Moving Images

Two Centuries of Campaign Posters in the United States and Germany

Exhibition at the GHI - Directions
March 22, 2012 - December 14, 2012
Organized by Bryan Hart, David Lazar, and Jan Logemann

Campaign posters have long been effective in mobilizing voters in both the United States and Germany. While perhaps reduced in importance today as political communication has shifted to television and other electronic media, printed campaign materials (posters, broadsides, billboards, and banners) were essential to communicating with and mobilizing voters in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

"Prosperity at Home, Prestige Abroad" - poster from the 1896 William McKinley campaign
"Prosperity at Home, Prestige Abroad" - poster from the 1896 William McKinley campaign

This exhibition presents a small but diverse sample of election campaign posters from the United States and Germany to complement the spring lecture series "Get Out the Vote! Mobilization, Media, and Money." Covering the century and a half between 1840 and 1990, the selection is intentionally eclectic and by no means comprehensive. As might be expected from countries with very different electoral systems, the posters exhibit a wide variety of styles, messages, and campaign strategies. The examples from the Weimar Republic, for instance, give graphic expression to an aggressive, often violent political culture. Their American counterparts seem staid, even sedate in comparison.

Preserved in a variety of archives and libraries, the posters presented at the exhibition have all been printed from digital reproductions and are therefore not re-printed in their original size or format. As ephemeral elements, they were not always created to last. Many exhibit rips, creases, and general wear and tear - in one case even graffiti. Nevertheless, their imagery, design, and messages are important documents of the two countries' political, cultural, and social histories.