Propaganda 101


World War one propaganda poster for enlistment in the U.S. Army




Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1801)

by Jacques-Louis David 




Propaganda is essentially a communicative mechanism that is designed to heavily influence, coerce or manipulate an audience to further an agenda, narrative or ideology. Propaganda is not objective and is created by selectively presenting alleged 'facts' to produce desired goals in the recipient's interpretation or perception of the message. Semantically charges language is carefully used to produce an emotive reaction rather than a more rational response.


Propaganda is associated with anyone with an agenda such as material prepared by governments, political campaigns, revolutionaries, corporates, religious organisations, the media, and individuals. As society has evolved, so have the methods and materials used in propaganda campaigns. These include art, animations, posters, pamphlets, movies and TV shows, radio shows, websites and more recently computerized bots and algorithms engage in computational propaganda whilst memes and shared stories are shared on social media.

The term propaganda only became popular after the first world war and only then became a pejorative term. Before then it was only seen in certain social and religious circles.  Before then Ralph Waldo Emerson used it describe a sense of cultural and ideological advancement of enlightened rule. The pre-war version of the Oxford English Dictionary gave the description for propaganda as "any association, systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or practice" This statement itself could of course be propaganda itself. This is the nature of propaganda. "A campaign to improve public health through vaccination, sanitary cooking or the placement of spitoons was, or is, no less a propaganda drive than any anti-clerical or socialist or nativist crusade" [1].

Remember though, that propaganda itself had been used for centuries by people and Governments but it had not been a discussion in the public arena before. Napoleon was considered to be a master of propaganda. He was not the first leader to make use of propaganda, which can be traced back as far as the Behistun Inscription c. 515 BC, but it was his adept ability to utilise all propaganda avenues available such as the newspapers and the arts in the promotion of his romanticised self-image but more importantly his ideals. He was able to utilise aspects that would appeal to a largely illiterate public captivating the masses with a collection of battle medallions and also with the control of the theatrical arts, where he increasingly used censorship to undermine any dissident threats to his leadership or the revolution. 

It was after defeat during the first world war that Hitler believed that propaganda by the British has been instrumental in the collapse of morale and revolts on the German home front. This opened the flood gates on propaganda as a tool in statecraft, deploying a gamut of modern media techniques aimed at indoctrinating nations of people the world over. The notion of ‘public opinion’ was a battlefield in itself and leaders undertook the serious work of ensuring successful outcomes for themselves and tarnishing the reputations of their enemies, foreign and domestic. Sovereign or ideological. This work was not to be left to guesswork but was to be an expert driven field of research and expertise in public persuasion. Therefore, the ‘Allied Campaign to promote the democratic ideology became so successful and appeared so noble to those involved it ‘legitimized’ propaganda workers who immediately after the war ended and continued their ‘art’ in the commercial world. This ‘professionalisation’ gave birth to a whole industry of advertising, PR and marketing.

What is Propaganda?

Coming Soon | Work in Progress 

Poster of the 19th-century Scandinavist movement




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Coming Soon | Work in Progress 

Thought Police Poster [2014]

By RorelyOrgUK

Essential Reading

Bernays, W. (2018). Propaganda. Desert Books. UK.

Doeden, Matt. What is Propaganda? Lerner Publications, 2019.

Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes. Knopf, 1962.

Hamilton, John Maxwell. Manipulating the Masses: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of American Propaganda. LSU Press, 2020.

Lee, Alfred McClung and Elizabeth Briant. Fine Art of Propaganda.  International Society for General Semantics, 1979.

Gleicher, Millard. The Manipulation Of The American Mind. Kindle, 2021.

Knowles, Michael. Speechless: Controlling Words, Controlling Minds. Blackstone Publishing, 2021.

Neuharth Ph.D., Dan. 12 Classic Propaganda Techniques Narcissists Use to Manipulate You, PsychCentral, 2017.

Welch, David. Propaganda: Power and Persuasion. The British Library, 2013.

What is Propaganda Analysis?,

Recognizing Propaganda in Politics,

“Propaganda Techniques,” Holt Literature & Language Arts, Introductory Course, 2003, pp. 643-645

“Propaganda Techniques”, College of DuPage Library,

“Propaganda Techniques To Recognize”, University of Vermont,

“The Art of Propaganda: When Journalists Use Facts to Create Fiction”, Peter Isackson, Fair Observer, 2021


Coming Soon | Work in Progress 



[1] Miller, C. (2018). Introduction. In Bernays, W. (2018). Propaganda. Desert Books. UK. P11.