Caricatures

Biblio-file: Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
January 31, 2010

The controversy over the publication of caricatures of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 and the U.S. Supreme Court's recent review of Hillary: The Movie have generated renewed discussion about the limits of political free speech and the power of the image to provoke, incite, and anger. But the image—especially the cartoon—and controversy have long gone hand in hand.

Karikatur, with Uncle Sam illustration by Ramiz Gökçe, volume 14, Turkey, 1942

 Karikatur, with Uncle Sam illustration by Ramiz Gökçe, volume 14, Turkey, 1942. Courtesy Duke Libraries

The radical political movements of the last two centuries spurred the creation of popular newspapers and magazines specializing in satirical caricatures and cartoons. These publications challenged the authorities with their unflattering depictions of public figures and lampooning of current events, in a format designed to appeal to both literate and illiterate citizens. Publishers and artists ran the risk of being imprisoned or having their presses seized for libel or for inciting revolt.

Duke holds a large collection of periodicals documenting the development of visual political satire worldwide. Recent additions have included rare and controversial magazines such as Le Canard Sauvage (The Wild Duck), an early-twentieth-century French weekly featuring anarchist writings by Alfred Jarry and cartoons by Felix Vallotton and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen; The Tomahawk, an 1860s British competitor of the famous humor magazine Punch, which included double-page color cartoons by Matt Morgan; Der Groyser Kibetser (The Big Stick), a Yiddish political-satire weekly published in New York from 1909 to 1927, with illustrious literary contributors and illustrators; and issues from the World War II years of Karikatur, a popular Turkish magazine featuring caricatures of world leaders.

These and additional periodicals from Cuba, South America, Europe, and elsewhere make it possible for students and scholars to study particular political controversies in detail, and to compare satirical strategies, artistic styles, political messages, and target audiences in cartoons from around the globe.

An exhibition of the library's illustrated holdings of political satire will open in February in conjunction with the Nasher Museum of Art exhibition "Lines of Attack: Conflicts in Caricature."