See Section 3 below for this REF period.) The
research was also disseminated through the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation's documentary series and in the curating of the British
Library exhibition, `Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' (May-September
2013) and the accompanying book which represents a major research output
in its own right.
References to the research
1. D. Welch, `Représentations de L'ennemi et Films de Propagande Durant
la Première et la Seconds Guerre Mondiales', in Philippe Kaenel and
François Vallotton (eds), Les images en guerre (1914-1945) De la
Suisse à l'Europe (Antipodes, 2008), pp.109-122.
2. D. Welch, `The Military, the Media and the Propaganda War in Northern
Ireland', in P. Dennis & J. Grey (eds), The Military and the
Media: the 2008 Chief of Army Military History Conference
(Australian Military History Publications, 2009), pp. 158-173.
3. D. Welch and Joanne Fox (eds), Justifying War. Propaganda,
Politics and War in the Modern Age (Palgrave, 2012). This volume was
very positively reviewed in the Journal for Military History, Vol.
77, No. 1, January 2013.
4. D. Welch, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion: REF2 Output 3 (EP-31203).
Antony Beevor referred to this publication as `excellent' in his review
for the Sunday Times, 12 May 2013.
5. D. Welch (ed.), Propaganda, Power and Persuasion. From World War I
to WikiLeaks: REF2 Output 4 (EP-31207)
6. D. Welch et al (eds.), The First World War: Propaganda and
Recruitment, an online collection of primary sources and expert
commentary. Welch's contribution included the essay `German Propaganda and
World War I' and an overview of the website, `Nature and Scope'. The
website went live in November 2013.
Welch's work has become a standard point of reference for academics
working on propaganda and persuasion.
Details of the impact
As a specialist in modern history and propaganda with a particular
strength in relating historical examples to contemporary contexts, Welch's
work has become an important primary reference point for a number of
non-HEI agencies interested in the ever-widening public debate on the flow
of information and attempts to influence opinion.
Because of his international research profile in this area, Welch was
approached in 2010 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to serve
as historical consultant and on-air commentator for an ambitious
multi-series project entitled Love,
Hate and Propaganda. Designed to showcase the role of
propaganda and war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries within
specific contexts, three commissioned series were produced between
2010-2013 (The Second World War, The Cold War, The War
on Terror). As Canada's state broadcaster, CBC's mission in
producing these programmes was to educate a target audience within the
17-30 age group about the role played by propaganda in modern history.
Welch's expertise shaped the programme content by suggesting that
propaganda was not necessarily a cancer on the body politic but rather a
means of persuasion practised by governments of all ideological leanings —
including democracies. The overarching intention of the project was to
challenge preconceptions of propaganda and ensure that the audience came
to an understanding of propaganda as an all-persuasive element in public
discourse and not simply as a method of mass brainwashing.
From 2008, Welch has acted as historical consultant on a number of museum
and library projects, most notably as a consultant historian for the
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington D.C.). Welch assisted
the board of Directors and Curators in the shaping of the 2009 exhibition,
of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda' by interacting with the
museum's team and producing a series of recommendations based on its
In 2012, Welch was approached by the British Library to co-curate a
special summer exhibition on propaganda (May — September 2013). `Propaganda:
Power and Persuasion' was planned as `a ground breaking exhibition'
which sought to demonstrate Welch's belief that propaganda is a `much
maligned and misunderstood' concept [3.4]. Welch acted as the historical
consultant and shaped the structure and themes of both the exhibition and
book and suggested individual case studies and artefacts to be included.
The exhibition challenged previously-held assumptions about propaganda,
the media and the state. In effect, the exhibition and the accompanying
book represented a distillation of Welch's work to date on the
relationship between politics, propaganda and public opinion, changing
technology and different types of warfare. By exploring a wide range of
exhibits from around the world, visitors to the exhibition, and readers of
the accompanying book, were invited to look critically at messages,
methods, and media, discovering more about the use of propaganda through
time and across cultures. In addition, the exhibition was deliberately
designed to ensure public engagement through a range of supporting events.
These included open lectures with leading thinkers on public discourse
such as Noam
Chomsky (19 March 2013) and events aimed at schools
and colleges. Welch gave a dedicated public lecture to
schoolteachers and educators at the British Library ('Picturing
A Study Day', 1 June 2013) following which they were given a special
viewing of the exhibition. Welch was also involved in a public debate with
journalists and military figures on the relationship between `war, media
and propaganda' in modern history including the `war on terror' (`Justifying
War', 21 June 2013).
In its first year the Holocaust Museum exhibition was visited by 384,000
people and has been reshaped into a permanent online
exhibition which has given it worldwide and on-going reach. The
website is available in Arabic, Farsi, Italian, Spanish and Turkish and
received 1,659,000 visits in its first year and 900,000 visits in 2010.
The British Library's `Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' exhibition
(May-September 2013) had a target of 50,000 visitors, but achieved 68,250
of which 5,044 were school or HE group visits. (Monthly average: 13,650).
The first series of Love, Hate and Propaganda, Selling World
War II, consisted of 6 one hour episodes and attracted 5.2
million Canadian viewers (3.76 million English-speaking; 1.5 million
French-speaking). There were 94,981 further streams of this programme
through the digital media site and 245,170 hits on the dedicated website
related to the series. The second set of programmes, aired in 2011 and
entitled The Cold War, featured 4 one hour television
programmes with a total number of 1,434,000 viewers (702,000 English;
732,000 French- speaking). This series was released to international
markets in China, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The website streamed full
episodes a further 40,938 times, and received a total of 251, 646 hits. In
December 2012, the third series, The War on Terror, consisting
of 2 one hour television programmes was broadcast and has been accessed by
approximately 750,000 people. [5.5] (Work has begun on a fourth series to
commemorate the 100th anniversary of First World War).
School and college-age students were identified as a key target audience.
To date, 1.7 million English-speaking and 374,000 French-speaking students
have viewed Selling World War Two, while 870,000 English-speaking
and 191,400 French-speaking students watched the set of programmes on The
Cold War through a special agreement which saw the series streamed
to Canadian educational institutions. [5.5]
The Holocaust Museum exhibition formed the basis for an online
workshop for teachers in 2011, and was commented upon positively
within the museum world. A peer review site stated that it was `highly
effective, visually engaging and rigorously researched'; `a masterful
exhibition... [it] should be remembered as one of the best attempts to do
this [understand Nazi propaganda]'. [5.2] It was also appreciated by the
wider public. A Maryland visitor stated that the `propaganda exhibit...was
VERY informative, and generated good conversation between me and my
boyfriend'; a Rhode Island visitor stated that the exhibition `should make
everyone think', whilst a South Carolina resident recorded, `I had never
understood how the holocaust could happen, but after visiting the
propaganda exhibit I can see how something so terrible can start'. [5.4]
The reviewer for the Washington Post (11 February 2009) remarked that `the
depth of information available is...remarkable'. [5.3.]
The CBC series have also made a significant impact. The Canadian journal
National Post (16 November 2011) deemed the Cold War series
`compelling', and The Globe and Mail (17 November 2011) review
concluded: `Any thinking person can see how "the global fight for your
mind" continues, using similar tactics but different media, today' thus
revealing that the intention to show continuities against different
contexts was communicated. [5.6; 5.7]
In addition to public broadcasts, Love, Hate and Propaganda was
also presented in Canadian schools and universities as an educational
tool. Welch helped CBC establish a state-of-the-art online
website for educational purposes aimed at schools and universities.
This contained a lively interactive content including competitions
and prizes that, for example, encouraged secondary and
post-secondary students to design their own propaganda posters. The
British Columbia Teachers' Federation judged the learning resources as a
`highly recommended resource for educators' and added that `students in
Grades 11 and 12 are guaranteed to find the content relevant and
The `Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' exhibition produced a deep impact
provoking visitors to reconsider their preconceptions, as is evident from
reviews and tweets regarding the exhibition. The New Statesman
described it as `provocative exhibition... [which provides a] compelling
argument'; this was echoed in the Economist, which referred to
`this absorbing exhibition', and the Creative Review, which
described it as `a vast and thought provoking collection'. The
Exhibitionologist stated that `the exhibition changed my perceptions
and made me ask myself what I think propaganda is'. [5.10; 5.11; 5.12;
5.13] Such responses were echoed in the tweets of visitors: `so engrossing
that I only got round the first two bits in the hour before it closed.
Return visit needed'; `I thought I knew all about propaganda but the BL
exhibition brings it to a whole new level'; `Thoroughly thought provoking,
redefined my view of what propaganda is'; `Thought-provoking, essential,
riveting, enlightening, timeless — urge you to go'. [5.14]
Welch has therefore made a highly important contribution to education and
public understandings of a crucial method of modern communication, helping
people to evaluate its influence on their own lives.
Sources to corroborate the impact
Information relating to the `State of Deception' exhibition, Washington
Holocaust Memorial Museum:
- Visitor numbers and website hits can be found in the Washington
Holocaust Memorial Museum annual reports for 2009/10,
pp.2-3 and 2010/11,
- Mara Kurlandsky, `State
of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda', ExhibitFiles.org,
4 March 2011
- Philip Kennicott, `Hitler's
Terrible Weapon: Publicity', Washington Post, 11 February
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Tripadvisor Reviews: April
September 2012, 24
Information and resources relating to the CBC TV series `Love, Hate and
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation viewing figures and DVD sales
figures and website hits supplied by Kevin Chlebovec, Sales Executive,
- Scott Stinson, `CBC
takes on the Cold War with Love, Hate & Propaganda while NBC gives
cold shoulders to Community', National Post, 16 November
- John Doyle, `The heartbreaking truth about the war for our minds', The
Globe and Mail, 17 November 2011
- Janet Nicol, `Learning resource review: Love, Hate and Propaganda', Teacher
Newsmagazine, Volume 23, Number 4, Jan./Feb. 2011
Information on the public exhibition `Propaganda: Power and Persuasion'
at the British Library:
- Email correspondence with Ian Cooke, British Library, confirming
visitor numbers for the exhibition
- En Liang Khong, `Propaganda:
Power and Persuasion at the British Library: Reading between the
lines', New Statesman, 7 June 2013
between the lines', The Economist, 20 May 2013
- Rachael Steven, `Propaganda:
Power and Persuasion', Creative Review, 16 May 2013
— Propaganda, Power and Persuasion', The Exhibitionologist,
24 July 2013
- Tweets relating to the exhibition on 14
July and 17
July 2013 (see also #blpropaganda
May — July 2013)