Political cartoons have influenced the public and brought about change like other tools in the press. The historic 1754 cartoon of a sliced-up snake, each piece marked as a colony, appeared in Ben Franklin’s newspaper preceding the French and Indian War. You’re probably familiar with Thomas Nast’s takedown of Boss Tweed in New York circa 1870. Today, colorful depictions produced by various media from watercolor to computer-colored appear in Politico, USA Today, and other online publications.   


To encourage civic engagement in this day of digital-image-persuasion, social studies students should consume and critique editorial cartoons. For students taking the Advanced Placement® Government and Politics Exam, the infographic question may well be paired with a political cartoon. Editorial cartoons also appear on the APUSH Exam. So, here’s a PowerPoint set of notable cartoons and cartoonists, each with one or two online linked resources. I have also included a student handout, “Create an Editorial Cartoon.”  


Designing and creating a cartoon, no matter how basic, helps students understand and interpret cartoons, the parts and elements. The experience might drive students to absorb, consume, and decipher cartoons in the future.  


Feel free to edit or modify both the PowerPoint and the student handout. If pursuing the cartoon assignment, remember not all Government students are Thomas Nast. Reassure the non-artist students and let them know that the idea, the design, and the message are more important than the artwork. This is also useful as an extra-credit assignment. 


Have students draw their own political cartoons! Download resources below!DOWNLOAD ASSIGNMENT AND PRESENTATION



David Wolfford teaches Advanced Placement® U.S. Government and Politics at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has served as an AP® Reader. He has a B.A. in Secondary Education and an M.A. in Constitutional and Legal History, both from the University of Kentucky. He has conducted historical research projects on school desegregation and American political history. David has published in historical journals, such as Ohio Valley History and Kentucky Humanities. He has written on government, politics, and campaigns for national magazines and Cincinnati newspapers. He is a James Madison Fellow, a National Board-certified teacher, and a regular contributor to Social Education. David is editor of By George: Articles from the Ashland Daily Independent (Jesse Stuart Foundation) and editor of Ohio Social Studies Review.


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