I had some wonderful high school teachers who made history come alive. In addition to learning the facts, dates, and figures, we got a feel for the times we were studying by activities such as reading Civil War poetry or singing our way through a couple of World Wars. We were also exposed to innumerable political cartoons along the way to increase our understanding of the culture and issues of the day. The drawing of original cartoons was sometimes used as a comprehension check as well. I particularly remember one I drew about colonial Philadelphia as a homework assignment. That was, ahem, over 50 years ago. While I can’t guarantee that using political cartoons in history classes will make all your homework assignments memorable a half century from now, I can promise that political cartoons have the potential to engage students with the significant issues of any period.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realize how any of the following examples could be effectively used in the classroom.
“But wherever would we find such an exciting collection of political cartoons?” you might ask. Well, you’re in luck. The ClipArt ETC website offers over 300 political cartoons for classroom use. Although you may have to do a little searching to find specific topics, many of the cartoons have been tagged with specific time periods or topics:
Since FCIT’s political cartoon collection is mainly from the late 1800s, you may also want to search the National Archives or the Library of Congress for additional cartoons from earlier or later periods. The following LOC collections are of particular interest:
The National Archives and the Library of Congress have also created helpful guides for analyzing cartoons as a classroom activity:
Teacher's Guide: Analyzing Political Cartoons
This one-page PDF from the Library of Congress includes many questions for students to consider when responding to a political cartoon.
Analyze a Cartoon (Younger Students)
This one-page PDF from the National Archives takes younger students through the four steps of analyzing a political cartoon.
Cartoon Analysis Guide
This two-page PDF from the Library of Congress identifies the persuasive techniques used in political cartoons.
Analyze a Cartoon (Older Students)
This one-page PDF from the National Archives takes older students through the four steps of analyzing a political cartoon.
I hope you’ll find the above resources a help in utilizing political cartoons as windows into various time periods. And just maybe, fifty years from now, one of your students will be writing about how memorable your classes were way back in the 2019-2020 school year.
Roy Winkelman is a 40+ year veteran teacher of students from every level kindergarten through graduate school. As the former Director of FCIT, he began the Center's focus on providing students with rich content collections from which to build their understanding. When not glued to his keyboard, Dr. Winkelman can usually be found puttering around his tomato garden in Pittsburgh. Questions about this post or suggestions for a future topic? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To ensure that your email is not blocked, please do not change the subject line. Thank you!
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