The Rhetoric of American World War I Propaganda Posters unit sequence uses primary sources to introduce students to the basics of rhetorical and visual analysis, multimodal composition, and scholarly research and writing. The unit begins with students exploring “North Carolinians and the Great War,” the library’s digital collection of World War I posters. In the first feeder assignment, students complete a visual analysis worksheet and analyze the rhetoric and imagery of two posters from the collection. In the second feeder assignment, students expand their rhetorical analysis by conducting additional secondary source research about one of the posters. Finally, in the unit project, students write an analysis of their poster and share their findings with the class in a five-minute conference presentation.
|Conference presentation (oral-visual).||To analyze WWI posters in order to explain how war propaganda works.||Other academics who are attending the WWI conference.||Rhetorician who studies visual propaganda.||You’ve been selected to present your work on WWI propaganda posters at the Cultural Legacies of World War I conference.|
You have been selected to present at a World War I conference. Your research begins with the library’s online collection of the many American propaganda posters created during World War I to recruit soldiers and build national pride. This digital collection, “North Carolinians and the Great War,” focuses specifically on posters that would have been widely distributed in North Carolina to help bolster war efforts in the state. In this unit, you will select one poster to study, analyze, research, and write about. You deliverables include a brief visual presentation about your poster and an essay. As a rhetorician, your goal is to analyze the rhetorical strategies the artist used to create an effective propaganda poster. You should consider include how the artist used images, color, text, and design elements to convey messages related to World War I. Additionally, you should explore the historical context of your poster and how it might have influenced North Carolinians who participated in the war efforts.
By working on the feeder assignments and unit project, you will develop the following skills:
identify how rhetorical strategies are deployed in both visual and textual formats;
conduct secondary source research;
place propaganda rhetoric in its historical context; and
synthesize complex research findings in a compelling oral presentation and written assignment.
World War I propaganda posters are available from Documenting the American South (DocSouth). The goal of the poster collection is to “[examine] how World War I shaped the lives of different North Carolinians on the battlefield and on the home front as well how the state and federal government responded to war-time demands."
In Feeder One, students will begin by exploring the online collection of American World War I propaganda posters to get a sense of the range and types of posters that were made. Either as an in-class activity or as a homework assignment, students should select a poster they find interesting and analyze it more closely by completing the Visual Analysis Worksheet.
Once students have practiced their visual analysis skills, they can move on to the second part of the feeder assignment. First, they should select and download two posters they are interested in writing about for their final projects. Next, they should write a short paragraph about each poster that includes the following information:
For Feeder Two, Background Research and Preliminary Analysis, students will choose one poster and examine it from multiple critical vantage points. First, in the research phase of the assignment, students will search for secondary and primary sources that answer key questions about their posters. Their driving goal as researchers in this assignment will be to learn more about the historical and cultural context in which their posters were created and disseminated.
Next, in the rhetorical analysis phase of the assignment, students will use the information they have gained and their own visual and textual analysis skills to draw conclusions about their posters. They will consider questions about the intended audience and purpose of their posters, as well as considering how persuasive techniques are deployed to connect with that audience and achieve that particular purpose.
Request an information literacy instruction session taught by librarians at the Robert B. House Undergraduate Library (UL). In this session, librarians can help connect students with library resources and search strategies to support their background research on their posters. Potential topics may include formulating keywords, searching in databases, evaluating print and online sources, citation, and other information literacy concepts.
For the Unit Project, an Essay and Conference Presentation, students will build on their prior research and thinking from Feeders One and Two by connecting their historical research with their rhetorical analysis. They will consider how the historical events and cultural norms of the time contributed to the visual and textual rhetorical strategies being used in the poster.
Playing the role of participants in a special session at the World War I conference, students will deliver a brief in-class presentation about the propaganda strategies used in their posters. They will also contribute an accompanying essay about their poster to the special issue of a journal published in conjunction with the conference.
These resources may supplement the instructional materials provided above:
Teaching Assistant Professor, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Carolina Academic Library Associate
Graduate Research Assistant, Wilson Special Collections Library; Ph.D. Student and Teaching Fellow, Department of English and Comparative Literature
This online curriculum module is designed for use in the humanities unit of English 105; however, it could also be adapted for English 105i: Writing in the Humanities or Writing in the Digital Humanities.
This unit sequence meets the following English 105 requirements:
This unit sequence could be adapted to use a variety of other special collections materials, depending on your research interests, desired learning outcomes, and other instructional goals. Contact the Special Collections to discuss other possible adaptations.
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