For the last day of my American Revolution class, I asked the students to send me a youtube clip, meme, or other pop culture reference to the revolution, founding fathers, etc. I organized the material so that we covered political comedy, political usage of the founders, memes about the founding fathers and sex, and so on. It was a really excellent way to wrap up a really excellent class. We thought about why contemporary Americans portray Ben Franklin so differently from George Washington. We also discussed why on earth someone would want to buy a Christmas-themed Martha Washington mug.
I was impressed by how few clips were repeated—my students spent time finding original material because they wanted a variety of entertainment. They were also very thoughtful. One of the only clips that multiple students sent was this Stephen Colbert bit about Sarah Palin. None of the students who chose that clip sent only that clip, however, and one took the time to find this npr piece. This led us to an absolutely brilliant discussion about the limits of history and our ability to process historical knowledge.
This activity was for an upper level class but as I reflected on the session later it struck me that this was the perfect kind of assignment for a survey class. It involves several skills I’ve worried about on this blog all year; the ability to use the internet for research, make connections to our current society, and the ability to analyze primary source material. The exercise is also fun and emphasizes what another pedagogy blog has recently talked about as the draw of the weird. And, it allows us to focus on analysis rather than content. As Patrick Iber just discussed here last week, media is a great way to help students connect to the material. Here is one way I’ve done it.
So, when I teach the survey in the fall I’m going to try having them find pop culture references to various historical topics.
I still don’t know how to interpret these G. Wash memes though: