Wellesley College

Sociology 290 : Propaganda and Persuasion in the Twentieth Century
Fall 2001

Founders Hall 121
Monday, 9:50-12:30

Professor Thomas Cushman
Sociology Department, x2142; office: PNE 334
Office hours, Tuesday, 1-3, Thursday 11-1



Propaganda is an important cultural phenomenon of the twentieth century. Throughout history, institutions and individuals have engaged in large-scale efforts to persuade and convince others of the rightness of their ideological views, cultural values, and beliefs. In the twentieth century, however, the birth of modern technologies of mass media -- radio, television, film -- have facilitated the rise of propaganda as a systematic form of cultural communication. In a variety of institutional contexts, the media of mass communication have been central means for the manufacture of consent through the cultural form of propaganda.

This course provides an introduction to the study of propaganda by first analyzing and defining some of its normative terms and vehicles, and then by examining three historical cases in which concerted propaganda campaigns were initiated and implemented on the national level (the U.S. during WWI, Germany under National Socialism, and the U.S.S.R. under Stalin). It then considers and defines the rhetoric of persuasion, which is central to, but not necessrily the same as, propaganda, by examining the ways in which institutions construct and deploy persuasive world views. The course will consider both written and visual propaganda in a wide variety of media. The course has both historical and critical dimensions, and is intended to develop all of our capacities to interrogate our cultural surroundings and identify forms of propaganda and persuasion in our present and future lives.


Class Meetings

Attendance at the weekly meetings is mandatory and will count toward the final grade. Your active participation in classroom discussions will form the core of the course. You should come to class having read and studied all of the assignments and completed all the viewing assignments. Each week, there will be a short one page writing assignment which you will turn in and we will use as the basis of class discussion. I may call on you to initiate a conversation based on what you have read or viewed for that week.


The success of this course depends on your informed participation. Readings are listed for each class meeting. It is crucial that you complete each week's readings prior to the class for which it was assigned. This is especially the case since there will be six in-class quizzes throughout the semester. Four texts are available in the bookstore. They are:

R. Jackall, ed., Propaganda (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1995)

A. Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson. Age of Propaganda : The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion (New York: W.H. Freeman, 1991).

J. Ellul, Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (Vintage, 1965)

J. Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth; Myth as Fairy Tale (University of Kentucky Press, 1994)

These books are cites in your reading assignments, respectively, as Jackall, P&A (Pratkanis and Aronson) Ellul,and Zipes. In addition, a book and video reserve has been established in Clapp Library. All assigned texts and videos (including the above books) are available on reserve.


A central part of this course consists of viewing key propaganda films from the twentieth century. I have organized a series of public viewings of films for the class. These films will be a central part of the class discussions, assignments, and exams. There are also a few films and documentaries that I will ask you to view on reserve in the library. These are listed along with the reading assignments.


Your grade will be calculated according to the following formula:

Two short papers 30%
Mid-term exam (take home) 20%
Attendance , short assignments, and class participation 10%
Final project 40%

Please note: I have a strict policy of not accepting late papers . None will be accepted unless you have a valid medical excuse.


1. Sept. 10 Orientation: Rhetoric, Language, Image, Power

Readings: Plato, Gorgias, Section 447-472 (on reserve - all Plato’s dialogues have standard sections); Aristotle, Rhetoric, ch. 1.1 and 1.2 (on reserve); George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," in Jackall; P&A, pp. 1-31; Charles J. Stewart, Craig Allen Smith, and Robert E. Denton, Jr., "The Persuasive Function of Slogans" in Jackall

2. Sept. 17 Defining Propaganda/ Propaganda as Cultural Production

Readings: Douglas Wilson, "What is Propaganda and What Exactly is Wrong With It?" (on reserve) Institute for Propaganda Analysis, "How to Detect Propaganda," in Jackall; Robert K. Merton, "Mass Persuasion: A Technical Problem and a Moral Dilemma" in Jackall; Israel Gerver and Joseph Bensman, "Towards a Sociology of Expertness" in Jackall. Jacques Ellul, "The Characteristics of Propaganda," in Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, pp. 6-84.

3. Sept. 24 Forms and Techniques of Propaganda: Myth and Masking

Readings: Roland Barthes, "Myth Today" in Mythologies (New York, 1972); Myles Breen and Farrell Corcoran, "Myth in the Television Discourse" (on reserve); Chapter 6, "What the World Knew," in Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking (on reserve); Chapter 2 "The Fall of Nanking" in Shi Young and James Yin, The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs (on reserve); Melvyn C. Goldstein, The Snow Lion and the Dragon, pp. 1 - 60 (on reserve); Dai Yannian, et. al,. eds. Tibet: Myth Vs. Reality, 9-53 (Please be sure to study the pictures in all of these works to see how the reality of the situations are presented visually).

4. October 1 Modernity, Mass Society and Propaganda (PAPER I DUE)

Readings: P&A, pp. 43-55, and 115-160; C. Wright Mills, "The Mass Society" in Jackall; Walter Lipmann, "The Phantom Public" in Jackall; Ellul, pp. 90-147; Ben Singer, "Modernity, Hyperstimulus, and the Rise of Popular Sensationalism," in Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz, Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life (on reserve)

5. Oct. 15 Nationalism and the State (U.S. and U.K.)

Readings: Robert Jackall and Janice M. Hirota, "America's First Propaganda Ministry: The Committee on Public Information During the Great War," in Jackall; Cate Haste, "The Machinery of Propaganda" in Jackall; Harold Lasswell, Propaganda Technique in the World War, pp. 1-101 (on reserve).

Film Presentation, Sunday, October 21. A public showing of Alexander Nevsky. Time and place to be announced

6. Oct. 22 Nationalism and the State (Soviet Union)

Readings: Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution, 1917-1932, Chapters 1 and 2 (on reserve); In the following volume, Richard Stites, et. al., eds., Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution (on reserve), please read: Robert C. Tucker, "Lenin's Bolshevism as a Culture in the Making" (on reserve); "Through the Revolution to Art: Through Art to Revolution"; "Eisenstein on Eisenstein: The Director of Potemkin" (on reserve).

Film Presentation, Sunday, November 4. . A public showing of Triumph of Evil. Time and place to be announced

7. October 29 The Propaganda of Genocide

Guest Speaker: Professor Henry Huttenbach of City University of New York and Editor of The Journal of Genocide Research will present a talk on "Genocide Rhetoric as Propaganda."

Readings: Pp. 1-95 in DeForges, Leave None to Tell the Story.

Two page precis for term projects due in class

Film Presentation, Thursday, November 8. . A public showing of Triumph of the Will Time and place to be announced

8. Nov. 5 Nationalism and the State (Nazi Germany):

Readings: Leonard W. Doob, "Goebbels' Principles of Propaganda" in Jackall; Sander Gilman, The Jew's Body (chapters to be assigned); Kenneth Burke, "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle" (on reserve); Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf, ch. 6. (on reserve) Viewing Assignment: Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia (opening sequence)

9. Nov. 12 Propaganda and Popular Culture: The Analysis of FairyTales

Readings: P&A, pp. 85-114; Zipes, ch. 1, 3, 6; Stephen Watts, "Walt Disney: Art and Politics in the American Century" (on reserve); Jean Baudrillard, "Simulacra and Simulations: Disneyland," in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classical Readings, Charles Lemert, ed., pp. 517-524 (on reserve); selection from Grimm's Fairy Tales, to be assigned.

Film Presentation, Thursday, November 15. . A public showing of Beauty and the Beast.. Time and place to be announced

10. Nov. 19 The Propaganda of Hate Movements (PAPER II DUE)

Readings: Zev Borow, "Marketing Hate" (on reserve); David Duke, "My Awakening" chapters T.B.A. ; other readings, T.B.A. Please review the following webpages: www.rahowa.com, www. Hatewatch.org. View "Skinheads USA" on reserve at Clapp.

11. and 12. November 26 and Dec. 3 Class Presentations and Final Discussions

Each student partnership will make a formal 15-20 minute presentation to the class on their final projects

Final Projects are due in the Sociology Department Office on December 20 no later than 4:30 PM. No extensions will be granted.