Today’s post comes from National Archives volunteer Cynthia Peterman.
After the allied victory in World War II, the United States played a pivotal role in rebuilding Europe both physically and culturally. Programs such as the Marshall Plan were designed to rebuild Europe’s economy, and indirectly the US economy, with stimulus aid and necessary provisions such as food, fuel, and other staples.
Part of this humanitarian effort included developing cultural programs that served to boost morale in war-torn populations, as well as to create a positive international perception of America. The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act – popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act – was passed in 1948 to “promote a better understanding of the United States in other countries, and to increase mutual understanding.”
International efforts included sending out bookmobiles with materials and programs for cultural enrichment. (For more on the history of bookmobiles both in the United States and abroad, read “Mobile Libraries: Culture on the Go“ on our sister blog the “Unwritten Record.”)
Cultural Diplomacy took on new meaning during the Cold War when the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union soured. The Government created movies (such as “Wealth of a Nation”), radio programs (Voice of America), and direct service programs (the Peace Corps) in order to counter Soviet influence and communicate the superiority of American freedoms over the tyranny of communism.
DocsTeach, the online tool for teaching with documents from the National Archives, offers a number of learning activities using Federal Government documents from this period.
Cultural Diplomacy and the Smith-Mundt Act is an activity that uses photographs and historical documents and asks students to explore initiatives such as the Peace Corps in promoting US goals abroad.
In Cultural Diplomacy and Propaganda During the Cold War, students study photographs, documents, and film clips to evaluate and assess U.S. diplomatic goals during the Cold War.