The Ministry of Information was set up by a democratic society at a point in history when its fundamental values were under serious and immediate threat. It not only dramatized the war of information but also made visible a whole series of networks in the culture of communication that were usually invisible in peace time. The MoI had to adapt rapidly to a series of internal pressures and external circumstances, and did so with limited resources. Its organisation was partly the product of employing what was to hand and, when necessary, improvising: 'Make Do and Mend', therefore, is particularly apt.
Located in Senate House, the MoI created a vast amount of publicity material, employing
artists, writers, journalists, researchers, and film directors to devise films, radio programmes, posters, books, and exhibitions. The MoI also assisted other ministries in the production and distribution of publicity materials, including the Ministries of Food, and Health, the Board of Trade, and the War Office. The MoI also encouraged private firms to publish informational material. The control of paper supply gave the MoI considerable power over a publishing industry suffering from acute shortages. The Censorship Bureau of the MoI was responsible for the censorship of newspapers, journals and books. The Bureau required significant intelligence-gathering capacity, and good working relationships with newspapers and publishers. All these procedures were fraught with practical and ethical difficulties created by the exercise of overt censorship in an open society at war with a series of closed societies. As the model for the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984, the MoI's influence continued to reverberate, but not just as metaphor. The difficulties of striking a balance between openness and social cohesion are subjects of fierce debate to this day.
The project addresses some of the historical and cultural problems raised by the MoI by using the discipline of publishing history which, for the first time, is being applied systematically to government institutions. Publishing history investigates the relationships between author and publisher; between publisher, printer and bookseller; explores the nature of the relationship between reader and book; and also describes the ways in which reading materials survive in libraries and archives to influence the next generation. The complexity and range of our subject however obliges the discipline to move up a gear and embrace the broader subject of which it is a part: communication history. This studies the transport of materials (e.g. pamphlets, posters, handbills, exhibitions) and the transmission of all sorts of information through a wide variety of media (e.g. radio and film).
To download the full project description, including project goals and activities, please click here.