MUS 238: “Better than Wikipedia” Final Projects

Welcome to the final project website for the fall 2018 MUS 238: Popular Music and the Margins!

Course Description:

This course investigates popular music history from the perspective of those who have lived at the margins of U.S. society. It considers how they have created, consumed, and formed communities around popular music from the commercial success of rock and roll to today. Students in this class explore musics that have represented the perspectives of those who identify with various marginalized groups, including youth, girls, LGBTQ+, adolescent males, economically disadvantaged, and immigrants. They use primary and secondary sources to consider the multiple ways that marginal subjectivity has been communicated to mass audiences over the past sixty years, including the ways veiled musical tropes and coded language have been used to speak to insider audiences.

The class also examines the genres we study within the larger framework of the music industry to study how musical trends have been influenced by the successes and failures of styles created by vulnerable communities. By examining popular music through various social and cultural lenses, students extend historical perspective to today’s social movements and hot button issues.

Project Description and Goals:

Each student chose a musical performer, group, festival, performance, video, or recording to investigate and create a “Better than Wikipedia” Webpage. They conducted research to find primary and secondary sources that historicized their topic’s role within the broader framework of music history. They also used the techniques learned in this course to critically analyze and situate it within historical discussions about politics of age, race, gender, sexuality, mental health etc. Their pages are “better” than Wikipedia because they present their topics through the lens of a scholarly argument that is well informed, properly cited, and includes critical engagement with musical performances and historical narratives.

This project meets a variety of course goals including:

  • describing how popular music reflects and influences changes in gendered, sexual, racial, aged, and class identities and attitudes.
  • analyzing innovative, controversial, and sometimes pressing issues and hypothesizing future implications.
  • explaining the stakes and motives behind the controversies and debates that have surrounded popular music.
  • strengthening critical and conceptual reading skills by engaging with interdisciplinary primary and secondary source materials.
  • participating in a community of scholars by asking and answering critical questions.