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Radio at War: Literature, Propaganda, and the Emergence of New Modernist Networks During World War II

posted on 2013-04-09, 00:00 authored by Melissa Lauren Dinsman
In October 1939, Andrew MacLaren MP claimed of the radio, 'there is no more powerful weapon than the unseen echo that encircles the earth and passes from one point into the hearts of millions.' This comment on radio's martial power and extensive reach drives this dissertation, which explores the link between radio networks and destructive weaponry, and argues that while there is a historical correlation between radio and war, wartime broadcasting cannot simply be categorized as a weapon for disseminating nationalist propaganda. Instead, by rereading the history of radio broadcasting during WWII in light of the medium?s experimental and literary origins, this dissertation suggests that radio also has a significant historical association with literary pursuits. Thus, the radio broadcasts of modern writers during WWII are best read as both propaganda and literature, or in other words, politically and aesthetically. This transnational project examines the cultural and literary wartime broadcasts of well-known American, British, and German-?migr? authors, including Theodor Adorno, Orson Welles, Dorothy Sayers, George Orwell, Archibald MacLeish, Ezra Pound, and Thomas Mann. Although these authors fully contributed to a nationalizing war effort, they also participated in the forming of new transnational networks through both their international broadcasts and the inclusion of multi-national writers within the broadcast stations. The formation of these cosmopolitan literary networks with transnational reach has significant ramifications for the study of literary modernism and questions the standard perceptions of late-modernism as either in decline or increasingly nationalistic. Thus, through a study of key modern writers? interaction with and writing for wartime radio, this work proposes that radio broadcasting facilitated networks which challenged national(ist) borders. In the process of exploring modernism's second act in the early 1940s, this dissertation also exposes formal similarities between radio broadcasting and literary modernism, namely that radio networks, which simultaneously forge and deny effective communication, act as a fitting analogy for the contradictions of modernism, where authors' attempts to communicate with the public were often thwarted by esoteric forms.


Date Created


Date Modified


Defense Date


Research Director(s)

Kate Marshall

Committee Members

Joseph Buttigieg Tobias Boes Romana Huk


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Alternate Identifier


Rights Statement

A book based on this dissertation has been published: Modernism at the Microphone: Radio, Propaganda, and Literary Aesthetics During World War II (Historicizing Modernism), Bloomsbury Academic; 1 edition (September 24, 2015), ISBN 1350028452.


University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • Literature (LIT)

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