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The Spin Doctors of 19th-Century America

Joanna Cohen from Queen Mary, University of London, explores public cynicism about politicians and asks whether we can learn anything from 19th-century attitudes in America.

In the age of spin, few people believe that they can actually know, let alone trust, a politician. But such public cynicism was not always our default attitude. Embracing the emerging sciences of the age, 19th-century Americans thought they might be able to combine physiognomy (the science of reading faces) and the techniques of photography to uncover the true characters of leaders and statesmen. Joanna Cohen from Queen Mary, the University of London explores their efforts and the lessons for voters now.

Recorded in front of an audience at BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival of Ideas at Sage Gateshead earlier this month. New Generation Thinkers is a scheme run by BBC Radio 3 and the AHRC to find the brightest academic minds with the potential to turn their ideas into broadcasts.

All the discussions and essays from the Free Thinking festival are available as Radio 3 Arts and Ideas downloads.

Producer: Zahid Warley.

Available now

15 minutes

Last on

Fri 14 Nov 2014 22:45

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The Arts & Ideas Podcast

The Arts & Ideas Podcast

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