History of Editorial Cartoons/Background Knowledge
The first editorial cartoon was drawn by Benjamin Franklin, and appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754. (Project “Join or Die” cartoon on screen).
Lead students in a brief discussion of what the cartoon might mean.
Explain that Franklin was concerned about France and Great Britain’s arguments about their landholdings in the Americas. Franklin saw the colonies as dangerously fragmented, and hoped, with the cartoon and an article, to convince colonists they would have great power if they united.
“The “Join or Die” snake does not fit any standard definition of a map. But many basic elements of a map arepresent. Perhaps the image has been best described at a “cartographic caricature,” or a map generalizing and exaggerating the American colonies’ most recognizable features—namely their locations and coastlines. The colonies are represented in geographic order, with the New England colonies at the head of the snake and South Carolina at its tail. [Note: The New England colonies are not listed individually and Georgia, oddly, does not appear at all.] The undulations of the snake’s body broadly suggest the curves of the North American east coast.”
—Source: Misty Belyeu, elementary school teacher, Auburn, Alabama;
How It’s Done
Explain to students that editorial cartoons throughout history have made use of similar techniques to get their points across. Among them are:
Symbolism: use of an object to stand for an idea
Caricature: exaggeration of a physical feature
Captioning and labels: for clarity and emphasis
Analogy: comparison of two unlike things that share some characteristics
Irony: the difference between the way things are and the way things should be, or the way things are expected to be
Juxtaposition: positioning people or objects near each other for effect
Exaggeration: overstating or magnifying a problem.
—Source: Steven Janover
Show any current political cartoon, and ask students to identify the elements above, and lead them in a discussion about each.
Discuss how editorial cartoons are different from other cartoons in the paper (usually come about because of an issue in the news; more for information than entertainment), and how they’re different from news articles (include a clear bias, as opposed to news articles, which should be entirely objective). While an article is intended to inform, the author’s purpose with an editorial cartoon is to influence opinion.
Model for them use of the Analyzing a Cartoon Worksheet.
To get them warmed up, if a computer is available, send students to a site such as American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, which has links to daily cartoons, cartoonists index, and cartoons sorted by topic, or have them search for cartoons on their own: Send students on a “cartoon webquest,” where they find five cartoons, and write down the URL of the cartoon, the cartoonist who created it, the topic, and a brief description of the cartoon. Other websites include: The Cartoonists Group, Go Comics, Daily Kos, Cagle Cartoons.
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The DVD includes 5 lesson plans for teaching the topics that reflect Herb Block's passions - Education, Democracy, Civil Rights, the Presidency and Environment. The disk presents five exhibitions which bring to life many famous Herblock cartoons that punctuate American history from 1929 to the millennium. The lesson plans meet Language Arts standards from the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. (Lesson plans aligning with the Common Core should be available by 2015.)
About Herb Block
Herb Block is among the world’s best known and most admired political cartoonists. Born on October 13, 1909, the native Chicagoan spent his 72-year career fighting against abuses of the powerful.
The Herb Block Foundation is committed to defending the basic freedoms guaranteed all Americans, combating all forms of discrimination and prejudice and improving the conditions of the poor and underprivileged through the creation or support of charitable and educational programs with the same goals.
The Foundation is also committed to providing educational opportunity to deserving students through post-secondary education scholarships and to promoting editorial cartooning through continued research. All efforts of the Foundation shall be in keeping with the spirit of Herblock, America's great cartoonist in his life long fight against abuses by the powerful.