Political Cartoons as a Portal to History

Political cartoons offer a multilayered view into not only past events but attitudes about those events through symbolism and text. They can catch a reader’s eye faster than reading an article on the same topic while providing more information than a photograph may offer.  They provide a glimpse into the feelings and thoughts of a community during a time period that the present-day reader may not be familiar with. Such cartoons can also offer clues for further investigation into historical events.

Mark Hampton, in his article “The Political Cartoon as Educationalist Journalism” discusses political cartoons as a way to engage more people in awareness of the world around them. He suggests people who may not read about current events can become aware of them through political cartoons.1They can also be useful in teaching history. Thomas suggests that political cartoons can help students “start to appreciate the importance of understanding the past on its own terms and being able to explain how and why historical figures, ideas, issues, and events interact”.2This is especially true with cartoons that have several layers of meaning in them.  

Lyle Lahey’s work is a good illustration of this.  Many of Lahey’s cartoons have multiple meanings within the image and contain a biting humor that gains readers’ attention.  The images highlighted in this website provide a glimpse into the events and feelings of the Green Bay, Wisconsin community during the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s regarding the Green Bay Packers.

Are Political Cartoons a Portal to Represent History? © Kama
  1. Mark Hampton, “The Political Cartoons as Educationalist Journalism,” Journalism Studies 14, no.5 (2013): 681-697, accessed October 27, 2018, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost.
  2. Samuel J Thomas, “Teaching America’s GAPE (or Any Other Period) with Political Cartoons: A Systematic Approach to Primary Source Analysis,” History Teacher, no. 4 (2004):425-446, accessed October 27, 2018, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost.