Focus on Pop Culture: Understand the Past, Present, and Future of America

by Emma Simpson

Emma Simpson smiles
Emma Simpson

The best way to inform the present is by understanding the past. In Pop Culture, we look at American history through the lens of popular culture — culture transmitted to the masses through various forms of media, be it print, radio, film, or modern-day social media platforms. We explore how changes in technology and communication have affected societal values over time, and we question how such changes affect us in today’s world.

On an average day, students will first learn about a particular decade of American history and how popular culture was transmitted during that period of time. Through individual research, students then prepare to debate in our Pop Madness debate bracket, arguing which event, object, or individual in American history should be considered most pop-culturally significant. In the afternoons, students watch movies that align with specific decades of American history, such as Gone with the Wind, The Great Gatsby, A League of Their Own, and Grease. Then, the class analyzes how the culture of the time is reflected in the corresponding film.

Ava Steier carves her printing press stamp..

In class, we also take time to learn through hands-on activities. After learning about printed publications and early communication via newspapers, students carved their own “printing press” stamps to mimic how newspapers were traditionally made and distributed to the masses. Afterward, we toured the Student Publications Center on WKU’s campus. Our society has become increasingly dependent on virtual technology over time, and at the Student Publications Center, we learned how print media has adapted to rapidly evolving technologies.

Looking towards the future, there’s still a great deal in store! This coming Friday, we’ll explore the origins and influence of popular holidays in American culture — and try to celebrate them all in one day! Additionally, the class will begin to collaborate on creating a canvas mural to artistically convey the transformation of popular culture through history. This mural will highlight significant pop-cultural milestones in America over the decades, as well as the transition from the past into the modern day.

Students carve printing press stamps. From left to right: Nolen Teeter, Eddie Solberg-Hale, Claire Thornhill, and Gracyn Phillips.

Since the start of camp, students have been engaged in the learning process, embracing this unique look at history with great enthusiasm. They have jumped at the opportunity to understand American society and culture in new and interesting ways. I have confidence that the knowledge gained in Pop Culture will follow these students into the future, contributing, in some small way, to a society more well-informed of the past and present alike.

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