Teaching @ UVa: Student Mixtape Project

This semester I taught a 100-level self-designed course titled Gender and Race in Popular Music in the Department of Studies in Women and Gender at University of Virginia. This course explores the relationship between popular music, gender, and race, with a focus on, but not excluded to, popular music emerged in 20th and 21st century in the United States. We spent the first half of the semester discussing historical (pre-1960s) musical genres and practices starting with blackface minstrelsy, pre-WWII racially segregated genres such as hillbilly music and race music. Then we spent some time talking about rhythm and blues of the 1940s and the emergence of rock and roll in the 1950s. We then spent about a month talking about the discursively rich genres of rock music and hip hop and ended with music subcultures such as punk (hardcore, Riot Grrrrl, and homocore), dance music in the South Asian diaspora, and queer musical representations like the rock musical film Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Throughout the semester, we read scholarly articles that explore issues of gender and race through examining popular musical material. In class, we discussed how notions of gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity shape the American experience of pop music, and vice versa. We had a blast examining mainstream and below-visible media in class exhausting our YouTube playback capability.

I designed a “mixtape project” as the final project of the course. Working in pairs, the students came up with a theme and a list of songs related to the theme. The assignment asked the students to critically engage with primary sources (they had the option of choosing to focus on either music recordings or music videos) while considering how these audio-visual materials resonate with course concepts. The final product of the project consists of an in-class presentation, a “mixtape” in the form of a CD-R or a list of video links, and an essay that comments on the historical and social aspects of the project theme and selected media material.

Some students focused their research on the career of particular artists: Jay-Z, Ani DiFranco, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliot were among their favorites. Some other student groups concentrated on musical genres such as gangster rap, protest songs, cover songs, indie music, girl groups, and boy bands, etc., and local music scenes in Seattle and Austin. Finally, a few groups based their project theme on identity categories such as women rock musicians and minority female musicians, or organized their music using concepts such as crossover and “hidden transcript” (James C. Scott cited by Tricia Rose). The breadth of these projects was impressive, and the depth of some was astounding.

For the next few posts on YellowBuzz, I will feature a series of student “mixtape projects.” I will select some of the best passages out of their papers while including related media whenever possible.

I'm very proud of my SWAG 144 class. Great work, everyone!

No comments: