Monday, March 7, 2011

The Political Cartoon

You’ve heard it said that one picture is worth a thousand words and that’s certainly true of political cartoons. We’ve been doing some cleaning and re-arranging here at the History Center this winter and in the process have re-discovered some books that had been used in the past by our education department. One of those is “The Image of America in Caricature & Cartoon”.

Political, or editorial cartoons as they are also called, have been an important part of our history as documented via the press. From the earliest days of our country through current times, the cartoon has said in pictures what words sometimes fail to express. So in the spirit of finding another vehicle to spark an interest in history with your children, I decided on a snowy Friday to learn more about this art form.

Political cartooning will likely be lost on an elementary student but some middle school and most high school students will get a kick out of the intellect, artistic ability and sometimes quirky sense of humor that many cartoonists have. One of my favorite cartoonists worked for the Casper (WY) Star Tribune. By day he was an architect but by night he used his slightly wicked slant on the world to capture the political climate of the early 1980s. George quickly became a member of our gourmet club, “The Greater Casper Gourmet Club and Literary Soiree Society” and we shared many a laugh at his observations both verbal and on paper.

If you enjoy political cartoons, it’s fun to clip them from the newspaper to start a scrapbook or share with friends and family. I have an ongoing correspondence with one of my husband’s aunts who appreciates and shares the cartoons I send her. In return, I get clippings and emails from her and we’ve formed a bond based upon our interest in politics.
Until the topic of political cartoons got my attention, I had no idea that Dr. Seuss, (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991), was the chief editorial cartoonist for the New York newspaper “PM”. Between the years 1940 and 1948, he drew over 400 editorial cartoons. The little known book “Dr. Seuss Goes to War” features about 200 reproductions of the best of his work from that time period.

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum (a wonderful place to visit by the way) has a web site that features some lessons on political cartoons of the Truman era. The link will take you to the site where cartoons are featured with questions that will help you learn more about the Truman administration.

The Utah Education Network has put together lessons on learning more about history via political cartoons at The site gives students the opportunity “to analyze cartoons by identifying the symbols, characters and information and its significance in history” according to the “Google” description of the site.

One of American’s most influential political artists in our time has been Herb Block. A good web site to see Block’s work is Block’s work covers the lifespan of most of us so it can be a good basis for discussing events of your lifetime and what their place has been in our country’s history.

As you look at cartoons from the 20th century, you’ll find that, in the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “things are more like they are now than they’ve ever been before.” The players may change but the themes tend to repeat themselves.

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