Visual History: Power of Persuasion

20th Century Europe and Iran through art images

Process of Blogging

March 15, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

In theory, I think the process of blogging is a great supplemental activity for History 121 Studies in Modern Civilization: Visual History: Powers of Persuasion. It created an interactive forum outside of the classroom and provided easy access to course material and updates. Likewise, blogging engages students with current technology, equipping them with skills relevant in the work field, and capitalizes on one of the most powerful mediums of persuasion today: the internet. These aspects collaborate to synthesize course material through a personal growth process.

I did not take full advantage of the blogging process, but I would like to share what I gained from it and what I feel could be improved upon it. I am passionate about cross-cultural communication and therefore was interested in our class engagement with students at Sarajevo University; this helped me contextualize the history that we had been learning about and understand its impact on modern society in that region and people’s viewpoints from outside of the United States. Blogging also provided a space for me to re-think course materials and form my own opinions with regards to them. The class online discussion regarding the appropriateness of cartoons to depict genocide was particularly useful in preparing for the final paper.

Ideally, students should self-motivate to accomplish these blogs throughout the quarter, but I am a prime example of how this doesn’t always happen. A couple suggestions I have to avoid this issue, as well as, encourage more in-depth blog entries are as follows:

  • more clarification on when individual blogs are due
  • more assigned blogging topics – gives direction but also can provide better substance for class discussions because everyone is prepared ahead of time to participate
  • more feedback on blogs throughout the quarter so students know if their posts are on track or not
  • provide a blogging tutorial either as one of the first classes or as optional at a scheduled time outside of class

Overall, I think the process of blogging is a great tool for learning, it just needs a little refinement.

Cross-Cultural Interactions

March 14, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

As we wrap up the quarter, I would like to comment on the importance of the cross-cultural interactions that were incorporated into this History 121 course. As a class we have been communicating with a group of History students attending Sarajevo University in Bosnia to gain an understanding of the differences between our cultures and how that influences our viewpoints. Additionally we have Skype conferenced called with Mila Turajlic (Serbian director of Cinema Komunisto), Professor Bojan Hadzihalilovic of Sarajevo Art Academy, and lawyer Mark Vlasic (lecturer at Georgetown and former assistant prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, The Netherlands). All three spoke about their experiences in Yugoslavia, opinions, and reactions. Personally, these interactions proved to be my favorite aspect of this course for a couple reasons: it helps show the relevance of the history we were learning about by putting it into a current context; allows a dialogue with people who experienced aspects of what we are learning about, as opposed to solely analyzing and discussing primary sources; provides networking opportunities; and encourages a more worldly view because we have direct link to other cultures.

I would especially like to emphasize this last point. Many Americans (referring to United States citizens) are oblivious to the vast differences between our western culture and other cultures; that different educational practices, traditions, experiences, etc. result in different sets of behaviors or ideals. It is nearly impossible to truly grasp this concept without personally experiencing another culture or viewing our own culture through foreign eyes. Since not everyone has the opportunity of study abroad, I believe the incorporation into the classroom is critical in creating a well-rounded education, and a just and humane being; this is particularly important with regards to an ever increasing globalization of the world. Globalization has mainly been driven by the westernized world and is relevant to any field of work; my peers and I are the upcoming future and it is important for us to understand other cultures so as not to maintain ethnocentric viewpoints. These understandings reflect in our daily lives, making more aware, empathetic, and worldly people.


On a side note – I was disappointed to never hear back from Hamza after sending an email.

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Cartoons – teaching or brainwashing children?

March 8, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Cartoons are an effective medium for connecting and sharing ideas with children. Dora the Explorer teaches kids how to count and speak basic Spanish and countless shows teach the values of respect and friendship. But at what point does the line need to be drawn regarding what is teaching and what is brainwashing?

In class we watched a Walt Disney cartoon film from the early 1940s that depicts Donald Duck as a Nazi. Understandable to the time period, it promotes a patriotic agenda. As a Nazi, Donald Duck lacks freedom, good food, and is forced to march, salute, and work hard all day. In the end of the cartoon, he wakes up from the dream in his own bed in the United States of America; relieved, Donald Duck expresses his national pride, kissing and hugging the Statue of Liberty.

Although it is appropriate for children to grow up with knowledge of, in this case, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, so the same mistakes aren’t destined to repeat themselves, this use of cartoons doesn’t allow them to reach this conclusion on their own. Children are faced with the concept of genocidal war at an earlier age through cartoons than more academic mediums. Children are easily impressionable; they do not have the critical thinking skills or knowledge to analyze and comprehend the cartoon beyond the stereotyping that Nazi’s are bad and American’s good. Even if children viewers did have this capability, no historical background is provided and only one viewpoint is depicted. Essentially, children cartoons become a form of propaganda to promote nationalistic ideals at an easily influenced age group without giving context for the viewers to make their own informed decision.

Duncan and Smith touch upon this impact within the context of comic books:

Covers [of comic books] that would appeal to rowdy schoolboys, depicting raucous treatment of Nazis such as punching Adolf Hitler in the jaw or stuffing Herman Goering in a trash can, facilitated shifts in attitudes toward the enemy. Yet some of the older schoolboys would soon be on the front lines, inflicting far more serious violence on the enemy, and part of their psychological preparation had come from the pages of the growing number of comic books actively engaged in dehumanizing the Germans, and especially the Japanese (249).

Remembrance and Reconciliation

March 7, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

In class we have focused on modern history ethnic issues and genocide within Germany and Yugoslavia. How does a country move pass these horrors to become a cooperative functioning society?

Remembrance and Reconciliation

Stokes argues that democracy has become fully established in Germany largely due to the fact that Germans have openly debated and faced the horrors of the Holocaust over the last 40 years through the process of remembrance and reconciliation. People who were a part of Nazi Germany recognized the horrors of the Holocaust, atoned for it, understood it, and committed to not repeating it. This process allowed the country as a whole to progress in a positive direction.

Handling the after-math of genocide in Yugoslavia quite differently, the Communist government under Tito condemned the horrors of the wartime experience as an extreme outburst of bourgeois society and proclaimed such things couldn’t happen in the new order; confronting issues was forbidden. This policy only acted to cover the wounds of WWII, rather than heal them. This failure to address the past became painfully obvious in the outbreak of new conflict in Yugoslavia following Tito’s death. Since people hadn’t formally recognized the ethnic killings let alone why it happened and no apologies had been made, ethnic tensions still existed within Yugoslavia. There was still fear among Serbians that the Croatian Ustasha would start ethnic cleansing again. After Tito’s death, there was no centralized government forcing a peaceful society through suppression, therefore politicians capitalized on this fear, mobilizing people to act in protection of their ethnic identity. As a result, conflict was formally reestablished in Yugoslavia, a step backwards for society.

This comparison of post-trauma management between Germany and Yugoslavia proves the importance of remembrance and reconciliation in the recovery of a country.

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March 3, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized


In class we watched Fuse, a 2003 feature film about life in post-war Tešanj, a small town near the border of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srbska. (synopsis provided). Set in the late 90s, a few years after the conflict ended, Fuse provides an accurate portrayal of life in post-war Bosnia, demonstrating characteristics typical of most war-torn regions on a local, national, and international level.

As aspect of Fuse that portrayed relationships at all three levels was the integration of the Serbian and Bosnian firefighter forces. At first, ethnicity stood in the way of these men collaborating and getting along. War makes neighbors unfamiliar with each other, arousing feelings of distrust and dislike. It becomes easier to categorize the unknown as opposed to regarding the individual. For example, Faruk is weary of the Serbians joining his force because he categorizes them with the people who killed his brother. Once the men are forced to get to know each other, though, they realize that they can sympathize with each others’ loses; that we are all just human.

At the governmental level, the joining of the two firefighter forces is a response to international attention. A country’s economy is screwed after war, and the actions of the government reflect this. In order to improve economic situations after a war, typically, foreign aid is necessary. But international forces aren’t interested in investing into the country unless it will be a worthwhile and sustainable endeavor. Segregation perpetuates conflict, and the United States (in the context of Fuse) wanted evidence that violence would not break out again and that the people could work together in order to successful. Therefore, actions of the government are a tricky balance of unifying the people and satisfying foreign governments.

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Hitler’s manipulation of German national identity

February 14, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Throughout the past century, a common use of art in persuasion has been through propaganda. During Nazi rule in Germany, Hitler employed propaganda to create a German national identity that was “strong” and “pure” (the ideal being the Aryan race). He successfully accomplished this by blaming minorities for the loss of WWI which appealed to the country’s current emotional state. Also, Hitler used propaganda techniques of repetition and defining the enemy as evil, selfish, etc. to the country’s masses. This played on the national upset after losing WWI and undergoing economic depression and instability in Germany.

One of Hitler’s favorite and most popular arguments was the Jewish race as disgusting, evil, dirty, and menacing through his portrayal of the Jews as rats. Below is an example:


Totalitarianism in modern history

February 14, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

I had always assumed totalitarianism represented extreme right wing political ideals. Interestingly, as shown in select governements during the past century, this is not true. Logicality rather than ideology is given greater importance in a totalitarian government.Three examples of totalitarian governments with varying ideologies are Facist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Communist Russia. Russia held left wing political ideals while Italy and Germany had right wing political ideals.

By definition, totalitarianism is government interference with both public and private life through the use of terror, censorship, propaganada, and the control of the economy. Nazism, Facism, and Communism are all considered examples of totalitarianism in modern history because, ideally, they are centralized governements that give little or no power to the people. The major differences between these three regimes stemmed from the dispusment of economic power. In Facist Italy, the government controlled the economy. In Nazi Germany there was some degree of free enterprise. In Communist Russia the state controllede the economy. Another difference were the people marginalized. The German government adopted ideas of Anti-Semitism and Socail Darwinism to discriminate against the Jewish population and other ethnic groups. The Russian government was more concerned with class, concentrating the wealth and power among the elite. The Italian government didn’t marginalize certain groups, but rather the nations’ people as a whole by putting the needs and wants of the government before the people.

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Anti-Muggle or Anti-Jewish Propaganda

January 19, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling’s last installment in the much-loved Harry Potter series, Voldemort’s rise to power in the Wizarding World is comparable to Hitler in Nazi Germany during World War II. Parallels are particularly easy to recognize when considering propaganda techniques employed against Muggles in Harry Potter (HP) and Jewish people in WWII. Take for example the two following images. Picture-93-pcezr2ovz1939-03-7

Both epitomize social orders. Not present in the HP image above are the words “Magic is Might”. This in coherence with the powerful wizard statue being held up by Muggles establishes a social order of Wizards > Muggles where Muggles are only useful as slaves. Similarly, the cartoon from WWII claims that German commerce must become honest as Jews are being swept away. This suggests that Germans >Jews where Jews are unworthy of life. Both are acts of propaganda to put the enemy in their “rightful” place.

Defining the enemy is an important concept of successful propaganda. In the anti-Semitic cartoon, the Jewish people are depicted as dishonest and untrustworthy. Likewise, the Ministry of Magic attempts to define Harry Potter (the savior) in a negative light in order to put doubt in people’s mind. He does this by connecting Harry to Dumbledore’s death, defining Harry as a murderer or “Undesirable Number One”. Ultimately the fear this creates increases Voldemort’s power.

Probably the most important connection between the anti-Muggle and anti-Jewish propaganda are the importance of “blood status”. In Nazi Germany the second of the Nuremberg Laws (established to take away Jewish civil rights) categorizes Jews as a race as opposed to a religion or culture. Anyone who considered themselves Jewish or had three or four Jewish grandparents were classified as Jewish. People with one or two Jewish grandparents were considered to be Mischlinges (mixed race). Ultimately anyone with even a single Jewish grandparent or consistently associated with people of Jewish blood was at risk in Nazi Germany. In the Wizarding World, distinctions are made between “pure-blood”, “half-blood”, and “muggle-born”. The treatment of these classifications are more or less the same as in Nazi Germany.

  • Pure-blood = Aryan
  • Half-blood = Mischlinge
  • Muggle-born = Jewish

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Truth versus Opinion

January 18, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

As I officially start my third week of this class, I’d like to share a quote in the preface of one of my textbooks (Europe Crisis and Conflict 1890-1945 by Robin W. Winks andR.J.Q. Adams).

“It is not truth but opinion that can travel the world without a passport” – Sir Walter Raleigh.

The purpose of this particular textbook is to provide the background knowledge and skills required for the analyzation of historical visual images. Rather than present history as fact, this book aims to present it as an ongoing debate. Essentially, history is a form of truth, but also very much opinionated. Through analyzation we can distinguish between the two. An example of this is in my previous blog regarding Japanese internment camps in the United States during World War II. The personal account and government propoganda film both present historical truths, but it is the evaluation of these sources beyond their face value that reveals the subjective point of view present in history. Since this course focuses on visual history, I think this concept of subjectivity and objectivity in history is extremely important to be aware of. Art and images are typically categorized as a form of expression, and even as a historical source, this holds true.

To get back to Sir Walter Raleigh’s quote, subjectivity seems to have a greater stronghold in history than cold, hard facts. What do you think?

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Japanese Internment Camps – propaganda as a primary historical source

January 18, 2011 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

Many United States citizins are aware of the Japanese internment camps that were instated during World War II, although most don’t know much about what went on in these military designated areas and the disruption they caused in so many innocent lives. Below I’ve posted two primary historical sources regarding these internment camps; an account of Kenji Okuda’s, a Japanese – American student, experience and a propoganda film released by the US government.

One Japanese-American student’s experience (Kenji Okuda)

Propoganda film released by the US government                                                                                                      

It’s interesting how two primary historical sources regarding the same subject can vary so differently. Kenji Okuda depicts the internment camps as restrictive and an infringment on American Democracy through his familiy’s serperation from his father, appointed (as opposed to elected) positions within the camp, the mundane day to day life, and the obstacles he faced just to get released from his camp to attend college. On the other hand, the US government presents the “relocation” camps as a necessary precaution in the context of World War II after the Japanese attack on Peral Harbor in order to ensure the safety of all US citizens. They argue that life inside the camps are, more or less, the same as life outside; people have jobs, get paid, go to school, etc. 

These different perspectives, limit first-hand accounts as historical sources. To fully understand these sources within their context, it becomes neccessary to analyze them beyond what they say at face value. Who are they’re target audiences? What is the motivation? Obviously, the US government is justifying its actions to the US public. The film probably isn’t lying, but omits certain facts and aspects regarding the camps in order to paint an agreeable picture. Back to the argument that life inside and outside the camps are the same, this fails to address the successful careers/lives many Japanese-Americans had built for themselves pre-camps and how, post-camps, they were left with nothing. Even terminology can be decieving; “relocation” camps sounds much nicer than “internment” camps. Okuda’s account maintains a similar target audience but for the purpose of sharing his own trauma with hopes that in the future such situations can be avoided.

With this in mind, I believe that Okuda’s account is much more believable than the US government’s propoganda film. Not only is Okuda’s a personal experience, but he has less to gain or loss from sharing his story. The purpose of propoganda tends to be to influence the opinions of others in accordance with one’s own…so lets be aware of the information we are taking in!

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