Heroes, Rebels and Rock Stars: Cultural Icons in Modern Europe

Open House Presentation

Heather Perry, History, UNC Charlotte

Many American students may be familiar with Edvard Munch’s iconic painting entitled, The Scream, and others might recognize the opening notes of Ludwig von Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.  Nearly everyone has heard of Frankenstein, the monster in Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel.  But, can they explain why these pieces of culture were so fundamentally tied to certain eras in European history?  Or how they reflect important changes in European society, technology, and even politics?  Popular ideas and opinions about immigration, nationalism, and the boundaries between science and religion are tied to each of these cultural products.  This CTI Seminar examines the history Europe since 1760 through cultural icons: celebrities, art, music, and literature.

Art is eternal – or so the saying goes.  Long after military leaders or governmental figures have departed from the planet, cultural images and sounds continue to ripple through the ages.  Rather than focus on political leaders or military generals, in this seminar participants will analyze how various iconic cultural pieces and events can be employed in the classroom for 1) deepening student understanding of important political and social events in European history and 2) honing analytical and writing skills in student learning.  From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the British band, The Clash, participants will spend the first third of the seminar examining how cultural products reflect the significant moments in Europe’s history since the Enlightenment.  In the second third of the seminar, participants will identify those figures or pieces – paintings, buildings, songs, poems, or even scandalous events – which might best interest their particular students and serve as useful bridges to the past in their own courses.  Using both scholarly and media resources they will learn strategies for using these icons in the classroom both to impart knowledge but also to help students analyze how these cultural products are fundamentally reflective of “bigger” historical events.  In the final third of the seminar, participants will work up lesson plans which combine well-known cultural icons with short readings and analytical exercises which are designed to help students get beyond simply “judging the culture of the past as good or bad” and closer to understanding why it took the forms and shapes that it did.   Topics include:  Frankenstein, punk music, Impressionism, Realism, poetry, opera, theatre, Munch, Nietzsche, physics, Romanticism, imperialism, Freud, architecture, anti-semitism, political cartoons, painting, philosophy, sculpture, Communism, and film.

Brooke Wilson, West Mecklenburg High School