Date: April 5th, 2021 – June 26, 2022
Partner: Archives of Ontario
Project Members: Brooke Downey, Sophia Germond, Bronwyn Graham, Octavian Ion, Zihan Xu
The dawn of the 20th century saw a full-scale transformation of Canadian society. To keep up with current events and make sense of the many changes occurring, Canadian readers looked to newspapers. Articles were informative, and editorials were polite. But nothing conveyed the news of the day in a more entertaining way than editorial cartoons.
Today, we learn about this historical period by reading books or watching documentaries. But editorial cartoons can also tell us a lot about history and how people felt during Canada’s formative years. Wielding sharp pens and a wild imagination, editorial cartoonists were always ready to bring a humorous perspective to politics. These images not only made the news entertaining and accessible but also helped shape public opinion.
By looking closely at the representations we see in these cartoons, we can begin to understand whose values are privileged or ignored.
Picturing Politics: Cartoons, Caricature, and Propaganda takes a critical look at the image of Canadian history and identity crafted by early 20th century Canada editorial cartoons. Centered around the work of Newton McConnell, a well-known artist in his day who drew for newspapers like the Toronto Daily News and the Saturday Night, the exhibit contextualizes McConnell’s work for contemporary audiences and highlights the importance of critically examining images we encounter in the media today.
Planning for Picturing Politics began at the end of September 2020. Solidifying the exhibition thesis and developing the interpretive plan took three months. We completed our research and selected artifacts by January 2021 and began writing the exhibition script. Between February and March, the exhibition underwent several script and design iterations, and by the beginning of April, the website was complete. The online exhibit underwent user testings and heuristic evaluations in anticipation of its launch on April 5th, 2021 – which coincides with Archives Awareness Week 2021. To celebrate the launch, we held a cartoon captioning contest on social media. Visitors were invited to create new titles for cartoons from the exhibition and vote for their favourites. Further, public programming events, such as a panel discussion and a cartooning workshop, are scheduled for the beginning of May 2021 – which coincides with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.
While the exhibition’s development was truly a team effort, each member had a clearly defined role that deserves recognition and celebration. Sophia Germond, the Curatorial Lead, selected artifacts and conducted extensive research into the political events depicted in the cartoons. Brooke Downey, the Interpretive Lead, is responsible for the script and the engaging interpretive elements seen throughout the exhibit. Zihan Xu, the Website and Graphic Design Lead, built the website and created beautiful graphics and animations for both the exhibit and educational materials. Octavian Ion, the Education and Public Programs Lead, developed educational material for history and art teachers and coordinated the cartooning workshop and panel discussion. Finally, Bronwyn Graham, the Project Management Lead, coordinated with key stakeholders on behalf of the group and supported each team member to ensure we realized the exhibition on time and budget.
The exhibition development team behind Picturing Politics would like to thank all of our partners and sponsors, as well as the following individuals in particular for their time and support: Alison Little, Danielle Manning, and Jay Young from the Archives of Ontario; David Sprague and Nicole Dawkings from Toronto Public Library; Lee Lai, our Cartoonist in Residence; Panelists, Ardo Omer, David Roberston, and Cleopatria Peterson; Melody LaBonte and history students who contributed to the exhibit’s interpretation; Agnieszka Chalas, Camille-Mary Sharpe, and Haley Bryant, the Exhibition Project course instructors; and all who lent an eye to our exhibition in the early stages of its development.