The back wall of the Reading Room on the third floor of O'Neill Library consistently contains exhibits that showcase the wide-ranging materials the Boston College Libraries give us access to, which cover an enormous range of subject areas. These exhibits are dreamed up and created by BC’s subject librarians—officially, bibliographers. Recent exhibits have highlighted the Olympic games and types of data, but the exhibits can span multitudes of subjects.
The current exhibit in is entitled “Cartoons and Campaigns” and features political cartoons from the 19th century to our present election. The cartoons were curated and chosen by BC bibliographer Julia Hughes, who works with the political science department. Hughes wished to address the current election season, and found that political cartoons were a dynamic media type that have been present since our nation’s beginnings.
“Cartoons bring levity to presidential elections,” Hughes commented, but noted that they are also a legitimate way for us to evaluate our candidates. Since this year’s election is particularly polarizing, Hughes felt that an exposition of cartoons—both past and present—would spark conversation and thought without the level of controversy some other means might.
As previously mentioned, the cartoons span from the early 1800s to present day and depict candidates John Quincy Adams, William Jennings Bryant, Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and many more. Although they transverse decades and the social and economic issues and parties that come with them, the cartoons have more in common than one might imagine. Hughes’ favorite cartoon, for example, which spoofs JFK’s hair parallels cartoons we see today as well (the O’Neill exhibit features a New Yorker cover poking fun at Donald Trump’s hair). The cartoons also represent use of our First Amendment right to free speech throughout history and immortalize important thoughts and opinions through the centuries.
That being said, Hughes can find some disparities between the earlier and later cartoons. She pointed out that the first cartoon in the collection, which features Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams, has a bunch of speech bubbles and dialogue, whereas modern cartoons have little to no text. In recent years cartoons have also moved from print news to online news and social media and have taken on different forms, such as the meme.
Hughes’ ultimate goal is for the exhibit to spark discussion on BC’s campus about this election, but the exhibit also shows us how our politics and media have changed—and remained the same—over 200 years of U.S. history. The exhibit will remain in the Reading Room until December, so take the time out of your study sesh to check it out!