Critical Thinking Activity For Political Cartoon 1700s

Massachusetts Studies Project
Teaching Tools for Local History:

Introduction: Newspapers, whether recent or historic, can be very useful teaching tools. They can bring the past alive by adding a human dimension, historical context, drama and a sense of immediacy to textbook accounts of events.

General Teaching Tips: Some topics are better suited than others for newspaper research. The best topics are those which can be connected to specific events, while the least suitable topics are those which show up not in events but in trends, long-term developments, or social movements.

Local political, government and military issues, public works projects, labor union strikes, natural disasters, eyewitness accounts of landmark events, local personalities, advertisements (including personal advertisements) are just some of the topics that can be readily researched in local and regional newspapers. In addition, political cartoons illustrating local social and political issues can be good sources for exploration and analysis. Commercial advertisements, classified and personal ads, social pages and obituaries are also fertile sources for local history research in newspapers.

As with any primary source, newspapers, broadsides and cartoons invite students to hone their critical thinking skills, to determine the objectivity and accuracy of a given source. In the case of newspapers, partisanship, boosterism and the possibility of heightened controversy for circulation reasons must all be considered as factors that influence the content and tone of the news.

Basic Questions

  • What is the topic of the article or cartoon?
  • Who wrote it (author/creator/artist)? What do you know about this author/creator? If the creator is unknown, are there clues to help identify him or her?
  • How reliable is this article or cartoon for historical accuracy?
  • What biases can writers, artists and others bring to their work?
  • When was it created? If no date is listed, what clues are there that could help date it?
  • Where was it written and where is the article or cartoon now found?
  • Who was the intended audience?

Critical Thinking Questions

  • What were the opinions, motivations, or interests of the creator? What did the creator hope to accomplish by creating this article or cartoon?
  • Is the creator of this document deliberately anonymous? If so, what factors might have contributed to its being published anonymously?
  • Did the creator wish to inform, persuade, or deceive his or her audience?
  • How does the creator's point of view compare to other writers and artists of the period?
  • What kind of impact would the artistic context of the era have on the content of the source?
  • What questions would you like to address the author of this article or cartoon?
  • For whom was the article or cartoon created?
  • What sorts of information does the article or cartoon supply?
  • What did you already know about the subject of this article or cartoon and how did this knowledge affect the way you viewed or read it?
  • Can you trust the document's content at face value?
  • What additional information is needed to help you understand the subject more fully?

Advertisements and Broadsides:

  • What is being promoted by this ad or broadside?
  • What information does this ad or broadside contain?
  • Describe any claims of fact, reality or results the document makes.
  • Who is the target reader?
  • How has advocacy for this product changed over time?
  • What social changes are reflected by changes in presentation of this product or issue?


Resources and Websites

"Massachusetts Newspapers" All online newspapers linked by town.

The American memory Project, Library of Congress. The Continental Congress Broadside Collection and the Constitutional Convention Broadside Collection contain 274 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. (A "broadside" or "broadsheet" is an advertisement or public notice printed on a large sheet of paper.)

Model Lesson Materials

"History from the Headlines: Using Arizona Newspapers to Teach History". Superb teaching guide. Practical advice on how to locate and do research in historic newspapers, plus 4 in-depth lessons that could used as guides for creating curriculum for use in Massachusetts.

It's No Laughing Matter

Overview | About This Activity | Learning Activity | Cartoon Analysis Guide | Learn More About Political Cartoons |
Resources for Teachers

Cartoon Analysis Guide

Use this guide to identify the persuasive techniques used in political cartoons.
Print guide (PDF, 10 KB)


Cartoonists use simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas.

After you identify the symbols in a cartoon, think about what the cartoonist intends each symbol to stand for.


Sometimes cartoonists overdo, or exaggerate, the physical characteristics of people or things in order to make a point.

When you study a cartoon, look for any characteristics that seem overdone or overblown. (Facial characteristics and clothing are some of the most commonly exaggerated characteristics.) Then, try to decide what point the cartoonist was trying to make through exaggeration.


Cartoonists often label objects or people to make it clear exactly what they stand for.

Watch out for the different labels that appear in a cartoon, and ask yourself why the cartoonist chose to label that particular person or object. Does the label make the meaning of the object more clear?


An analogy is a comparison between two unlike things that share some characteristics. By comparing a complex issue or situation with a more familiar one, cartoonists can help their readers see it in a different light.

After you’ve studied a cartoon for a while, try to decide what the cartoon’s main analogy is. What two situations does the cartoon compare? Once you understand the main analogy, decide if this comparison makes the cartoonist’s point more clear to you.


Irony is the difference between the ways things are and the way things should be, or the way things are expected to be. Cartoonists often use irony to express their opinion on an issue.

When you look at a cartoon, see if you can find any irony in the situation the cartoon depicts. If you can, think about what point the irony might be intended to emphasize. Does the irony help the cartoonist express his or her opinion more effectively?

Once you’ve identified the persuasive techniques that the cartoonist used, ask yourself:

  • What issue is this political cartoon about?
  • What is the cartoonist’s opinion on this issue?
  • What other opinion can you imagine another person having on this issue?
  • Did you find this cartoon persuasive? Why or why not?
  • What other techniques could the cartoonist have used to make this cartoon more persuasive?

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