While political cartoons aren’t as popular as they used to be, they are a vital part of America’s history. One university in our region is doing what it can to get people to grasp the importance of the cartoons and make them accessible to the whole world.
The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University was built to study and analyze the life and legacy of the 26th President.
Theodore Roosevelt spent a lot of his time in the Badlands of North Dakota and some would say it was like his second home. That’s why the university dedicated the center to him and created a digital library that holds items like letters, diaries, presidential papers, and photographs throughout Roosevelt’s life.
The university recently hired a cartoon archivist who will add to Roosevelt’s legacy, and he says it’s a position you can’t find anywhere else.
Theodore Roosevelt Center Project Manager Sharon Kilzer says, “In 2005 the university was continuing to look at how we could understand more deeply about the significance that Theodore Roosevelt’s times had here.”
In the course of doing that, the university had a well-known humanities scholar, Clay Jenkinson, to help develop what would be equivalent to a presidential library but in the digital realm. Theodore Roosevelt has no presidential library and his papers and history are scattered all over the nation.
Kilzer says “So instead of having to go to Boston and spend 2 or 3 days at Harvard and the Massachusetts Historical Society or 2 or 3 weeks in some cases depending on your research and then going to California to the Huntington Library and then to Chicago to the Newberry Library. You can now go to our website.”
To continue making this digital presidential library the most informative database, the university hired political archivist Rick Marschall. Political cartooning was in its heyday during Roosevelt’s era and Roosevelt was one of the most well-known presidents for political cartooning. These cartoons tell a bigger story than you might think.
DSU Political Professor Dr. Steven Doherty says, “They were a form of political communication that had to do with the ability to have the mass media reach people to resist corruption, bad government, and individuals that weren’t respecting the democratic process.”
DSU Political Archivist Rick Marschall says, “The political cartoon can legitimately tell you so much more than a chart or a graph or a Ph.D. thesis about what made people tick and why the issues were so important.”
Marschall who is said to be “America’s foremost authority on pop culture” has edited for Marvel comics, wrote for Disney, and even published over 70 books including Bully!: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt: that includes over 250 vintage political Cartoons of the president.
“The sky is almost the limit because there might be cartoons about issues about Roosevelt’s presidency or other jobs in post-presidency that might not have him as a figure but might explain a whole lot about his life, his effect, his influence,” says Marschall. “And no other college, institution, or library is making a specialty of this.”
Marschall says the university will eventually make all Roosevelt’s documents available for scholars worldwide through the database.
“I’m not aware of any university doing this. There are some colleges that have popular culture libraries and will include strips and comic books and maybe political cartoons, but I don’t know anywhere in the world that is making a dedicated effort to concentrate on political cartoons,” Marschall says.
He will be commenting, analyzing, and adding to the more than 3-thousand political cartoons at the Theodore Roosevelt Center.