Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Robert Hobbs

Second Advisor

Eric Garberson

Third Advisor

Michael Schreffler

Fourth Advisor

Paul Thulin


This dissertation analyzes Life’s early coverage of the Cold War (1945-1954) in order to explicate this publication’s creation and reinforcement of prescriptive attitudes about this ideological engagement through photographically illustrated news. By uncovering Life’s editorial approach this project proposes a new diagnostic for evaluating documentary images by re-configuring Hayden White’s incisive theory of emplotment—the process of engendering historical narratives with meaning— through semiotic models proposed by Louis Hjelmslev and Roland Barthes, thereby offering a useful tool for future scholars to re-examine modern media’s transition towards prizing visual immediacy over critical engagement.

Life’s editors’ link narrative devices and rhetoric with photographs to make these images appear as first-hand experience and function as objective conclusions. Life characterizes the Cold War as an epic moral struggle between the US and USSR, and its 1943 special issue on Russia acts as the comedic prologue to this narrative by distinguishing these ideologically disparate wartime allies. After post-war agreements fail, this congenial atmosphere swiftly transitions into another battle between democracy and tyranny, defined through literary conventions. Life employs synecdoche and allegory to encode photographs of individuals as icons of valorous populations (Americans and Eastern Europeans) and to symbolize concepts (democracy and charity). Metonymy and irony transform photographs into direct signs of Communism and visual evidence of its degeneracy. Life’s comic presentation of Marshal Josip Tito contrasts with its satiric coverage of Senator Joseph McCarthy to direct readers’ attention towards the best and worst possible courses of action regarding the Communist menace, at home and abroad.


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Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission


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