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Christopher H. Johnson


War posters constitute an enormous cache of primary documentation that has been largely unresearched. Their significance in portraying the cultural impact of the war has perhaps been consequently overlooked. This dissertation is, primarily, an analysis of the content, imagery and evolution of a broad selection of Great War posters from England, Canada, the United States, France and Germany. Of particular concern are those characteristics that are integral to the understanding of a new cultural mode here defined as modernism. By tracing the expression of these characteristics and the frequency of their recurrences within the poster record, the present study develops a general assessment of the conflict between elements of traditional and modernist popular culture. The protracted and unprecedented conflict of the Great War led to manifest societal change. Many of the dominant and widely-held popular conceptions of soldiering, warfare, gender roles, religion, patriotism and violence were irrevocably altered. Various poster artists and graphic designers incorporated their changed views of these issues in their depictions. The later works of the artists and designers constituted visual broadsides which indicated the ascendancy of a darkly negative strain of modernism, over traditional, Edwardian representations. Through the examination of western Great War posters housed in various archives, this study delineates some of the forces, processes and examples of a fundamental shift in twentieth-century cultural attitudes.

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