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UofGH Cool Classes: Propaganda
Why is this course interesting?
In today’s ever-changing media landscape, media literacy is more important than ever, says instructor Jerry Chomyn. And in his Elective course “Propaganda,” students will examine various forms of media, and learn how to interpret and distinguish the multitude of communications we receive every day.
“We are living in an informational age,” says Chomyn. “In the past, a handful of media companies controlled all the messages in the world, the BBC and New York Times being very strong among them. We fast-forward to the 21st century, and what has changed now is what has been called the ‘democratization of media’. In other words, media is not in the hands of few, it is in the hands of many.”
“Technically anyone can be a broadcaster,” he continues. “Anyone can put out a newspaper or a web page. There are billions of voices out there, all trying to get messages across.”
Chomyn’s course takes students on a journey through the history of communication, from caveman days to the present. It also explores the differences between journalism, public relations, and propaganda. “What students will hopefully discover is there’s a very thin, grey line between all of those,” says Chomyn. “We talk about that, through case studies and writing assignments, students discuss how the media is used and abused.”
Chomyn first developed the course as a study abroad course, where he took students to London and Berlin. The popular course is now enjoyed by students from all programs. As an instructor, Chomyn says he enjoys the perspective that students from the different disciplines bring to the course.
“We have Justice Studies students examining the role media has on policing and their career, Psychology students analyzing how messages are so pervasive and what makes them effective or not effective, ECS students looking at media and the effect on children. That’s what makes the course interesting for me,” says Chomyn. “I find that really refreshing, that we get different disciplines offering their perspective on how and why a communication occurs, and is it journalism piece, a public relations piece, or a propaganda piece?”
What will you learn?
The course begins with an examination of why humans communicate, and then goes through the history of communications, beginning from caveman times to the present. “For the 20th century, which saw the introduction of mass media, we look at radio, television, and newspapers, and where they are at now, because they’re evolving very rapidly as we speak. Then we go to the 21st century and we look at the digital environment,” explains Chomyn. When studying propaganda, students look at the two World Wars in the 20th century, and examine how both sides employed propaganda.
Students then examine journalism, public relations, and propaganda individually in depth, and learn how to distinguish between the three. “It’s interesting to note that the person who’s referred to as the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, wrote a book called ‘Propaganda’,” says Chomyn. “One of his first tasks was to convince people that propaganda was not bad, it was public relations. The term itself is a bit of propaganda.”
What will you take away?
Students will gain a strong background into communications, its history, and evolution. But Chomyn’s ultimate goal is to build students’ media literacy skills. “I think that media literacy should be taught in high school,” says Chomyn. “I think media is so prevalent, it is ubiquitous. Everywhere you turn, people are using it all the time, and I think people have to be literate about what is public relations or advertising, what is journalism, what is propaganda. They have to be able to discern that, and if my students take nothing away beyond that, media literacy and the ability to think critically, I’ll be happy.”
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