‘Wilhelm in Wonderland’ — Germany in the Wars of Unification

  • Richard Scully
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


The political cartoons of Punch and other satirical journals are among the most visible surviving British representations of Germany from before the Great War. Serious academic works, educational websites and under-graduate textbooks alike are peppered with cartoons of the period, and the familiarity of readers with such images has meant that one can hardly imagine the dismissal of Bismarck by Wilhelm II without Sir John Tenniel’s ‘Dropping the Pilot’ (Figure 13.1); or the German invasion of Belgium without F. H. Townsend’s ‘Bravo, Belgium!’ (Figure 13.2).2 However, more often than not historians and other scholars have tended to treat cartoons as ‘mere illustrations’, rather than as important historical sources in their own right, and often have merely reproduced them in their books without comment.3 Relatively few studies have taken cartoons as their key focus, and interrogated either their meaning, the kinds of representations that they offer or the ways in which they were developed and produced. On the contrary, the idea that because of their highly partisan and satirical nature, cartoons are of limited value in serious historical scholarship, and are ‘inap-propriate for use by the historian’ has persisted until quite recently.4 In the past few years, however, there has been a growing recognition that study of what a given society finds humorous reveals a great deal about those who produced the joke, and also about those at whom the joke is directed.5


Cartoon Image Roman Emperor Modern Warfare French Wine British Bulldog 
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© Richard Scully 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Scully
    • 1
  1. 1.University of New EnglandAustralia

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