Representing the Data

The database is a useful tool to house and examine individual cartoons but it's primary function is to facilitate a broad distance reading of these cartoons over time. The easiest way to see trends, patterns and silences is to be able to visualize key aspects of the database. My first foray has been examining the keywords in Herblock’s cartoons from the 1940s. You can see the visualizations and some preliminary conclusions in the 1940s subsection. While those charts were done through a combination of PHP scripting to pull the information from the database and then manually making the charts, I plan to redo this decade using Gephi, an open source graph visualization and manipulation software, and also apply this method to other decades. When Paul Conrad and Frank Miller’s cartoons are entered into the database I will apply these methods to those cartoons as well. By examining each artists’ cartoons decade by decade against one another I will be able to determine if there are any similarities of differences between the cartoonists work and decade by decade.

Another visualization tool to examine the cartoons over time is a simple bar chart. The chart below shows the number of nuclear themed cartoons by decade by artist with Herblock’s work currently the only artist represented.

Even with only one artist some interesting facts emerge. Historian Paul Boyer in his seminal work, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, posited in his epilogue that the American public experienced cycles of nuclear awareness and apathy in the decades since Hiroshima. He briefly sketches out these cycles claiming that the periods from 1945-1947, 1954-1963, and 1980-1985 (when his book was originally published) were times of hyper nuclear awareness, with the intervening years being times of nuclear apathy. Boyer refers to the period from 1964-1979 as “The Big Sleep” where “the nuclear issue seems not so much to have been set aside as forcibly pushed to the background.” Boyer grants that the mid-to-late 1970s saw a minor resurgence of nuclear awareness when India tested their first nuclear device expanding the “Nuclear Club” to six. When we compare these dates to the chart above much of Boyer’s theory seems to hold true. What is interesting to note though, is the high spike in 1969. This year had the fifth largest number of nuclear themed cartoons and is right in the middle of Boyer’s “Big Sleep.” The year 1949, with the third largest number of cartoons, is also worth noting for the same reason. Beyond these anomalies the cycles Boyer describes seem to correlate to the graph’s data.1

Visualizations are not arguments but they are an extremely useful tool to begin examining the evidence in a targeted and specific manner either by representing the data in a manner expected or by highlighting where the data diverges from preconceived theories. In this case further investigation into the exact nature of the cartoons in 1949 and 1969 are warranted.

1 Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994) 352-368. Quote from page 359.