Comic Books in the History Classroom
Jul 9 2011
Rwany Sibaja is a PhD student of History at George Mason University and a Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for History and New Media. He previously taught high school history (World and AP European) and Spanish, later working as a K-12 curriculum program manager in NC.
The summer of 2011 offers moviegoers several productions based on superheroes and comic books. Thor. X-Men: First Class. Green Lantern. Captain America: The First Avenger. Cowboys & Aliens. Hollywood has discovered that comic book movies are more than a passing fad, resonating with audiences who connect with the humanity behind the costumes. As a result, comic book-based films have grown over the last decade—both in production and ticket sales— with many more movies to be released over the next few years (The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-man, Iron Man 3, and The Avengers to name a few.)
Teachers can use the popularity of superhero films to expand students’ understanding of American culture. University of Idaho professor of history Katherine Aiken explored the use of comic books to teach U.S. history in a recent essay published by the Organization of American Historians’ Magazine of History (Vol.24, no.2-April 2010). Aiken concluded that because comic books reflect larger social issues in U.S. society, they can help students examine how U.S. artists addressed issues of race, gender, nationalism, and conflict in popular publications.
Some educational publishers, for their part, have produced illustrated history stories and graphic novels to capture younger readers’ attention, such as tales from the Revolutionary War. While history-based graphic novels are a useful supplement to course materials, studying comic books provides a different focus in the classroom. Analyzing U.S. popular culture can help teachers and students contextualize the origins of comic books, explore how events in history shaped the evolution of this medium, and assess the ability of comics to address larger social concerns.