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Cartoons and the Cold War

Nichols, Mark
Grade Level: 

Political cartoons provide students with an opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies of a particular historical era through the interpretation of words and pictures. Cartoonists are able to address issues through exaggeration, irony and humor which, in turn, attracts large audiences. Analyzing political cartoons will enable the students to hone their critical thinking skills while using their knowledge of the Cold War. With this lesson plan, students will:


*analyze visual images

*read and identify the messages implied by written text

*explain the purpose of a particular political cartoon

*identify events, people, or groups significant to the Cold War Era


In what ways, if any, are political cartoons an effective way to interpret historical events?


1) Students will be introduced to the idea of political cartoons as a means of expressing a point of view through humor.

2) Students will search through the above web sites to locate a political cartoon they wish to analyze

3) Students will answer the following questions as a guide to their analysis:

- What political event or idea is the cartoon addressing?

- What key people or groups are included in the cartoon's message?

- How does the cartoonist depict these people? Explain any symbols used by the cartoonist to portray people or countries.

- Identify any captions, titles, labels, or speech bubbles in the cartoon. How do these contribute to the cartoon's message?

-What is the message of the cartoon? How is the cartoonist trying to persuade the reader?

- Identify the humor in the cartoon through the use of exaggeration and / or irony.

4) Students will share their cartoons and analysis with the class. Cartoons can be shared either through the web-site or by creating a transparency for an overhead projector.

Culminating Activity:

As a final, fun activity that provides students with an opportunity to sharpen their skills in identifying parody, show the film "Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb." Introduce the film in the context of an historical shift in Hollywood's portrayal of the Cold War. This was the first film to reflect the absurdity of Cold War hysteria. As students watch the film they are to create a list of 5 - 10 examples of where the filmmakers use exaggeration, irony, and humor to identify Cold War hysteria. This would make for a fun, insightful discussion and open the door toward student understanding of how this film reflects attitudes and beliefs of the Sixties counter-culture.


In Class Time: Introduction (25 minutes)

Internet Web Search (45 minutes)

Presentation of Student Analyses (135 minutes)

Out of Class Time:

Analysis / Research (2 hours)