Is History on Repeat? More Cartoons from John Stampone

The idea that history repeats itself is a popular concept. Whether expressed as “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” or “there’s nothing new under the sun,” this concept has found countless different expressions for itself. While it may be a cliche, it is a very real part of working in an archive. The collection could be from 10, 50, or 100 years ago, and I still find myself surprised by how resonant the materials can be with the present. The cartoons of John Stampone is one such case.

Stampone, a Maryland native having lived in Baltimore, Silver Spring, and Olney, drew cartoons that explored foundational concepts of America and the American labor movement (as has been previously discussed with regards to his Thanksgiving cartoons) as well as exploring the critical issues of his day. While looking through his work, I was struck by how some of the images and critiques he makes seem more relevant than ever in 2017.

One such image is a cartoon for the AFL-CIO News celebrating Labor Day in 1978. The cartoon depicts, in the foreground, a hand engraved with the words “U.S. Labor Day.” The hand is holding a radiant gemstone with the words “Human rights” emanating from it. This hand is juxtaposed against an image of the Kremlin the background out of which a hand rises clutching a ball and chain inscribed with “oppression” on it. The stark binary between the darkened Kremlin and the brilliant gem of human rights really speaks to the growing tensions from the 2016 Presidential Election.

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The second cartoon that stood out for me is from 1975, also from the AFL-CIO News. It depicts a man, labeled “deepening recession,” hiding around a corner with a club labeled “social, racial tensions” as a pain of men one labeled “human rights” and the other “human relations” begin to turn the corner. The cartoon argues that human rights and relations are threatened by a recession that creates conflicts between classes and races. Coming out of our most recent recession and the political events that have followed, perhaps reaching its climax with the 2016 election, this cartoon remains relevant speaking to our current economic, social, and racial conflicts, almost 50 years later.

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The AFL-CIO News is fully digitized online – check it out!

Benjamin Bradley is a second year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. He works in the Labor Collections at UMD’s Special Collections and University Archives. You can also find him over in McKeldin Library where he is the GA for Electronic Resources.

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