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Published on October 19, 2020

And the Research Goes On: Thomas Nast’s Cartoons

On Thursday, October, 15, 2020, I attended an online program hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society, titled “Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons,” with Fiona Halloran and Pat Bagely.

I thoroughly enjoyed the talk! Pat Bagley was amazing and shared a lot of things I did not know about the nature of modern political cartooning - a dying art form. He is quite the personality as I imagine most political cartoonists are.

Dr. Halloran helped me get a better idea of what Nast was like as a person. Her book was a biography spanning his career, but during the talk she shared some things that really helped humanize him for me. She mentioned that Nast got extremely nervous presenting when he toured the country first in 1873 then again towards the end of his career when he left Harpers Weekly. She also explained that towards the end of his career Nast’s cartooning style worsened due to a medical condition in his arm and shoulder, something I suspected but was never able to confirm. Her presentation made me realize just how much I learned about Nast and the elections from 1860-1900.

I imagine I took a lot more from this presentation than most having worked with so many of Nast’s cartoons. Although she did not get a chance to answer my question during the presentation, she messaged me afterwards and stated that Nast’s cartoons most certainly played a role in the outcome of presidential elections. I feel like I now have some form of validation and that my paper is not just my opinion.

"Boss Tweed" by Thomas Nast.  Public Domain

Written by Andrew Coburn, Senior History Major