Presidential Elections: Newspapers and Complex Text

Newspapers offer rich examples of complex text, and they often have features to help readers understand and put it into context. They offer headlines to scan for main ideas, dates for context, descriptions of related events, often on adjacent columns, and visual clues such as drawings, political cartoons, or photographs. Comparing two newspapers’ accounts of an event can help students understand point of view and word choice.

Chronicling America offers digitized historical newspaper pages from 1836-1922, including a time-saving list of Recommended Topics. In this election season, I was drawn to the pages about presidential elections. Here are a few particulars that caught my attention, with teaching ideas that came to mind. Please add your own ideas in the comments.

St. Paul daily globe, November 05, 1892

This front page from the St. Paul Daily Globe features a deceptively simple political cartoon, with spare drawings, a brief caption, and many labels. Digging into exactly what it means is not a simple task, though. As with all political cartoons, interpreting it requires an understanding of events from the time. Fortunately, the newspaper page itself offers some clues to help interpret and understand the cartoon. Scanning the headlines and other cartoons on the page offers some clues, including terms and dates to use when searching more information. To extend their thinking, students might compare the issues presented on the newspaper page with issues in current or recent elections.

The San Francisco call., November 07, 1900

The Houston daily post, Nov. 07, 1900









Help students understand point of view by comparing the visual representation of McKinley from the Houston Daily Post to the one from the San Francisco Call. Which newspaper supports him? Which opposes? What details in the images indicate the newspaper’s perspective? Read the “About” essay for each newspaper for more information.

The Washington times, June 20, 1912

Most students are familiar with the two main political parties, but fewer will have given much thought to other parties, let alone to other parties from past eras. This page from The Washington Times offers one perspective on Theodore Roosevelt and the creation of the Bull Moose Party. Compare headlines and articles from The Washington Herald and the Medford Mail Tribune for additional perspectives and details about the newly formed party.

What strategies do you suggest for using newspapers/teaching students how to read complex text using newspapers?


    September 19, 2012 at 1:08 am

    when that acoured the selection in the country the people will like that the favorite ,s person election but the people divided 4 groups:
    1 interesting to participant
    2-disparticipant and againest the rejim
    3-interesting participant but they have trouble in select
    4-this groups are doubet for participant and they have not any specific person or candidate alternative
    the all multimedia can help this groups for have a good select and particpant in election with awarences ,and the multimedia can to share between attitude and awarences

  2. Rich Cairn
    September 20, 2012 at 7:44 am

    These are real gems!
    As a long-time follower of politics-as-sport, these images are fascinating. As a someone who also tries to be conscientious about both history and electoral politics, these examples help illustrate beautifully to students critical issues from an earlier era.
    One of your best posts yet.

  3. Cheryl Lederle
    September 20, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Thanks for the kind words, Rich.

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