Final Project Proposal: Reading American World War II Propaganda

For my final project for History 689 I plan to create a digital teaching site focused on U.S. World War II propaganda. The site will feature posters, film clips, cartoons, excerpts of radio broadcasts, and comic books. Sources related to World War II are readily available in digitized form. I am anticipating including approximately 12 primary sources (probably 2/3 posters and 1/3 other kinds of propaganda). The digital learning experience will be targeted at high school or college students (or an interested general public).  I plan to use this site in a college class on the U.S. in World War II that I will be teaching in the spring.

The project has two main goals. First, I want to help users develop their ability to do close readings of a specific kind of primary source; that of government wartime propaganda. I plan to develop a list of questions for each item that will help users practice “sourcing,” or learning how to ask the kinds of questions that allow historians to make claims about a source. Brief answers will be available when a user clicks on the question. Questions will include not only basic factual items (i.e., When was this poster created? Who created it?), but also those that guide the user to begin to engage with the source more critically. For example, a question might ask about representations of gender or race, or about the specific language or visual vocabulary of a propaganda item.

A second goal of the project is to encourage users to begin developing interpretations and historical arguments based on a body of historical sources. In this case, the site will encourage users to look for patterns among the various forms of propaganda, to consider what these sources together might tell us about what the government at the time seemed concerned about or what arguments propagandists thought would be most effective.

The site may be based loosely on the kind of teaching materials that are available on the Teaching History site. I am intrigued by the form of the “Interactive Civil War Poster” on that site. Users hover over a specific primary source that is part of a larger poster and are brought to a page where they are guided through a close reading of the source, as well as the example of a professional historian analyzing the document in its broader historical context (often through a video or voice recording).

I don’t know the best tools to build a site like this—I want it to be interactive, easy to use, and visually compelling. I will need to embed film clips, songs, and visual images and I want to make it easy for users to click on a question and then see a brief answer without being redirected to a new page. I look forward to suggestions about how to make this work!





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