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Creating a Cartoon of the Philippine-American War

In this activity students create a political cartoon about one of five key historical understandings of the Philippine-American War. This activity and its materials are Smartboard-friendly but can be completed without a Smartboard. This activity is designed to accompany the film Savage Acts: Wars, Fairs, and Empire 1898-1904, but it can be adapted if the teacher does not have access to the film. To plan their cartoons, students will need scissors and glue or tape.


  • Students will examine how political cartoonists conveyed the arguments for or against the Philippine-American War and U.S. imperialism.  

  • Students will create their own political cartoons about key aspects of the Philippine-American War.  



Step 1: Students view Savage Acts. 

Step 2: (Optional: Use "Lessons in Looking: Imperialism Cartoons" as an introduction to the activity.) Tell students that they will be creating their own political cartoons using symbols and words from the early twentieth century to tell about key aspects of the Philippine-American War. Pass out Cartoon Symbols and Cartoon Words handouts and go over them with students to make sure that everyone understands their meanings.  

Step 3:  Divide students into at least five pairs or groups. Each pair or group will be working on one of five topics about the Philippine-American War.  

  • War in the Philippines fostered an anti-imperialist movement in the United States.

  • The sense of national greatness, industrial progress, and racial superiority that was celebrated at home at the 1893 World's Fair became the ideological basis for U.S. expansion overseas.

  • Led by Emilio Aguinaldo, Filipinos were fighting for an independent republic and viewed the U.S. as an extension of Spanish colonialism.  

  • Racial and cultural superiority (i.e., "the white man's burden") helped to justify U.S. intervention in the Philippines.

  • The desire to expand U.S. commercial and military power motivated U.S. intervention in the Philippines.  

Fold up copies of "Worksheet for Cartooning the Philippine-American War" and have each group choose one. Whichever one they choose will tell them which historical understanding they will be conveying in their cartoons. (Note: If more than 5 groups, then make sure there are duplicates of some planning worksheets so there are enough for each group.)  

Step 4: Have students plan a political cartoon that conveys their historical understanding on the planning worksheet. Students should use at least some of the cartoon objects and cartoon words included in the activity, though they may also add some of their own phrases and objects. Students should plan their cartoons with paper, scissors, glue and markers, cutting things apart and laying them out as they would like them to appear projected on the screen. Students should write their own captions for their cartoons.  

Step 5: If using Smartboard, students should mock up their cartoons on Smartboard so they can be conveyed to the entire group. If not using Smartboard, then students should create a finished draft of their cartoon large enough for the group to see. The cartoons must not indicate explicitly which historical understanding they are designed to illustrate.  

Step 6: On Smartboard or with posters, the whole class should view and analyze each cartoon. (The group that created the cartoon should not analyze its own cartoon.) Then the group should decide which cartoon matches with which historical understanding. (To facilitate the judging, write all of the historical understandings on the blackgboard or pass out a sheet with the 5 historical understandings.)  

Historical Context

During the United States' imperialist efforts at the turn of the twentieth century, cartoon illustrators used their canvases to convey the arguments for and against the Philippine-American War. Some artists highlighted the "primitive" civilization of the Filipinos as a reason for U.S. intervention, while others bemoaned the intervention as anti-democratic and un-American.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2009.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Creating a Cartoon of the Philippine-American War,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 3, 2023,

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