Atomic Warfare and American Values 


Civil defense was the means selected to persuade Americans to accept such an outcome if it, indeed, became a necessary one. Americans would have to be shown that at a minimum, they would survive a nuclear conflagration and, after an acceptable period of reconstruction of their homeland, they could resume their accustomed prewar existence.

Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.
Duck and Cover: Civil Defense Images in Film and Television from the Cold War to 9/11

Brief Reflection and Current Thoughts

As I am finishing up with reading over the secondary literature, I must admit that my excitement for the finished project is growing. The topic of civil defense propaganda, whether it be from the FDCA or through Hollywood, is not only an interesting part of our American history, but also a vital one to know and understand.

The role of civil defense within American cinema and television helped to warn and desensitize the American population to the threat of a possible nuclear war against the Soviets. As well, these films helped to indoctrinate citizens, starting with young school children, American values and mores that the government felt were important to promote and preserve (for more information reference Stages of Emergency: Cold War Nuclear Civil Defense by Tracy C. Davis). These messages, as Davis writes, primarily targeted children, women, and middle-class, working men who epitomized the ideal American nuclear family.

Keeping in mind these important facts, my research as taken shape with the goal of understanding what common messages these films had, and what values they told the citizens were the most important to preserve. Comparing this data to the knowledge found in the secondary literature will hopefully provide me with an thorough understanding of how much of an impact these films could have had on the culture of 1950’s America. I also look forward to seeing how the digital tools I plan to use will either contradict or expand upon whether the secondary literature.

Using Digital Tools

In regards to my use of digital tools, I have narrowed down the three that I wish to use, and hope that I will be able to have enough data and resources to use them accurately. The three that I think would be most beneficial to my research is Voyant, Cinemetrix, and Story Maps. Between the these three tools, I believe the information I will receive will illustrate points of my research that have not been deeply examined by previous historians.



The use of Voyant as a visual/textual analysis is extremely impressive for me (technology is still something even this 23 year old is adapting to in general, let alone for the use of research and emphasizing scholarship) but is something I am motivated to explore and employ in this project. The image above shows an example of what I have been working on. Though the OCR still needs cleaned, as well as my last few film transcriptions still need to be added, the results of this has proven to be very remarkable for me. Each circle represents a word in the transcription, with bigger circles belonging to those that are used more frequently. Though you can’t see it in this image, if one hovered over the circle, then they could not only see how many times the word is used, but also what words are connected, and how many documents (transcriptions in my case) the word shows up in. This tool, therefore, is interesting to use for it allows researchers to examine the connections between documents and their word choices.


The use of Cinemetrix will be particularly useful for my research. Aside from examining what is being said in the dialogue of a video, it is also important to look closely at what is being shown. Cinemetrix, therefore, will be used to track how many times a particular item or idea is shown visually on screen. For example, I will be able to track the number of churches that a video shows, or schools, or even how many times the Soviet flag is displayed. While I haven’t been able to use this tool yet, I look forward to seeing the outcomes that it will show.

Story Maps

Story maps is where I am finding the most difficulty in using. Or any map tool for that matter. My goal for this is to find specific data and locations on fallout shelters in the United States. Both the videos and the secondary literature – specifically authors such as Elaine Tyler May, Paul Boyer, and Tracy C. Davis – discuss the government’s continuous emphasis on the use and availability of fallout shelters in efforts of preparing the country for nuclear attack, I have yet to be able to find data on how many of them existed (or still exist) even in the state of Indiana (note: Grissom Air Force Base is located just 40 minutes outside of my hometown).  Though I do hope to hear from a representative of Gallup so that I have a little more data regarding fallout shelters in the 1950’s that I could add to this research.


Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, as with any researcher, I wish I was farther along than what I am. Not only for the sake of keeping up with deadlines, but I also am incredibly excited to see what information I can gather from the use of this data and combining it with the digital tools that I mentioned above. I plan on providing another update to this blog when I get the final transcription done and added to the corpus of data I am putting through Voyant. However, until then it has been interesting exploring what the data has shown me so far.

I do however feel nervous about not having the data on the fallout shelters. It has certainly has been an obstacle in my workflow, but other than that everything is running fairly smoothly. As I move into November, my goal is to finish up the notes on my secondary research (almost done!), and really try to input the data into the tools.

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