Politics in Graphic Detail

Exploring History through Political Cartoons

Editorial Method


Screenshot of "The Crowning Insult to Him Who Occupies the Presidential Chair" with draft annotations applied via the HSP Image Viewer. To learn more about how TEI markup was applied to historic political cartoons, read this blog post.

Politics in Graphic Detail is an end product of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Historic Images, New Technologies (HINT) project, a two-year project to enhance description and discovery of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s graphic materials, resulting in an update to HSP’s digital image viewer and an online digital history exhibit to demonstrate the new viewer’s capabilities, particularly the ability to apply XML markup directly to images.

Document Selection

The complexity of the images themselves, the symbolism utilized in them, and the close connection between image and text make political cartoons ideal for testing the capabilities of the improved HSP Image Viewer. Accordingly, HINT project staff surveyed and selected historic political cartoons, spanning from the 1750s through the 1910s, in HSP’s holdings. Staffers chose equal numbers of cartoons across six chronological eras, with preference given to cartoons that related to a subset of selected themes and topics.

Over 500 political cartoons were selected and digitized by HINT project staff. Staff applied XML markup to over 125 cartoons. Only cartoons that received XML markup are featured in this exhibit; all 500 political cartoons, however, can be viewed online at HSP’s Digital Library.


We provided more detailed descriptions, editorial annotations, and contextual materials (including links to biographies and other contextual content) to a subset of 30 "featured" cartoons selected by project staff and all cartoons used in HSP lesson plans.

We aimed to write brief biographies for all people and organizations associated with these featured and lesson plan cartoons and to add additional biographies associated with the remaining cartoons as time allowed.

We have also provided brief descriptions of symbols, such as Uncle Sam, that appear in featured or lesson plan cartoons.

We have included interpretive tags for all documents in the exhibit, allowing users to filter document lists by topic or search for cartoons on specific themes.

All documents in the exhibit are tagged with the names of people, organizations, and symbols that are depicted or referenced in the cartoon.

Encoding Overview

For each cartoon in the exhibit, we encoded a brief description summarizing the contents of the image and transcribed any text that appeared in the image itself. We also supplied label headings to identify which part of the image any transcribed text appears.

We followed the following transcription and encoding principles:

  • We preserved original spellings, typographical errors, missing text, and capitalization.
  • We regularized spacing between words and sentences to be a single space.
  • We did not encode line breaks, end-of-line hyphenation, visual rendition of layout (such as indentation or text alignment), or changes in font.

Within transcriptions, we encoded hypertext links to biographies, organization descriptions, and symbol descriptions only for featured cartoons and cartoons used in lesson plans.

Project staff encoded the selected cartoons in XML, following Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) P5 guidelines. We set out to conform to Best Practices for TEI in Libraries v. 3.0, Level 4, but ultimately chose to diverge from those recommendations in a handful of instances in order to better accommodate integration with HSP's Collective Access–based digital assets management system and image viewer as well as web implementation. Our encoded files were “roundtripped” through CollectiveAccess, spot-checked for errors upon export, uploaded to GitHub, and imported into a Drupal-based exhibit site. In a departure from previous HSP digital history projects, TEI files containing biographies and organization descriptions, as well as lists of symbols, topics, and document genres (formats) were generated from Collective Access rather than encoded using XML editing software.

All TEI files for the HINT project political cartoons are available on GitHub.