Political Cartoons Provide Perspective

Title: “The Mortar of Assimilation,” 1889

"The Mortar of Assimilation," 1889

Description from Roland Marchand: The one unmixable element in the national pot was the Irish. A female U.S. figure, (“Uncle Samantha”?) stirs various stereotypes of different nationalities into the American melting pot, in “The Mortar of Assimilation,” 1889.

Political cartoons can be a powerful classroom tool. At best, they present issues clearly, allowing students to analyze multiple perspectives without the language challenges that they might find in a text-based primary source. The key to success is careful selection and preparation. Since political cartoons capture issues from the time of creation, some can overwhelm with details so it is important to choose those that depict an issue clearly and are relatively free of obscure references. It is equally important to anticipate where students may need additional context or background prior to attempting analysis. Finally, help students understand how political cartoon artists use caricatures, or drawings that exaggerate certain features or stereotypes, to indicate who the cartoon is about.

There are many ways to support student analysis of political cartoons. The Library of Congress for example, has a generic analysis guide available here, and a guide to persuasive techniques here, but a short set of carefully crafted questions can also be a simple and effective way for students to engage in analysis.

“The Mortar of Assimilation” is one of four political cartoons featured in an immigration lesson that asks students to investigate arguments made by Americans opposed to immigration in the late nineteenth century. This lesson, created by  middle school teacher Sara Schnack, is one of the image-centered investigations in the Marchand Archive’s Documentary Source Problems Collection.

For more political cartoons and other images related to immigration, browse the Marchand Image Collection “topic/themes” Immigration, Immigrants and Immigrant Societies and Organization.

Join the conversation! Share your favorite political cartoons and analysis techniques here.