Use of Political Cartoons in the History Classroom

Every political cartoon has a message; the trick is to decipher that message, since some of them are pretty tricky, although some cartoons are quite obvious.  Check out this cartoon from

A tool that I find useful in helping my students understand how to analyze political cartoons is through the Library of Congress

This is a helpful guide that provides worksheets for documents analysis, primary source documents and award winning historical political cartoons.  Pay particular attention to the "cartoon analysis guide" located in section 3.  According to the Library of Congress website, the five things to look for in analyzing political cartoons are:

  1. Symbolism
  2. Exaggeration
  3. Labeling
  4. Analogy
  5. Irony

ThingLink is a useful tool to use in introducing students to political cartoon analysis, because bullets can be placed in strategic locations, calling attention to the different persuasive techniques of the cartoonist (See my example above, from, a website that I use on a regular basis).

It important to remind students, often, that the first guiding principal of understanding a political cartoon is to ask "What is the cartoonist's message?" I tell my students to think of political cartoons as editorials in picture form.  The trick is to figure out what the cartoonist is editorializing.  Most cartoons can be understood by utilizing the Library of Congress guide (in other words, locating the five things listed above within the cartoon).  Comprehension comes more quickly when students pay attention to prominent current events, which I expect in all of my classes to some degree anyway.

When my students are adept at understanding political cartoons that are already out there, I will often allow them to create their own political cartoons.  Writing editorials is a unique, and necessary skill, and I encourage all of my students to become adept at writing them by assigning several editorials throughout the year.  However, there are some students who have unique artistic talents, and can convey their opinions much more effectively through a cartoon.  I envy them that!

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