Teaching Political Cartoons

Update 2020: Until recently, I included an example of a political cartoon on this post that used fatness to represent greed and excess. After engaging with the work of fat activists, I do not use this cartoon as my teaching example anymore. 

Political cartoons are a powerful site to analyze stereotypes, cliché, and caricature, but students first need to be equipped with a critical lens to do so. Otherwise, the images simply reinforce prejudice, stereotypes, and oppression. 

Teaching political cartoons provides an excellent opportunity to teach students to write alternative text for images to increase access for disabled people. My website Accessible Syllabus presents a quick intro to writing alt text

As an added bonus, analyzing political cartoons requires that students carefully explain visual detail, so writing alt text always leads to deeper insights for my students. 

Political Cartoon Terminology

Teaching political cartoons gets students thinking about rhetoric and arguments in visual forms. Walter Werner's "Reading Visual Rhetoric: Political Cartoons" is a useful starting source, and I created the following PowerPoint based on the article. The PowerPoint was last updated in 2008, so feel free to update it.

Practice Analyzing a Cartoon

To analyze cartoons, I ask students to create a 2 column graph: on the first side they write down a specific visual (or verbal) detail, in the second, they interpret it's meaning.

I explain that describing the visual detail is just like using a quote in an analysis of written language--it's the evidence that leads to our interpretations. To be sure that we are not just summarizing these details, we then analyze it's deeper meaning.

Textual Details


Political Cartoon Website

Daryl Cagle's PoliticalCartoons.com.

In class, students choose a current cartoon to analyze in groups. After they have time to discuss,  I project their cartoons on the board one at a time, and each group gets a few minutes to present their analyses.

I encourage students to integrate political cartoons and other visual media into their research papers to broaden their range of sources and to create visual interest.

Please share any resources you use for teaching political cartoons!

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