Selling War and Buying Patriotism: Propaganda, Posters, and Prose from WWI and WWII

Event Image
Army soldiers sprawled on ground with arms pointing to the right.

Explore the history of World Wars I and II through the lens of the artists who translated war posters into community-influencing propaganda. For centuries, emotionally charged imagery has been used to demonize the enemy, inspire patriotism, boost volunteerism, and urge austerity. As such, the posters disclose four common themes of persuasion: the hostile enemy in contrast to the brave protector, community sacrifice, and sideline “saviors” to unite our communities during times of war.

Posters depicting the enemy as barbaric monsters sought to dehumanize adversaries. Dark and threatening-themed posters capitalized on fears and the need for protection to rally the public to support. Bright, inspiring civic call-to-action posters showing food rationing and reduced spending encouraged folks on the home front to make sacrifices to support the war overseas. Savior-oriented posters depicting maternal figures, such as angels and nurses, rescuing soldiers from the horrors of war were instrumental in recruiting women to join the American Red Cross and the Nurse Corps.

Analyzing these themes aims to help audiences understand how wartime propaganda shaped public sentiment during World War I and World War II. This examination questions the use of emotion as a psychological tool in villainizing the enemy, celebrating the protector, promoting sacrifices, and empowering the savior. The exhibit seeks to ask (and answer) the question: is the use of persuasive art an effective and ethical tool in advancing wartime strategy?

The exhibit is curated by James Falotico, Museum Studies major and History minor, class of 2024.

Acknowledgements: Items are on loan from the Billie Wiren Collection, courtesy of Geoff Spencer and Kathy Hodges. This exhibition is made possible by support from Dr. Jim Hall, Dean of University Studies and Executive Director from the School of Individualized Study; and Chad Van Gorder, RIT Veteran Student Success Center Guidance and support provided by the Museum Studies Program at Rochester Institute of Technology.

The exhibit is on view from January 17 through February 3, 2024. A reception will be held January 25, from 4:00-6:30 pm. Interpreters may be requested:


Juilee Decker
Event Snapshot
When and Where
January 25, 2024
4:00 pm - 6:30 pm
Room/Location: University Gallery

Open to the Public

Interpreter Requested?


interdisciplinary studies
student experience