Seeing History Through Music
The 1980s were a transformational decade in American history. From nuclear fears stoked by the Cold War to the rise of consumerism, AIDS, and the War on Drugs, political and social issues left an indelible mark on American culture. For their final project of the year, ninth grade students in Topics in Modern America (TMA) were assigned a song from the 1980s reflecting or commenting on the day’s issues. After studying the lyrics, they were asked to create an album cover for that song that visually captures the song’s commentary using only events and images from the decade.
The project requires students to research and develop a strong understanding of where and when their song was released in the trajectory of political and cultural events. Like an actual album cover, each project must have a front and back and include the name of the song, the name of the band or artist, the year it was released, the recording company, lyrics, and songwriter. Creativity, artistry, and connectivity to the day’s historical events are the key attributes of a successful project.
Unlike many school projects with strictly defined parameters and benchmarks, this project is unique because it is mainly freeform. Students have three weeks to create their album cover. The only homework for this class during that period is to listen to their song, study the event, and create. Students also have tremendous creative latitude in the medium they use to create their albums. “The concept for each cover must directly link the lyrics to the issue, conveying, either digitally or through hand-drawn art, the song’s message as intended by the band/artist that performed it,” says History Department Chair and TMA teacher John Beloff. While students also have a more traditional assessment at the end of the spring term, they relish the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. “This is one of the popular assessments, and it really showcases the creative and dynamic thinking of our students,” says John.