Friday, August 16, 2019

Comic Almanacs

Last year we acquired a huge collection of 19th-century comic materials from the collector Joseph Rainone. With Joe's help, we have been busy digitizing an important batch of comic almanacs. Cheaply printed, and marketed to a middle and working-class audience, they supplemented practical information with pioneering comics. The results are a troubling mix of racism and misogyny typical of 19th-century humor, alongside moments of innovation in graphic story telling.

Within the almanacs, seemingly no ethnic group is spared, but the comics are particularly caustic toward African American, Irish, Chinese, and Jewish peoples. We recognize that digitizing these materials and making them widely available could potentially lead to their use in ways that are antithetical to our social and cultural values. We also recognize that making these available opens them to historical critique. While we are uncomfortable with some of the implications of digitizing these materials, we believe that a critical eye turned on the past creates insight that develops avenues for social change.

To judge for yourself, you can see the digital collection evolve at The Joseph Rainone Comic Collection. And, if you search the catalog, you can find them all for use in the Rauner Library reading room.

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