Political Cartoons—and Political Cartoonists—at the Library Company

Wilkinson comic

This fall I am delighted to lead a seminar that will highlight the extraordinary early American visual culture records at the Library Company of Philadelphia. In many respects, “Graphic Material: Early American Political Cartoons and Propaganda” takes its shape from a graduate seminar with an attendance cap to ensure an intimate, hands-on workshop. I’ll curate primary and secondary source materials that highlight the rich and textured history of political propaganda from the colonial period through the American Civil War.

But make no mistake: this isn’t your typical seminar.

Instead of looking at print or digital facsimiles of primary source records, participants will have first-hand access to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century engravings, woodcuts, and ephemera contained in the Library Company’s Political Cartoon, African Americana, and John A. McAllister collections. These are the same collection items that scholars cite in the articles and books that shape the disciplines of history, literary studies, political science, and American Studies. Moreover, because seminars are hosted at the Library Company, we can spread historical documents across tables in the reading room, project supplemental material onto a massive screen, and host (included) dinners in the library’s Logan Room.

But what makes this seminar different from previous offerings at the Library Company? Well, first off, I’m leading it, and, as the resident “innovator,” you can expect surprises. Foremost, I won’t be alone.

I am thrilled to announce that several special guests from Philadelphia cartoonist community will help us to understand the profession as it exists today and to place historical records in conversation with contemporary cartoons.

Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Signe Wilkinson, whose art you might know from the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, and Washington Post, will bookend the seminar, joining us for discussions of late-antebellum and Civil War political propaganda (scheduled for Tuesday, October 23 and Tuesday, December 4).

Dwayne Booth, perhaps better known by his nom de plume “Mr. Fish,” will participate in an election week session devoted to colonial and revolutionary visual materials (Thursday, November 8).

Finally, as we turn to the early-national period, we will welcome the award-winning, Philadelphia artist and educator Jamar Nicholas (Tuesday, November 20).

As we navigate the treacherous waters of election-year politics, my hope is that this seminar will help participants to better understand, historicize, and deconstruct the political iconography that suffuses are smartphones, televisions, and newspapers. I couldn’t have asked for a more generous, thoughtful, and accomplished slate of guests, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where this seminar leads.

Space is limited, but we still have spots open. If you aren’t already a member, registration includes a one-year share of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which carries a host of benefits, such as access to members-only receptions.

Register now or visit our website to learn more about LCP Seminars.

Dr. Will Fenton

Director of Scholarly Innovation