The Rhetoric of Wartime

Jul 7

A Close Reading of a Visual Text

750 words (3 pages), due by midnight on the evening of Sun, Jul 7

Write a short essay that provides a visual and rhetorical analysis of a propaganda poster on display at the Imperial War Museum or the National Army Museum.

Since this first essay has a quick turnaround, here’s one way to organize your paper:

  1. Start by introducing the reader to your poster. Beyond the poster itself, you might consider describing the museum display where you encountered it—or alternatively you might name where and when it was first displayed to the public. Your goal in this first ¶ is to answer the implicit question, “Why this particular poster? What makes it interesting, worthy of 3 pages writing?” If the poster is funny, tragic, odd, say so, and engage your reader’s interest in the project of making sense of why the poster’s artist sought to arouse laughter, fearful awe, curiosity or whatever other emotion in his viewers.
  2. Use early body ¶s to provide a detailed account of what your poster looks like. This may take just one ¶, but you can use a ¶ break to signal a hidden detail, surprise or visual “punch line.”
  3. Use later body ¶s to offer a rhetorical analysis of the poster: what’s the dominant appeal (logos? pathos? ethos?), and how do other appeals function to support or complicate the dominant one? Again, use ¶ breaks to signal moments of surprise or insight: not just a new aspect of the poster’s rhetorical analysis, but new level of understanding.

Key elements you should gather in preparation for writing this essay:

  • photos of your chosen poster—take a bunch, from multiple angles and focusing in on key details;
  • notes or photos of the museum’s informational plaques;
  • photos of other posters and cultural artifacts from this and other museums that strike you as relevant—whether as parallel or as contrary examples;
  • notes from reading the first chapter of Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory
  • relevant notes and/or reading from Hum and Soc Sci.

All use of these elements in your essay should be documented using MLA citations (click to citations guidelines for museum exhibits and placards).

Out-of-Bounds: No other elements are required or allowed, especially wikipedia. Your challenge in this assignment is to grapple with the design, pathos, humor, etc. of a cultural artifact on your own—not to go looking for someone else who already knows the answer.

Turn in your essay via the comments, below.

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