Tag Archives: public science

Public information posters

Within the museum’s history of education collection there is a selection of mid-20th century public health posters. A small subset of these will fill one of the display cases in our Public science: ‘Science in the Real World’ exhibition.

Image A

Image A
A mid-20th century public health poster from our collection.

Earlier methods of informing the public about health risks include broadsides (single sheets of paper printed on one-side only, carrying news, public notices, etc.), wood engraving prints and quarantine signs. It was during the early 20th century that posters became a popular form of disseminating such messages; in addition to benefiting from late 19th century developments in printing, public health groups drew on the methods of the advertising industry with regard to better integration of text with images and the use of behavioural science.

These posters aim to convey messages about health and get people to change their behaviour accordingly, but they are also about the pleasure of the image, often being colourful and playful despite their serious subject matter. By letting colour and illustration take centre stage, these posters are eye-catching and have a strong visual impact. Combining this with minimal text closely related to the image – often in slogan form – the posters were able to quickly get across the desired message in a memorable fashion, which is crucial for persuading people to improve their habits.

Image BSource: http://www.dh.gov.uk

Image B
Source: http://www.dh.gov.uk

It is a testament to their efficacy that such posters are still used on todayas a method of communicating health messages to the public. This example, with the familiar “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases” warning – first used during the Second World War – was distributed by the Department of Health for England’s National Director of Pandemic Influenza Preparedness to NHS outlet in 2007, as part of a measure to reduce the spread of influenza and other diseases, by encouraging people to adopt more hygienic coughing and sneezing behaviours.

Suggested objects & labels for display:



‘Keep it covered’ public information poster,c.1950s

During the 20th century posters like this one were popular as a method of disseminating health and safety messages to the public. The use of bright colours and playful images makes them eye-catching and memorable.


‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ public information poster, c.1950s

Part of a series concerning the spread of germs, this poster features the famous phrase “coughs and sneezes spread diseases’. Catchy slogans are effective for communicating health messages and encouraging behaviour changes. First introduced during WW2, this phrase was reintroduced in 2007 by the Department of Health.


‘Rules of Health’ public information poster, c.1940s-50s

This poster comes from the ‘Seven Rules of Health’ series issued by the Ministry of Health. Offering guidance on aspects of life including food, sleep, clothing, exercise and even ways to spend free time, this series gives an insight into how varied public information posters were.

Object lessons

Object lessons refers to a style of teaching popular in the mid to late nineteenth century.  Our image of the Victorian classroom (thanks largely to novels of the period) is that of silent rows of children, obediently learning by rote their 3Rs.  However, this is only a partial picture.  Many teachers, governesses and textbook writers, gave a good deal of thought to what they were trying to achieve through teaching, and experimented with different approaches and teaching styles.  One of the more successful types of lesson was the object lesson.

Object lessons were designed to teach children to observe, to take careful notice of their surroundings and to give them the language to describe their observations accurately.  They were also about conversation.  The object – and a different object or collection of objects was chosen for each lesson – was the conversation piece, while textbooks would prep the teacher to ask all kinds of leading questions.  Some tea leaves for example could be used to teach botany, politics and geography (places of origin, trade networks etc); other samples might be used to teach these subjects and others such as contemporary and historic industrial processes or geology.

In the showcase on the object lesson (in our forthcoming exhibition in the Brotherton Library on 18th Jan 2013), we will have trays from our object lesson box alongside sample from our biblical herbarium and a few textbooks on giving object lessons.

Suggested labels:
Object lessons
This box contains samples of various materials each selected to inspire a lesson on several different topics.  A child might learn the history of the East India Company from a tea leaf, for example. They might also learn some botany and economics in that lesson as well as how to observe.

Biblical Herbarium
Religion formed the core of many lessons in the Victorian schoolroom and in no object is this more explicit than in the Biblical Herbarium. Like the object lesson box, each sample could lead to a range of subjects. However every object here is mentioned in the Bible, ensuring religion featured in every lesson.

Object lesson textbooks
Here we have a number of textbooks from the late nineteenth century offering suggestions to teachers on how to teach an object lesson. In one the writer gives a long list of suggested questions, in another the writer gives a summary, per object, of topics to cover and facts to convey.