SHREVEPORT, LA — During World War I, the German government supported propaganda efforts in the United States in an effort to keep the Americans neutral as the war progressed. A new book by Centenary Associate Professor of History Dr. Chad R. Fulwider, German Propaganda and U.S. Neutrality in World War I, analyzes attempts by the German Foreign Ministry, German organizations, the German-language press, and German-American activists to promote a German-controlled narrative about the war in the United States to encourage American neutrality, a project that was ultimately unsuccessful.
“My initial interest in German propaganda originated in my master’s research, when I focused on the Austrians and the Viennese case,” says Fulwider. “I noticed that there was a gap in the research, specifically on the German side. For my dissertation, I began to investigate German propaganda activities and the links to the United States during the war from the German perspective. This project appealed to the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., and I was awarded a fellowship to complete research in Berlin as well as additional research in Washington.”
Fulwider’s study of German efforts to sway American public opinion toward neutrality in World War I breaks new ground because it argues that the failure of this effort cannot simply be understood through the lens of politics or diplomacy. Fulwider identifies and analyzes important cultural differences between Germany and the United States and argues that these differences are crucial for understanding why German approaches to pro-neutrality propaganda failed while other propaganda campaigns – most notably the anti-German one waged by Great Britain – were successful.
As Fulwider explains in the book’s introduction, “While the Germans relied on political leaders, officials, and academics to proclaim ‘the truth,’ Anglo-American propaganda used graphic images, stereotypes, and caricature to inflame and enrage the American public. Preoccupied with ‘truth’ and ‘fair play,’ the Germans misunderstood how to approach their American audience.”
Fulwider spent 11 months in Berlin at the archives of the German Foreign Ministry analyzing the records of the World War I-era German embassy and consulate in Washington, D.C. He completed an additional two months of research at the National Archives in Washington and received his Ph.D. in History from Emory University in 2008 before joining the Centenary faculty in 2009. In the summer of 2012, Fulwider began the lengthy process of adapting the dissertation for publication. German Propaganda and U.S. Neutrality in World War I was published by the University of Missouri Press in February 2016.
The process of researching and writing has given Fulwider a deeper and more nuanced understanding of international relations during the World War I period, and students in his history courses at Centenary reap the benefits. For instance, Fulwider has created an engaging role-playing exercise that assigns students to represent the countries involved in the diplomatic crisis that sparked World War I, helping them understand the conditions surrounding the crisis from the point of view of specific European governments.
The publication of Fulwider’s book also led to an important connection between the College and Dr. Thomas Boghardt, senior historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History. Boghardt served as a reviewer for German Propaganda and U.S. Neutrality in World War I and later accepted Fulwider’s invitation to deliver a lecture to complement the Meadows Museum exhibitionSketches from the Trenches: Jean Despujols in World War I in January 2016.
Fulwider is currently starting secondary source research to shape his next project, which examines West German espionage during the 1980s. Newly declassified government documents have created fertile ground for historians and other scholars to explore, and Fulwider has the opportunity to contribute more ground-breaking work to the conversation.