University of Leicester researcher involved in propaganda exhibition

Posted by er134 at May 15, 2013 10:50 AM |
British Library exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion showcases expertise of University of Leicester expert on AIDS communications campaigns

Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 15 May 2013

Images available from the Press Office Dropbox

A University of Leicester academic is to feature in a new exhibition at the British Library focusing on the power of propaganda.

Dr Sarah Graham, of the School of English, has contributed to the exhibition Propaganda: Power and Persuasion which runs from 17 May - 17 September 2013.

Her views and comments are incorporated into a ‘video talking head’ feature, in the health section of the exhibition, based on her expertise on AIDS awareness campaigns in the 1980s.

Dr Graham will also be speaking about representations of AIDS at a study day for the general public at the British Library on 1 June.

Dr Graham said: “My involvement in 'Propaganda' has come about because of the exhibition of AIDS posters I curated at the New Walk Gallery and Museum in Leicester in 2011 and my on-going research interest in AIDS awareness campaigns and representations of the epidemic in literature and film.

“I think what’s interesting about including AIDS awareness material in an exhibition on propaganda is that it suggests that something that could be considered just simple healthcare information (that is, encouraging a certain kind of behaviour) might be influencing viewers to think a particular way (might reflect political ideology).

“In the case of the ‘80s UK campaign, the effect on many people was of fear: tombstones, icebergs, talk of deadly viruses with no cure and telling people not to ‘die of ignorance’, which isn’t the clearest of phrases.

“The campaign also shows the difficulties a government faces when it has to devise a campaign that will be seen by everyone in the country – all ages, all background – which discusses sex and has to be fairly explicit about sexual practices.”

Dr Graham said the UK government did act relatively quickly in its health campaigns - its model was followed by other European countries, and the UK was certainly ahead of the US, where the virus had first been identified.  The campaigns did seem to have rapidly made the British public more aware of HIV/AIDS, even if not entirely sure about the facts.

But its work wasn’t sustained long-term, and most HIV/AIDS information since the ‘90s has come from charities rather than government. It has also been argued that the campaign rerouted valuable resources away from those who were most at risk of AIDS and already affected by it (gay men, drug users) into a costly campaign of reassuring the “worried well.”

Ian Cooke, curator of Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, said: “One of the most difficult things to talk about with regard to propaganda is how you can measure and describe the effectiveness of a particular campaign. The interview with Dr Sarah Graham tells an important story about both the intended and unintended consequences of the Don't Die of Ignorance films and leaflet, and how these were affected by the political and cultural environment in which they were formulated. It provides an engaging analysis of a very significant and effective campaign.”


Notes to editors:

More information:

Dr Sarah Graham

Lecturer in American Literature

School of English

University of Leicester


Telephone: 0116 252 2625


For more information about Propaganda: Power and Persuasion at the British Library please email

Images of the New Walk exhibition can be found here:

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