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[Detail] Suffragettes procession after release from prison.

Political Graphics

Cartoons have long been used as a means of awakening public interest in ideas and issues.  Using humor, cartoonists raise questions and make points in ways that may appeal to people who would not read or be moved by an essay. Cartoonists use a variety of tools and techniques to amuse, provoke, and inform: symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, analogy, and irony.  Learn more about these tools and techniques by consulting the Cartoon Analysis Guide.

The Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911 include a number of political cartoons from both the United States and Great Britain, among them:

Select two cartoons from the collection and use the Cartoon Analysis Guide to examine the cartoons. What is each cartoon’s message? Which tools and techniques do the cartoonists’ use to convey their points? How effective do you think the cartoons are in making their points?

Broadsides are another form of political graphic. A broadside is a single sheet of paper, printed on one side only and designed “to inform the public about current news events, publicize official proclamations and government decisions, announce and record public meetings and entertainment events, advocate political and social causes, advertise products and services, and celebrate popular literary and musical efforts” (for more background on broadsides, see “Introduction to Printed Ephemera Collection”).  Broadsides often incorporate cartoons or illustrations to attract attention and graphically illustrate the message.  Several examples can be found in the Miller NAWSA Suffrage Scrapbooks, 1897-1911:

Examine several of these broadsides, paying particular attention to the illustrations and how they support the intended message.

  • In these broadsides, how do graphic images dramatize the message?
  • What techniques did the graphic artists use to call attention to information included in the broadsides?
  • How effective do you think broadsides were in shaping public support for a movement such as suffrage?

Select a contemporary news article or editorial on an important local or state issue and create a broadside with an illustration to call attention to this issue.  Exhibit the news/editorial and the broadside side-by-side.  Which of the two is most likely to attract attention?  Which has the greater impact on the reader?