Pop Culture in World History

Pop Culture in World History

2016 Summer Institute for k-12 Teachers

Presenter Interviews

ORIAS interviewed each presenter about some of the most interesting points from their presentations. See below for description and post-presentation interviews. Additional resources are available in the sidebar.

Populace and Politics in Ancient Roman Cities
Eli Weaverdyck

American citizens have a lot of options for communicating with political leaders. We can vote, write letters, sign petitions, and participate in public demonstrations. Recently, Americans have been telling their leaders that they are angry with the status quo by supporting anti-establishment presidential candidates and forming protest movements like the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter. In Ancient Rome, ordinary people could also communicate with their leaders and they frequently did so, sometimes through voting but more often through mass demonstrations that took the form of marches, chants and sometimes riots. Unlike in modern America, however, limits on mass communication meant that these forms of collective action could only take place in cities, places where both political power and population were concentrated. This talk will explore the different ways in which urban populations took collective action to influence local and imperial governments across the Empire, from the Late Republican city of Rome to Late Antique Constantinople.

How did everyday Romans express their political will?

Presenting Culture through Traditional and Popular Narrative
Esther Clinton 

Folk literature, a broad category including fairy tales, myths, legends and even epic poetry, is made up of stories that have been told again and again. Many tales are told once or twice, but in order to be considered folk literature, a tale must be told repeatedly. Only those stories that are somehow meaningful to their tellers and audiences are repeated often enough to become folk literature. There are many ways a tale can be found to be meaningful; some are socially, culturally or psychologically meaningful, some are aesthetically beautiful, some are emotionally affecting, others are humorous or exciting. Many help people in specific define themselves as members of a city, state, region, nation, religion or ethnicity.

Folk literature, often referred to as the "lore" part of "folklore," also forms the basis of much popular culture. This presentation will present case studies of motifs in popular culture such as trickster figures and hero stories with important links to earlier narrative forms.

Presenting Culture through Traditional and Popular Narrative

Electric Guitars and Bollywood Beats: Popular Music in Indonesia

Jeremy Wallach

During his historic visit to Indonesia in 2010, President Barack Obama commented on the similarities between his country, the world's second largest democracy, and Indonesia, since 1998 the world's third largest: both are post-colonial, multicultural nations with national mottos that translate as "unity in diversity." But the similarities do not end there: both nations have successfully integrated their culturally diverse populations and instilled a deep sense of patriotism in part through the flourishing of a popular culture relatively free of direct state control. In Indonesia's case, this has been accomplished primarily through the vehicle of popular music, a cultural form that appeals across boundaries of class, religion, ethnicity, gender, and region.

This presentation explores three crucial "macrogenres" of Indonesian popular music: dangdut, pop, and underground, and investigates their relationships to Indonesian national identity. All three macrogenres owe their existence to musical and technological globalization as well as the thorough indigenization of outside influences by Indonesian musicians and fans. Rather than pass judgment on these developments from afar, the presentation is based on research on what Indonesians themselves say about these musics and their sense of national belonging.

Electric Guitars and Bollywood Beats: Popular Music in Indonesia

The Popular Cultures of South Asia: History, Meaning, and Context
Darren Zook 

While most people think of Bollywood when they think of popular culture in South Asia, Bollywood is just one part among many that create the pop culture of South Asia. Far from being a mere imitation of Western pop culture, South Asian pop culture not only has its own distinct way of producing pop culture in the present, but also has a surprisingly long history of producing forms of popular culture that served religious, social, and cultural purposes. Popular culture in South Asia isn't just fun—it's a window into everything that makes South Asia the wonderfully vibrant world that it is.

The Popular Cultures of South Asia: History, Meaning, and Context

The Social Life of Cities in the Modern Middle East and North Africa
Ahmed Kanna

The talk will discuss urban life in the contemporary Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, focusing on a few cases and discussing how these reflect larger themes in the recent and ongoing social and political history(-ies) of the region.

The Social Life of Cities in the Modern Middle East and North Africa

From Russia with Corpses, Dissidents, and Rock & Roll

Alice Underwood  

Pussy Riot, Putin on horseback, and other poisonous leftovers of communism: that about sums up Russia. But what's behind the stereotypes that define how a generation understands one of the biggest enigmas in world politics? In the Soviet period, socialist propaganda clashed with The Beatles, blue jeans, and fantasy novels, and it was partly subversive literature and punk rock that brought down the Soviet regime. Today, Putin's media monopoly ensures a tighter grip. This talk spans the spectrum from ideology to opposition in the Soviet era and today, giving the basics of how to talk about the big issues in recent Russian history and a sampling of pop culture to make that history pop.

From Russia with Corpses, Dissidents, and Rock & Roll

Che Guevara: The Global Icon between Politics and Consumerism
Jeremy Prestholdt 

Why do certain people become martyrs, heroes, villains, or commercial symbols? What meanings do such iconic figures have for diverse audiences? This lecture explores the phenomenon of the modern global icon through a reflection on the extraordinary political and commercial resonances of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara over the last fifty years.

Che Guevara: The Global Icon between Politics and Consumerism

Japanese Pop Culture in North America: From Woodblock Prints to acrobats to Manga and Anime
Frederick Schodt

This talk will explore how Japan's popular culture has long fascinated Americans. In the middle of the 19th Century, woodblock prints had an enormous influence on Western painting, especially Impressionism. But acrobats from Japan were also hugely popular, up until World War II. And in the last half of the 20th century and continuing until today, Japanese anime and manga have captured the fancy of young Americans. In fact, manga and anime are probably one of the main things that comes to mind when young Americans think of modern Japan today. Translated manga and anime are not only a big business in America, they are also one of the main drivers behind current interest in learning the Japanese language, and in learning about Japan, in general.

Japanese Pop Culture in North America: From Woodblock Prints to Acrobats to Manga and Anime

Modern technologies enable young students to observe and - in some ways - participate in pop culture from around the world. What is pop culture and where does it come from? How have technological changes altered the production and spread of popular culture?  Is modern pop culture actually more global than the popular culture of earlier periods? 

Attendees at this k-12 Summer Institute will learn about expressions of pop culture from the pre-modern era into the internet age. Teachers willl leave with new ideas about how to discuss and analyze pop culture with their students.

This program is open to k-12 teachers from any discipline. Professional development credit is available for teachers. There is no cost to attend. 

Image credits

Hits and Misses: Gender, beauty queens and violence in narratives of narcotráfico

Hits and Misses: Gender, beauty queens and violence in narratives of narcotráfico

María Luisa Ruiz  

Viudas negras, fantásticas, muñecas and jefas: who are the women in the world of Mexican narcotraffic? Many news accounts focus on the extraordinary nature of their stories, which often foreground their physical appearance, femininity, and innocence. For example, La Reina del Pacífico, Sandra Avila Beltrán who was accused of running one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico and Laura Zúniga, a young beauty queen arrested alongside her presumed narco boyfriend and six others, both captivated the media through their arrests, subsequent trials and incarcerations. In these and in many other stories about women in narcotraffic, physical descriptions often introduce the women and narrate and construct their characters in public discourse.

In this presentation I will analyze the representation of Mexican women in the world of the drug trade in news stories, telenovelas, and novels published in the last 15 years. I examine how narratives about women are constructed and what they suggest about cultural and social narratives in Mexico that contend with gender, ethnicity, national identities, and standards of beauty. Furthermore, I am interested in looking at aesthetic representation of race, class and gender in cultural processes and expressions in contemporary Mexico. Mediated by processes of cultural institutionalization, the contradictions between official and "popular" histories, the tensions found in cultural politics, and the material conditions which shape the production and readings of novels, news stories, telenovelas and films about women in the drug culture, I argue that these modes of cultural production both reinforce and challenge definitions of gender, sexuality, and identity.


On Roman Politics

What was mos maiorum?

A deep dive into analyzing politics in the Roman Republic in "Traditional Political Culture and the People's Role in the Roman Republic"

The Roman Empire. Or Republic. Or...Which Was It?: Crash Course World History #10

On Indonesian Rock Music

Rock Music in Indonesia, by Jeremy Wallach

Five Video Clips from Indonesia, by Jeremy Wallach

On Pop Culture in South Asia

"The story of India as told by a humble street snack", by Justin Rowlatt

"Young India, new hunger for identity", by Samrat Chakrabarti

"Bollywood: India's Film Industry by the Numbers", by Niall McCarthy

Indians React To American Pop Culture Stereotypes

On Cities in the Middle East and North Africa

"Dubai in a Jagged World", by Ahmed Kanna 

Urban Space in the Ottoman World - a series from the Ottoman History podcast

Russian "Winnie-the-Pooh Goes Visiting" with English subtitles


Brat (Brother with subtitles 1/8)

On Pop Culture in Mexico

The introduction to Latin American Popular Culture: An Introduction, edited by Beezley and Curcio-Nagy

A bibiography of useful sources, from Oxford Bibliographies