One hundred and fifty years ago the United States was embroiled in a bitter civil war. The war resulted in more than 600,000 military and civilian casualties, wide-scale destruction, and a transformation in all aspects of American life. This website offers a critical examination of the popular coverage of the Civil War through its focus on selected editorial cartoons that appeared in Harper’s Weekly magazine between 1860 and 1865. The cartoons provided pointed, and often satirical, commentary on the conduct of the war and its impact on the country.
Only about a decade old, illustrated weekly magazines such as Harper’s Weekly were the “new media” of the mid-nineteenth century. At the height of its circulation, Harper’s reached hundreds of thousands of people living in the United States, who read the magazine on the battlefield and in the privacy of their homes. The cartoons present the war from the perspective of the North. They also openly express the racial, regional, and gender stereotypes of their day. Although some images still have the ability to cause pain to viewers today, we include them not to endorse their messages but to present a more comprehensive picture of widely shared cultural attitudes in the North.
This website was created to accompany an exhibition at the Anderson Gallery, Drake University. The exhibition and website are the creation of a fall 2013 curatorial seminar in the Department of Art and Design.
Exhibition curators: Tori Carter, Jacci Dewdney, Betsy Hart, Pamela Hayek, Hannah Heintze, Ana Hurtado, Megan Lawrence, Maura Lyons, Laura Mizell, Karly O’Connor, Lily Prinsen, and Josh Tobin. Website designer and research assistance: Maria Hanson. Voice of the website: John Graham.
Thanks to the following organizations that contributed funding to the project: Humanities Iowa, a state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities; the State Historical Society, Inc.; and Drake University’s Office of the Provost. The Harper’s cartoons are reproduced courtesy of HarpWeek, LLC, due to the generosity of John Adler.
Thanks also to John Fender, John Graham, Carla Herling, Jerel Krueger, James McNab, Lauren Oliver, Chris Purcell, and Heather Skeens for assisting with the production of the website.
Please note that the views and opinions expressed on this website do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities Iowa or the National Endowment for the Humanities.