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Popular Lectures

Rockwell, Roosevelt, and the Four Freedoms as Democratic Ideals

Although history remembers President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a master orator, his famous Four Freedoms war aims started out as notable flops. It took the efforts of the artistic world—most notably Saturday Evening Post cover artist Norman Rockwell—to rescue the Four Freedoms from rhetorical oblivion, launching them into such renown that they would eventually shape the formation of the United Nations itself. This presentation, based on years of archival research, reveals a fascinating but forgotten story about the Greatest Generation and how it mobilized for World War II.

A closeup of one of Rockwell's four freedoms paintings.
Propaganda poster that says what did you do today for freedom.

Battlefield Death, Censored Imagery, and Home Front Morale in WWII

George Strock’s famous Buna Beach photograph, published in Life magazine on September 20, 1943, was the home front’s first official glimpse at battlefield death during World War II. Or was it? This lecture uncovers the US government’s rationing of disturbing war imagery during the war years, showing that one of the most important battles of the war was based in visuality. Strock’s “photo that won World War II,” as Life later put it, turns out to have been just one part of a wartime campaign by the Roosevelt administration to control what civilians could see and when they could see it. (Note that a few images from this lecture, although published in mainstream American periodicals during the war, portray battlefield injury and death and could be disturbing for some audience members.)

Mobilizing for War: The WWII Home Front and the War of Steel

It began as a simple contest. It changed the course of the war. In 1942, American steel plants were slowing operations in the midst of the greatest war in history. The all-out production of planes, tanks, and ships was faltering because citizens were not turning in enough vital scrap metal from their back yards, farm lots, alleys, and basements. It wouldn’t be long, warned the Roosevelt administration, before GIs would begin to pay for the lack of scrap with their lives. This lecture uncovers Henry Doorly’s “Nebraska Plan,” an astonishing three-week contest that shocked the nation, leading to a national scrap drive that gathered 5 million tons of scrap metal. Uncovering this nearly forgotten war of steel invites reflection on the meaning of sacrifice, patriotism, and citizenship.

Porpaganda poster mobilizing for war that says they've got the guts, back 'em up with more metal.
Iconic We can do it poster of Rosie the Riveter by J. Howard Miller.

Myth vs. Reality: Who was the Real Rosie the Riveter?

This lecture investigates the many myths that have evolved around the famous “We Can Do It!” poster. Extensive archival research shows that most of what we think we know about it is untrue, ranging from its role as a recruitment tool in World War II to its empowerment of women on the home front. Even the identity of its model is based on a misunderstanding. Prepare yourself to meet the poster’s elusive artist, J. Howard Miller, to examine some of his other, rarely-seen posters, and to find out more about the unknown woman who might actually have inspired his famous feminist icon. By the end of the highly-illustrated talk, you’ll know much more about the origin and evolution of one of the country’s most enduring images.

Norman Rockwell and the Quest for American Equality

Great art comes with great responsibility. Norman Rockwell understood this principle, coming to believe that his illustrations could change the world. From his heartening cover paintings for the Saturday Evening Post to his sobering Civil Rights images for Look magazine, Rockwell grew to understand that his fame and artistic ability came with a duty to promote civil rights and equality. This lecture explores the ways in which Rockwell used his art to challenge his editors, Americans, and even a worldwide audience to make the world a better place. The artist’s heartfelt message of equality affected millions of viewers in his day, and it remains relevant in the 21st century.

Norman Rockwell painting of people repairing the Statue of Liberty's torch.
Shows communist dictators pointing at social media icons and Russian text.

The New Propaganda, Extremism, and the Challenge to Higher Education

Propagandists have sought to influence their target audiences since ancient times, whether for good or ill. Those audiences, in response, have frequently sought ways to blunt the propagandists’ potential for influence. Yet the age of digital media has opened a space for a new kind of propaganda, an often malignant variant that has so far resisted its targets’ defenses. In this lecture, James J. Kimble (Seton Hall University) outlines the qualities and dangers of the new propaganda—and how educators hold the key to its weaknesses. Source.

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