A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

About the Project

The Ministry of Information (MOI) was established by the British government at the outbreak of the Second World War and began work on 4 September 1939. It was responsible for issuing ‘National Propaganda’ at home and abroad, as well as controlling news and information deemed to be of military value.

Using all available modes of communication, the MOI issued pamphlets and posters to local authorities, issued guidance to the press, published books and illustrated magazines, curated exhibitions, produced films, organised radio broadcasts, undertook pioneering social surveys and even used the RAF to drop printed material over hostile territories. This encapsulates a host of ways in which human beings – both successfully and unsuccessfully, intentionally and unintentionally, openly and circumspectly – attempt to communicate to each other.

The ‘Publishing and Communications History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-45’ project being undertaken by the Institute of English Studies in collaboration with the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London explores the ways in which the MOI approached its task. Approaching the MOI as a study in communications history, the project is exploring the complex relationships that developed between the department and its audiences. It is interested in the Ministry’s relationship with the public, the physical form of its messages and the material mode of their transmission. Moreover, by tracing developments throughout 1939-45, it is assessing to the extent to which the MOI learnt from its mistakes in order to adapt to changing circumstances.

Thanks to funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council we are able to systematically apply communication history techniques to a government institution for the first time. The results of our research will be shared in a variety of ways. This website – alongside a major book, scholarly articles, an academic conference and a public exhibition – represents a key part of our activity. We tweet and blog regularly to update our project findings, and are open to collaboration from others who are interested in the MOI’s work. The site will develop into new areas as our research expands.

If you would like to find out more, please contact us at moidigital@sas.ac.uk. We are particularly keen to speak to anyone who is willing to contribute to our research. After all, as the MOI’s planners acknowledged, ‘however good our machine may be, the real thing that matters is the record that we have to tell.’

To download the full project description, including project goals and activities, please click here.

For more information, see this article in the Times Higher Education.

Find out more about the team >>