‘We can learn a lot for a new Europe from the Marshall Plan’

Date of news: 29 October 2018

The idea of “Europe” is currently facing a crisis. Calls are for a Marshall Plan for a “New Europe” to save financially struggling EU member states, to solve the refugee crisis or avoid separatist movements abound. Frank Mehring, professor of American Studies at Radboud University, curated a multi-media travelling exhibition to ask what can we learn from the former Marshall Plan for current Europe. The exhibition will open on 5 November at the library of Radboud University.

The exhibition “The New Marshall Plan Europe 1948/2018” offers an innovative perspective on the visual strategies of the European Recovery Program (1948-1952) to explain the American vision of a new democratic Europe to its citizens.

Time to remember

Marshall-planMehring thinks we are at a critical point in time to learn from our Marshall past: ‘‘Cultural diplomacy is at a crisis with Trump. And Europe is facing a crisis regarding European identity, a spreading distrust in institutions, wavering leadership and investigative journalism – a pillar of democracy - under fire.’ This is why, among other things, we are hearing calls for a new Marshall Plan: a plan to rebuild Europe.

Mehring: “But what was the Marshall Plan about? We need to understand that the Marshall Plan is remembered as a success story not only due to its economical impact (which is actually questioned among experts), but also due to clever marketing and communication. Posters, cartoons, documentary films or photographs were created to explain to citizens: what is in it for you? I think Europe nowadays can learn a lot from this way of communication. Of course, the digital age requires modified approaches.”

Visual rhetoric

The exhibition is built around this premise utilizing a rich archive of images that translates the abstract ideas and ideals of the Marshall Plan into concrete and easy to understand messages. Its shows us the different levels on which the Marshall plan worked: regional, national and European. Its also exemplifies the potential lessons we can learn from the way the Marshall Plan was propagated in Europe.


Many European countries benefited in different ways from the Marshall Plan. The exhibition zooms in on local examples from Nijmegen. For instance: the university library has a large souvenir from the Marshall Plan itself. Mehring: “It received about thirty thousand books from the US and many of them are still there.” And the well-known soap factory Dobbelman in Nijmegen received funds to help solve challenging hygienic problems after the war. The regional archive in Nijmegen holds a lot of visual material related to the Marshall Plan communication strategy that will be shown at the exhibition.

Another part of the exhibition focusses on how to explain to European citizens to work together, to overcome their national differences, and to invest in supranational institutions. Mehring: “In a way, the Americans helped to make us think of ourselves as Europeans and our shared collective interests. In the last years, we have not done enough in order to make people better understand that nationalism is not a solution to tackle any of the pressing questions we are facing today. Can the cultural program of the Marshall Plan offer lessons for the digital age of global information flows?”

The exhibition ‘The New “Marshall Plan Europe” 1948/2018: Memories, Discoveries, Lessons? Promise’ will be opening in Nijmegen: November 5 at the library of Radboud University, 16:30. Opening in Kleve: Nov. 28 at Hochschule Rhein-Waal with the Marshall Plan opera La Dollarosa Sterlinga in the Audimax at 19:00. The event is supported by the US Embassy/The Hague in collaboration between Radboud University Nijmegen and the Hochschule Rhein-Waal in Kleve, the National Liberation Museum 1944-45, Friendship Albany Nijmegen, Catholic Documentation Center at Radboud University, the Regionaal Archief Nijmegen, US Embassy The Hague, Nijmegen Blijft in Beeld, and the Gesamtschule am Forstgarten/Kleve.

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