At UCLA, Political Cartoon Collection Gift Includes Provisions for Maintenance, Instruction

From the first known caricature of Abraham Lincoln to a Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoon satirizing the Tammany Hall political machine, the Michael and Susan Kahn Political Cartoon Collection, now at UCLA, contains thousands of individual images, periodicals, books, and ephemera dating back to the late 17th century.

Political cartoon satirizing New York’s infamous Tammany Hall long-time political machine. The image shows a man standing front and center holding his hands up in a halting motion with the letters “G.O.P.” across his shirt. A group of more than one dozen unsavory and corrupt politicians surround him, each bearing their name and title across their chest, wearing angel wings and wearing other symbols of their crimes.
“Tammany” by Rollin Kirby, original drawing published September 9, 1928 in the New York World.
Courtesy of Michael and Susan Kahn Political Cartoon Collection, UCLA Library Special Collections.

From the first known caricature of Abraham Lincoln to a Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoon satirizing the Tammany Hall political machine, the Michael and Susan Kahn Political Cartoon Collection contains thousands of individual images, periodicals, books, and ephemera dating back to the late 17th century. On September 19, the UCLA Libraries announced the receipt of this collection, itself valued at $4.2 million, along with additional monetary gifts from the Kahns to support accessioning and processing of the collection and a fund to develop a “10-year interdisciplinary education initiative for the study of graphic arts as political speech,” according to the press release.

The provenance of this collection dates to Michael Kahn’s senior year at UCLA as a political science major. “I was taking a course in Washington, DC, and [UCLA professor D.B. Hardeman] introduced me to a beautiful cartoon [drawn by Bernhard Gillam], which he said decided the 1884 presidential election,” Khan explained. “I had always had an interest in politics and loved the political cartoons of Paul Conrad in the LA Times when I was in college, so I decided to start collecting them.”

While the collection started out as a hobby, Kahn said he began pursuing items in earnest when he “became convinced that [political cartoons] were extremely important because they reflected the truth about political situations in real time and they spoke truth to power.” Kahn’s desire to preserve the archival record also played into his collection strategy. “I learned that sources of political cartoons, such as magazines and newspapers, were not being well preserved, so I decided to amass a significant collection for the purpose of preserving this important resource for future generations to understand history,” he told Library Journal. “Our buildings crumble, and our institutions change. We need to save important human artifacts.”

Some of Kahn’s favorite items in the collection include cartoons from Puck, Judge, and other magazines that portray the presidential elections from 1880–1912. “There is no better way to understand American presidential politics of that era than to study (and laugh with) those cartoons,” he said. Cartoons satirizing other historical leaders, such as Napoleon and members of the British royalty, also hold a special place for Kahn, who says these images are “amusing, irreverent, and incisive, and a perfect lens into English and European politics of the time.”



“At a time when political misinformation in the form of memes is proliferating online, this collection will help students develop critical thinking skills, and information and media literacy,” said Ginny Steel, the Norman and Armena Powell university librarian. The Kahns made their gift to fund the educational initiative in honor of Steel, who retires from her position heading the UCLA libraries at the end of 2023.

Christopher Gilman, digital curriculum program coordinator for the UCLA Library Digital Library Program, has dubbed the 10-year educational program the “Graphic Speech Bubble.” According to Gilman, “the program centers on the serious study of cartoons as a form of political expression, alongside other hybrid genres of image and verbal language such as comics, broadsides, posters, graphic literature, illuminated manuscripts and codices.” Items that present speech in a visual format offer “new and interesting challenges” for instructors, said Gilman, as university curricula “typically focus on the written and spoken word.”

Cover of El Ahuizote: Semanario Político de Caricaturas, a short-lived weekly political satire magazine published in México City, México during the Mexican Revolution, from 1911 to 1913. Each issue featured a color political cartoon on the cover with more cartoons inside. Zapata stands looking down, holding a revolver with bleeding skulls surrounding his feet. The skulls are labeled with the names of Mexican states. Above in the clouds, opponent Emilio Vázquez Gómez points to his forehead holding a piece of paper with text.
El Ahuizote: Semanario Político de Caricaturas, “El Problema de la Irrigación”, July 29, 1911.
Courtesy of Michael and Susan Kahn Political Cartoon Collection, UCLA Library Special Collections.

Gilman will assemble an interdisciplinary network from across the span of UCLA’s programs, bringing librarians, faculty, and graduate students together as a community knowledge group which will then “suggest topics and selections toward the curation of a digitized ‘teaching collection’ from the full physical collection,” he said. While political science and history are the most relevant disciplines to dive into this collection and develop the programmatic elements of the Graphic Speech Bubble, Gilman anticipates participation from art history, education, information studies, communications, sociology, and other UCLA departments.

LJ asked the Kahns about the rationale behind the decision to add monetary donations to their physical gift. “I studied what happened to many collections that did not come with preparation or money,” said Michael Kahn. “I fear that many, if not most, collectors do not do sufficient planning and preparatory work, and eventually their life’s work of collecting ends in a disappointing failure to make the best use of their collections.”

The Kahns worked with UCLA archivist Lisa Monhoff to create a complete inventory of the collection prior to its arrival at UCLA; this pre-work allowed for efficient integration of records into the special collections’ management software, “making the collection discoverable sooner than usual,” said Jennifer Osorio, director of UCLA Library Special Collections. “Because it is such a large collection, we have to do it in batches, so it will take some time to complete, but we hope to have the collection fully accessioned within a year or so,” she added.

As accessioning progresses, Gilman will utilize UCLA’s learning management system, Bruin Learn, “to embed digitized selections from the collection directly on course pages.” He will also utilize API tools developed by IIIF, “by which leading libraries, museums, and archives around the world are making their research-grade primary source collections freely available for use by anyone.” Gilman noted that students who learn these tools will be able to combine “traditional” subjects in the humanities and social sciences while developing technology-based skillsets useful in the 21st century.

In the meantime, he is working on plans to “kick off our programming in the first year with a series of participatory ‘making’ events enlisting noted cartoonists and book artists and using the Michael and Susan Kahn Collection as inspiration.”

Beyond the UCLA community, Osorio sees great potential for this collection to also be utilized as a teaching resource for K–12 educators. “We hope to engage with partners that can help us reach that community, either directly or through existing teacher training programs,” she told LJ. “The Michael and Susan Kahn collection will help us expand our understanding of political and visual culture and serve as a valuable resource for scholars, researchers and the public and we’re excited to get started.”

Initial digital images and further information about this collection can be found at

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing