Using Comics to Teach History

In the wake of New York Comic Con, I am examining the use of comics in education. You can see the whole series.

Previously I discussed the number of ways you can begin Educating Through Graphic Novels and the benefits for bringing them into your classroom. For example, Manga Classics have versions of Huckleberry Finn and Great Expectations or you can even turn to Manga Shakespeare to give new world flavor to the old world bard. If you’re looking for more STEM focus you can delve into The Manga Guide to Calculus or Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation. It is guaranteed to make those heavy topics more accessible. Some of the best comics though tell us of our history through compelling narrative and visuals. In fact, there’s no need to hide your comics inside your textbooks any longer as the comics themselves can be valuable for teaching civics and social studies as well as be historical artifacts themselves.

On History

m00eSome of the best comics though tell us of our past through compelling narrative and visuals. Some have even accompanied historic events. John Lewis, noted congressman and civil rights leader, credits The Montgomery Story comic with motivating him to become active and join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in working towards equality.

There are so many other wonderful historical comics to choose from across eras. Comics can be used as historic artifacts or as first-hand accounts of a historical narrative. Some interesting ones even give us a new perspective.

As I’ve said previously there’s the more dramatic Frank Miller’s 300 about the Spartans’ heroic stand at Thermopylae. There is also Art Spiegelman’s, Maus which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for it’s creative and raw depiction of the Holocaust with Jews as mice and Germans and Poles as cats and pigs. Here are some more in addition to those.

  • 61qPSDxSF9L._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale – The New York Time bestselling Hale series has intense and entertaining works that cover wars, and tragedies, and strife like the Donner Party and WWII.
  • The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi – Learn about the author’s life growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. There are stories of national political upheaval linked with personal struggles and family separation.
  • The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert – This is a mix of photographs and artwork documenting the trip of a French photographer to establish a field hospital in Afghanistan and the dangerous travails he met along the way.
  • American History Ink by McGraw-Hill Education – This historical comic series covers a variety of topics including the Underground Railroad, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, internment camps, and more.
  • Rebels: a Well-Regulated Militia by Brian Wood – The war for independence rages and the American colonists must battle to forge a new nation.
  • Pistolfist: Revolutionary Warrior by Earls, Flanery, & Guinaldo – The fictional brother of Crispus Attucks is seeking to avenge his family against the British. Several historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and Benedict Arnold play key roles.
  • Alan’s War: The Memories of G.I. Alan Cope by Emmanuel Guibert – This tells the graphic story of a young soldier who looked to serve his country in WWII and how that decision would change him.
  • Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen by Richard Minear and Nakazawa Keiji – This autobiography tells the true-life story of a manga artist who was born in Hiroshima in 1939 at age 6 watched most of his family and neighbors die from the aftermath of America’s first atomic strike.
  • Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm, Rich Tommaso – Another Negro League player turned sharecropper tells the story of the great pitcher Satchel Paige in the context of his world at the time.
  • The 9/11 Report by Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colón – This is simply a graphic adaption of the information contained in the congressional September 11th report.
  • The Big Lie by Rick Veitch – If you’re looking for a different perspective into the 9/11 attacks, this story will take you on a more convoluted journey that explores possible conspiracies surrounding the event.

Students could read multiple accounts of an event and think critically about which provides more reliable information. They can reference If you’re looking for historical comics for a certain era check out the history comics wiki or the Historical Comics site. You can also find more by checking out Comics in Education.

“Words and pictures are yin and yang. Married, they produce a progeny more interesting than either parent.”
― Dr. Seuss


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