Students will gain a basic knowledge of what a political cartoon is, as opposed to a Sunday morning cartoon. Students will divide into groups of 3 to 4, and will be given a political cartoon as well as a Sunday cartoon. These cartoons will be from the present day, within the past few years, so students have some knowledge of the subject matter.
Vocabulary for this exercise: satire (elements of satire), exaggeration, stereotype, irony, parody, simian and caricature.
1. Describe what is going on in each cartoon in terms of the following: The subject matter, medium and art style.
2. Compare the two cartoons. How are they alike? How are they different?
3. Interpret the two cartoons. What is the message in each cartoon? Who is the intended audience (children, adults or everyone)? Is any symbolism used in the cartoon?
Each student group will then present the cartoons (on an overhead projector) and the group's findings to the class.
Students will gain a basic understanding of how the Irish would have been viewed in their own country (by the English) and in America. For this exercise students should gain their information visually, much in the same way the population in the late 19th century would have. Although literacy rates would have been around 80% at the time the Irish were coming into the country, those rates were much lower among immigrants. (Ireland's literacy rates were at around 50% in 1890 which was an all time high at the time). The readers of these newspapers would not have had an in depth knowledge of the Irish and their history, so I think it is preferable for students to lack this knowledge as well.
Suggestions for British political cartoons: Sir John Tenniel was a well known British political cartoonist and his work is found on-line through Google or Bing Images:
The Most Recently Discovered Wild Beast first published in the British magazine Judy 1881. Artist is unknown.
Irish Frankenstein by John Tenniel first published in Punch magazine May 20, 1882. (shown here)
The Irish Devil-Fish by John Tenniel first published in Punch magazine June 18, 1882
Suggestions for American political cartoons: Thomas Nast is a well known American political cartoonist and his work is found on-line through Google or Bing Images:
The Ignorant Vote by Thomas Nast first published on the cover of Harper's Weekly magazine 1876. (shown here)
The balance of trade with Great Britain seems to be still against us by W.A. Rogers. First published in Harper's Weekly in 1883.
The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things by Thomas Nast. First published on the cover of Harper's Weekly magazine September 2, 1871.
Students will be divided into groups of three to four students again. They will be given one British political cartoon and one American political carton. Each will be about the Irish.
Vocabulary for this exercise: satire (elements of satire), exaggeration, stereotype, irony, parody, simian and caricature.
1. Describe what is going on in each cartoon.
2. Describe the subject matter, medium and art style.
3. What evidence do you see of exaggeration, stereotype and caricature?Are any of the characters made to look simian? What would the use of simian characteristics imply?
4. Compare the two cartoons. How does each cartoon portray the Irish?Do you see more differences or similarities between the cartoons? List the differences and similarities.
5. Interpret the two cartoons. What is the message in each cartoon? What statement is the political cartoonist trying to make? Who is the intended audience?
Who were the Irish and why did they leave Ireland?
The Great Famine Museum, Hamden, CT. http://www.thegreathunger.org/Museum/ Artwork: http://ighm.nfshost.com/explore/inaugural-exhibition/
The works contained in the collection are available on-line along with brief artist biographies and in some cases artist commentary on the works. There is also information about the famine (1845 to 1850). Information and links can be found at the end of this paper.
"It must be thoroughly understood that we cannot feed the people . . . We can at best keep down prices where there is no regular market and prevent established dealers from raising prices much beyond fair price with ordinary profits."
Lord John Russell, British Prime Minister, 1847
"That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today. Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event." Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, June 1997
"Malone: Me father died of starvation in Ireland in the black 47.
Maybe you've heard of it.
Violet: The Famine?
Malone: No, the starvation. When a country is full o' food, and exporting it,
there can be no famine."
–George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1903
The museum, which opened last fall, has a large collection of information on the famine that occurred from 1845–52. This collection includes visual art, printed materials and artifacts. There is also an excellent resource of books on the Quinnipiac campus at Bernhard Library (not far from the museum). Bernhard Library also has some of the overflow of Art work that is not at the museum. The trip should give students an idea as to why the Irish were forced to leave their homeland. It will also help students to understand the famine and the British government's indifference to the starving Irish population.
This was a famine caused not only by potato blight and a population explosion, but it was also a human rights tragedy. Students will also come to understand how immigrants left their countries knowing they would probably never return. Information on the "coffin ships" which transported the Irish to America and Canada is also available at the museum along with Artist interpretations of the ships and the conditions of the voyage.
For historical comparison, the Civil War begins in 1861, the first gas powered automotive is invented in Germany in 1885, and Edison helped form the first electric company in 1882, a company which brought electric light to parts of Manhattan.
Why did the Irish leave Ireland for America?
What caused the famine? Why did it persist when there was plenty of food being shipped out of the country on regular basis?
What did they leave behind (property, family) and why did they come to this country?
What evidence do you see in the Museum's political cartoons and on-line as to how the Irish were viewed in Britain?
Describe what the passage on the coffin ships was like. What was their state of
health when they got here? Did the immigrants believe they would come back?
How much did the population of Ireland decrease between the famine and emigration?
While at the museum, or from resources on-line, students will choose three works of art, one from the time period of the famine, one political cartoon from the time period and one famine memorial from recent history. All three of these works will serve as research for the final activity. The sketch of the memorial will be used in the final project.
19th Century Artists whose work is at the museum: All of these artists created socially-conscious work during the period of the famine and/or the time period of the emigration from Ireland.
John Tenniel (Political Cartoonist) 1820 – 1914
Margaret Allen 1830−1914
Nicol Erskine (Political Cartoonist and painter) 1825 -1904
Daniel MacDonald 1821-53
Make quick sketches of each of the art works. They will then research and write about the works they have chosen.
Describe the artwork. What do you see? What medium is used, art style and size?
In what year was the artwork created? Who was the artist?
Analyze: How is the work organized in terms of composition? How does the artist use color and line?
Judge: What was the artist trying to explain? Do you think the artist was successful?
Can the artist serve as an accurate witness to history?
"I started from Cork, by the mail, for Skibbereen
And saw little until we came to Clonakilty, where
the coach stopped for breakfast; and here, for the
first time, the horrors of the poverty became visible,
in the vast number of famished poor, who flocked
around the coach to beg alms: amongst them was a
woman carrying in her arms the corpse of a fine
child, and making the most distressing appeal to the
passengers for aid to enable her to purchase a coffin and
bury her dear little baby. This horrible spectacle induced
me to make some inquiry about her, when I learned from t
he people of the hotel that each day brings dozens of such
applicants into the town."
– James Mahony The Illustrated London News, February 1847
In 1847 The Illustrated London News hired the illustrator James Mahony to document the famine both in writing and in sketches. Mahony was living in Cork at the time, Mahony's articles were titled Sketches in the West of Ireland. The Illustrated London News also hired other Artists (Ebenezer Landells, F.G. Smyth, Edmund Fitzpatrick and H. Smith) to document the famine as well. These other Artists are not as well known for their work. Mahony also wrote several articles (for The Illustrated London News) entitled Condition of Ireland: Illustration of the new Poor Law, four of these articles are accompanied by illustrations. Information about Mahony's work can be located on-line at the National Gallery of Ireland (other sources are also sited at the end of this paper as well).
Note: there are two well known illustrators, each of them named James Mahony, from this time period. The other illustrator spelled his name James Mahoney, lived in London and was responsible for illustrating some of Charles Dickens' works.
Other illustrations by Mahony about the famine:
A Boy and Girl at Cahera Searching for Potatoes (February 20, 1847)
Bridget O'Donnell and Her Children Searching for Potatoes (December 22 1849)
Bridget O'Donnell and Her Children (December 22, 1849)
Students will research James Mahony's work on-line and then answer the following questions:
Now that you know about the famine, do you think Mahony's work is as accurate as the news reporting we see today, bearing in mind that he would have adjusted his compositions to make them visually appealing and to get across his point? Explain why or why not.
Do you think Mahony was purposely trying to make the woman in Woman begging at Clonakilty look like a Madonna and child? Explain.
Considering the time period 1847 to 1850 and literacy rates being much lower than they are today, do you think the written word or the illustrations would have had more of an impact? Explain and support your argument.
Do you trust the news photos and video you see today to be accurate in reporting events? Explain why or why not.
Students will read the W.B. Yeats short story The Countess Cathleen O'Shea, which is set during the time of the famine.
The Countess Cathleen O'Shea was first published in 1892, in 1911 it was rewritten as a play and was performed at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. It also appears as a short story in several of Yeats' compendiums of Irish folklore and short stories. The language and subject matter of the story would be easily accessible to high school students.
The Countess Cathleen O'Shea was seen as being blatantly anti-English in its time. It is set during the famine in Ireland. Two of the devil's minions come to town and try to persuade the town's people to sell their souls for gold, so they can pay their rent, feed themselves and their families. Countess Cathleen hands out gold to all of the town's people to stop them from selling their souls. The devil's minions then rob the Countess Cathleen and she has no other recourse but to sell her own pristine soul in order to save the town's people. She then dies, in despair, and her soul escapes to heaven, having sacrificed herself to save others. The devil's henchmen are then relegated to a prison at the bottom of the "Blackwater".
Students will choose a section of the story and create either a political cartoon or an illustration to accompany the text.
Combining the knowledge from the previous lessons students will create either a political cartoon or an illustration to accompany a section of text from the Countess Cathleen O'Shea.
Possible suggestions for scenes to be illustrated:
• The starving poor lined up, in ragged clothes, to sell their souls.
• The Countess Cathleen's castle being robbed.
• The scene where the Countess sells her soul to the devil's henchmen.
• The devil's henchmen answering to the devil for losing the soul of the Countess.
These illustrations can be rendered with pencil and then inked in or they can also be drawn into the computer using the Wacom tablet. Once the image is in the computer it can then be shaded and altered with Photoshop. I often encourage students to mix traditional methods of drawing with the use of technology, using a scanner and a Wacom tablet.
When students are finished the illustrations and/or political cartoons can be hung on the walls. Students can then walk around and see if they can determine which part of the story each illustration or political cartoon represents. This opens the opportunity to discuss what was successful in each work and what could be improved.
Do the works convey the author's message? Explain.
Did each student effectively use line and tone in their work?
How do each of the illustrated moments compare?
Which pull-outs made for better illustrations? Why?
What was life like when the immigrants got to America? Five Points and the photos of Jacob Riis.
Living conditions in America were harsh for the immigrants. Housing for the immigrants in New York's Five Points would have been small, cramped and over crowded. Apartments had been repeatedly subdivided by landlords in an effort to make more money. The environment was also disease-ridden and crime infested, being home to number of gangs. Nevertheless, this housing was expensive, and families often took in boarders to help pay the high rent. The painting shown here, by George Caitlin, shows an artist's interpretation of Five Points in 1827. This is one of the more famous images of Five Points. The painting conveys the chaos and overcrowding. Five Points actually gained international notoriety for being diseased and crime-ridden. Slumming parties began visiting the neighborhood as early as the 1830s. It was visited by number of famous people during its nearly 70 years of existence. President Lincoln (who was a presidential candidate at the time) and a young Charles Dickens were among the many visitors to Five Points. Lincoln was actually brought to tears while visiting the children who lived at the Five Points House of Industry. The House of Industry housed poor and orphaned children. Nathaniel P. Willis, a writer and literary critic, visited Five Points in the 1840s. He was quoted as saying, "I did not dream that human beings, within reach of human aid, could be abandoned to the wretchedness which I there saw."
Riis began his photography work in around 1888, with a few of his friends. This would have been about 30 years after the first wave of Irish famine immigrants. By 1888 Five Points was home to a diverse population of immigrants, not just the Irish. German, Italian, English, Polish as well as African Americans who would have been migrating to North would have been living in Five Points. The photographs of Jacob Riis shown the conditions immigrants would have been enduring at the time. Riis was an immigrant himself who had lived in Five Points, he was born in Ribe Denmark in 1849. He is known for helping to shed light on the living conditions in the tenement buildings of New York.
As a visual arts teacher and a former art director these photos are impressive to me in terms of the mechanics of taking the photos. Riis would have been working with a large 4x5 box camera on a stand, that would have required glass plates and flash powder. Luckily the Germans had come out with a safer flasher powder the year Riis began taking these photos. This new flash powder was a magnesium powder ignited on a pan. Accidental fires or blinding were still possible due to its explosive properties. All of this would have been done in a very small space (see diagram on the right) up and down narrow staircases, before even considering the composition of the photograph. This makes an excellent comparison to the cameras of today and how quickly information can be captured and put on-line, compared with Riis' time.
Riis' photos would not have met the strict guidelines held by the Associated Press. "AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way." AP does allow for very minor changes in Photoshop such as the elimination of scratches or dust or the conversion of a color photo to greyscale.
Riis' pictures were often posed and or manipulated (in the dark room). Because photography was in its very early stages and was not thought of in the sense of an artistic medium this practice would not have been considered unusual.
Matthew Brady's photos of the Civil War were often posed. It wasn't possible to photograph the war as it took place, as a result of the photographic process (only four actual battle scenes exist). As a result, photos usually consisted of soldiers assembling, or pictures of the aftermath of a battle. Brady, and the other photographers who photographed the Civil War, often rearranged dead soldiers to get a better photo. Nevertheless, the photos are considered historical documentation.
Read two chapter's from Riis' book How the Other Half Lives.
Chapter 3: The Mixed Crowd: This chapter will give students an idea of the mix of immigrants who were living in Five Points at the time.
Chapter 6: The Bend: This chapter deals with the worst section of the slums. It also shows statistical information about the death rates.
Photos to be used (these are all easily found on-line through Google or Bing images):
Woman selling stale bread
Children ("Street Arabs") in sleeping quarters
"5 Cents a Spot," This photo (shown here) shows a room full of people bedding down for the night.
"Knee pants" at 45 cents a dozen — a Ludlow Street sweater shop
Hell's Kitchen and Sebastolpol.
Fighting tuberculosis on the roof.
Students will interpret and analyze some of Riis' photos. Some of the key questions students will need to answer may include:
Do you think Riis effectively conveys his message with his photos?
Explain why or why not.
Should these photos be considered to be accurate historical documents, if they were posed or manipulated?
How is Riis' manipulation different from what goes on today, in terms of Photoshop and advertising? The tabloid newspapers? Make sure you support what your point of view.
Does the manipulation change the documentation of the time period? Is it any less accurate than it would have been if Riis had not posed the subjects? Justify your point of view.
Having read the Riis chapters, which is more effective: his writing or his photos? Explain and support your argument.
In light of your knowledge about the famine, do you think these conditions would have been better (as bad as they were) than the conditions the Irish left behind? Explain and give examples.
How is each work organized in terms of its composition and the use of the gray scale?
The work of Arnold Genthe:
The works of the German immigrant photographer Arnold Genthe make an interesting tie-in to Jacob Riis' Five Points photos. Genthe was best known for photographing San Francisco's China Town at the beginning of the 20th Century and for his photos of the 1906 earthquake. There are approximately 200 photos currently in existence. Genthe's photos also present an opportunity for a discussion of Pictorialism in Photography.
Letters home and the memories of immigrant life.
The book the Journey of Hope: The Story of Irish Immigration to America contains first hand accounts of the Irish immigrants' experiences here in America. Some memories are contained within letters while others are written in the form of poetry. These letters and memories include not only hardship but also the success of the Irish immigrants. Many of the letters talk about how grateful they were to have the opportunity to come to the US.
Students will read a selection of letters from Journey of Hope: The Story of Irish Immigration to America. They will write at least one page reflecting on what they have learned about the immigrants in previous lessons and the letters from immigrants. The purpose of this assignment is to help students start to formulate ideas for memorials.
Questions to think about when writing:
Which part of the Irish immigrant's story did you find the most interesting?
The reasons why they left, the journey, Five Points . . . .
What part of the story do you think you'd like to capture in a sculpture?
Think back to choosing a moment from the Countess Cathleen O'Shea.
Did you feel you chose the best moment to illustrate?
What was successful and what could have been improved?
How will this affect what you choose this time?
Do you think any of the artist's you've looked will influence your memorial design?
If so which artist influenced you the most?
Explain why. What did you like about their work.
Would you show the success or struggles of the Irish Immigrant, or maybe both?
Creating a memorial to the Irish Immigrants.
Webster's Dictionary definition of the word memory.
1: serving to preserve remembrance or
2: of or relating memory
In 1995 Irish people around the world sought to remember Ireland's famine. This was the 150th anniversary of the start of the potato blight. The Irish government has an official Famine Committee which oversees programs to commemorate the Irish Immigrants coming to America, as opposed to commemorating the famine. Many of the memorials through out the world were created to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the famine. Below are links to various famine memorials and information about the artists who created them.
Look back at the information and sketches they have collected from the Famine Museum as well as their own written work from Activity Seven. Using this information develop three to four sketches of possible Irish Immigrant Memorials. It should be made clear to students that their memorials do not have to focus on the Great Famine. Student memorials can focus on any part of the Irish Immigrants journey. It is up to them to focus on a moment they feel strongly about, a moment that will convey their ideas.
This is a list of just some of the Famine Memorials that exist world-wide. For the purpose of this assignment I focused on the memorials here in the US, but there are also a number of memorials across the world.
The sculptures listed below also exist as small scale models at the Famine Museum. Ideally students would have had a chance to sketch and study these small scale models. The artists listed talk about their works and what they were trying to convey in their memorials.
Boston, Massachusetts, sculpture by Robert Shure http://www.publicartboston.com/content/boston-irish-famine-memorial
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sculpture by Glenna Goodacre http://www.irishmemorial.org/memorial.html
Westchester County, New York, sculpture by Eamonn O'Doherty http://ighm.nfshost.com/the-great-hunger-memorial-westchester-new-york/
Providence, Rhode Island, sculpture by Robert Shure http://www.robertshuresculptor.com/monuments-memorials-of-historic-events/
Materials: pencil, paper, Wacom Tablet, computer with Photoshop and a digital camera.
Students will create their own Irish Immigrant Memorial. They will start by creating three to four rough sketches, which we will critique as class. Each student will then choose the strongest sketch.
The final comp of the sculpture would be created in Photoshop using a Wacom Tablet. Students would be able to either scan in their rough sketch and work over it in Photoshop or trace over their sketch using the Wacom tablet.
Another option would be to use digital photography. Students can dress up and pose for pictures for the memorial. They would then work over these images to create their memorial. Photoshop has a number of filters that will allow for a metallic look (copper, bronze, silver and so on. Students can also mix metallic colors using the paint brush in Photoshop. Using a combination of layers, layer opacity, the paint brush and either the Wacom Tablet or their mouse students can give their work a sculptural appearance. The memorial should also include an object or person or building next to image to convey a sense of scale. (Approximately how large will the memorial be . . . 8 feet, as tall as the average house?)
When the memorials are finished students will review each memorial in a classroom critique and talk about what was successful in each work, as well as what could be improved. This also gives students an opportunity to talk about the technical aspects of their work. Students can share what techniques they used to create their memorial. Each student should also talk about where they could see their memorial being built.
Ideally it would be great to have students use their the comps of their memorials to go on to build small clay models that could then be glazed and fired.