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Political Cartoons - Often Overlooked Sources of Information

June 26, 2013

By Jeff Grillo, Associate Director for Technical Services

Adept political researchers often consult popular and scholarly newspaper and magazine articles.  Whether you are looking for historical information or current awareness pieces on the day’s “hot topic,” newspapers and magazines provide researchers with concise and easily digestable commentary on the national and global political arena.

Why stop at newspaper and magazine articles though?  What about the political cartoons that readers typically find interspersed within these very same publications?  What value do political cartoons offer?  According to famous Chicago Daily News cartoonist Herbert Block, ”Cartooning is an irreverent form of expression, and one particularly suited to scoffing at the high and the mighty. If the prime role of a free press is to serve as critic of government, cartooning is often the cutting edge of that criticism.”  Often overlooked sources of information, political cartoons provide opinionated commentary on public issues and individuals, and insight into the political mood of specific events and periods of time.  Using clever illustrations and caricatures, rather than relying solely on text, political cartoonists comment on everything from foreign policy to political races and from the economy to significant public figures.

The Dirksen Center’s Editorial Cartoon Collection stands as an excellent resource for anyone interested in more in-depth exploration of the political cartoon genre. In its infancy, the collection began as a scrapbook containing more than 300 editorial cartoons compiled by the staff of Senator Everett Dirksen (1896-1969).  These editorial cartoons covered a multitude of topics including wars, political party politics, treaties, legislation, political movements, and even contentious issues such as the separation of church and state. Expanding far beyond its original scrapbook format, the collection grew to include the works of many reknowned political cartoonists –and now exists in an easily navigatable online format!  Browse chronologically or by subject listings, and take advantage of the depth and breadth of this editorial cartoon collection.


Another popular source for political or editorial cartoons can be found at Political Humor.  This website contains links to more recent cartoons and covers topics ranging from current and past presidents to timely and controversial issues such as the gun control debate and mental health laws.  Daniel Kurtzman, author of Political Humor’s “Political Cartoons, Funny Pictures and Memes” column, provides bipartisan coverage of current political events, people, and issues.

Consider consulting the Dirksen collection and the Political Humor websites the next time you embark on current or historical political research.  Perhaps you will even be able to incorporate political or editorial cartoons into your research!  Witty and visually stimulating illustrations can offer powerful editorial commentary on a multitude of political topics and complement more in-depth newspaper and magazine articles. Editorial cartoons, although less traditional and often overlooked sources, offer valuable perspectives on important political issues.