Propaganda: Power and Persuasion at the British Library

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion at the British Library is an exhibition that is full of intrigue, thought provoking content and brilliant artefacts that puts you in the middle of a power struggle between propaganda for good and propaganda for bad.

I’ve always been interested in the use of propaganda, indeed in how communications can shape the way that people think and act – I guess it’s why i’m in the job i’m in, so I’d been meaning to get down to the British Library to take a look since the announcement of the exhibition.

There are six different sections, taking about an hour and a half in total to walk through, ranging from propaganda in health and war, to the the Iraq dodgy dossier and the London 2012 Olympics.

Aside from the obvious stories the exhibit is almost obliged to tell, such as how the National Socialists used communication techniques in the 30’s and 40’s, there are wonderfully simple snippets that really resonate away from the obvious examples of communications being used to manipulate society.

One such piece is a pamphlet from 2005 that was delivered to every home in the UK from the government, providing advice about how to spot potential terrorist activity. I don’t remember receiving it, but i’m sure we must have done. It demonstrated just how propaganda is not a thing tied to the past or to autocratic regimes, but is always all around us.

Now, I know that is an obvious statement to make, but I think we find it so easy to switch off and to become apathetic to the messages that we are being asked to consume, rather than question the motives for the message in the first place.

A couple of highlights:

1. Learning that the word propaganda comes from propagate
2. A quote that PR is ‘insidious and all-powerful’
3. Video excerpts featuring Noam Chomsky and Alastair Campbell

The exhibition has a simple narrative despite explaining complex communication theories, and has some great visuals that do an excellent job at keeping Propaganda varied, entertaining and informative.

Propaganda is only on until September 17th, so go and see it whilst you can. For £9 it is well worth your time.


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