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A Clean Sweep for the New Year: Exploring a Cartoon from the Turn of the Twentieth Century

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A new year traditionally brings the promise of new opportunity, with many people making resolutions to change for the better. People also often reflect on the past year as they await the new one.

The New Boy, January 1, 1905

This cartoon, published as the front cover of the magazine Puck, draws on the many metaphors about the New Year offering a clean start. A young boy in uniform and cap is sweeping an office clean of papers. Although many of the specific images in the cartoon may be unfamiliar to students, the labels on most of them offer a clear starting point for researching the context and the details the artist included.

Students might begin with a careful study of the drawing, noting as many details as possible, including the caption and other labels as well as the visual components. One approach is to divide the cartoon into quadrants and examine each section separately, recording details in the “Observe” column of the primary source analysis tool. Students might work with a partner or compare notes to ensure a thorough examination of the cartoon. Guide students to careful observations by asking questions selected from the Teacher’s Guide Analyzing Political Cartoons.

During the observation, students might automatically begin reflecting on what they see and interpreting the cartoon. Direct them to record those ideas in the “Reflect” column of the primary source analysis tool. Again, select questions from the Teacher’s Guide Analyzing Political Cartoons to encourage students to generate and test hypotheses about the cartoon. They may record questions as they arise in the “Question” column on the primary source analysis tool.

Teaching Ideas

To extend the learning, teachers may have students:

  • Complete one of the follow-up activities from the Teacher’s Guide Analyzing Political Cartoons.
  • Research historic newspapers in Chronicling America to see what information is available about the people or events named in the cartoon.
  • Extend the research by browsing all front pages from January 1, 1905 in Chronicling America.
  • Consider the past year. If students were to plan a cartoon with the caption “The New Boy, January 1, 2012,” what would they include in the image? Why?

Additional Resources

Visit the Library of Congress Teachers page to find a primary source set containing more political cartoons.

Primary Source Set: Political Cartoons in U.S. History

Search this blog for more ideas about teaching with political cartoons, including Political Cartoons: Seriously Funny and Theodore Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Truce: A Political Cartoon.

Let us know in the comments how you have used political cartoons to connect to past events.


  1. I use political cartoons as a daily hook and love the opportunity to use Socratic seminar techniques to explore history topics. I am looking forward to using the teaching Ideas and resources, especially, the Primary Source Set.

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