Imagery of Power (LS-EU-629)

Imagery of power – visualising what power looks like in 20th-century stereotypes in representing European rulers and dictators in propaganda.

MANNO MILTIADES: HORTHY! by Miltiades Manno – Hungarian National Museum, CC BY-NC-SA.

A mighty leader – the combination of these words evokes already a certain image in our imagination. A mighty leader – the combination of these words evokes already a certain image in our imagination. Europe’s destiny of the first half of the 20th century was widely shaped by mighty political leaders who ruled their countries with an iron fist. At some moment it even seemed not totally unimaginable that the continent would slide into its doom when the majority of European countries were forced into an authoritarian or even dictatorial system. The fate of the few remaining democracies seemed numbered. Even today, the world sees an increasing confrontation between democratically organised countries and authoritarian models of governance and the latter claim their supposed higher efficiency with loud voices.

This learning scenario is based on several propaganda posters/pictures of (mostly) European dictators/undemocratic rulers from the first half of the 20th century that are available on Europeana’s website.

The students will analyse the propaganda posters’ picture language (or propaganda pictures) to recognise similarities in the representation of “powerful men” who did not rule in a democratic setting. They will realise that these rulers were commonly depicted as sorts of super-natural human beings, more powerful and insightful than a normal human being – at least according to the pictures.

They will collect information about these rulers/dictators’ biographies, will compare their results in small groups, and will present everything in a final discussion. This examination will be counterweighted with an analysis of contemporary pictures of democratically elected European leaders (men and women).

Disclaimer: This project aims at comparing the imagery of mighty European politicians of the first half of the 20th century. Its goal is that students explore how designers of that time visualised “power” or how they tried to depict a mighty man, an authoritarian and antiparliamentary ruler of that period in history. This project does not intend a comparison of different countries or their political systems, especially it does not want to equate the mentioned historical examples of authoritarian rulers. The examples are chosen because of the imagery and the resemblance of the pictures’ design, it does not mean, that the depicted politicians are on the same level or that their political system is identical.

Author: Jochen Krenz (European Schools).

Age of students: 15-17

Subject and topic: History, Politics, Propaganda, Authoritarianism

Would you like to know more about this learning scenario? You can download it below:

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Public Domain Mark 1.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Rijksmuseum.

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