Embedded in the narrative above are guiding questions, contemporary connections, and lesson activities for each of the six topics within this curricular unit. Below you will find an opening lesson to launch this unit and introduce the field of cultural studies and the notion of culture as a tool of resistance. In this section you will also find a unit final project description.
For this opening lesson, post the following quotes around the classroom. Students participate in a gallery walk/chalk talk in which they use chart paper or post-it notes to write their reactions and questions in response to the quotes, as well as their responses to one another. This is meant to be the beginning of a discussion, first in writing, and then aloud. Use the course essential questions to guide the class discussion that follows the gallery walk/chalk talk.
“Culture is the way we make sense of [or] give meaning to the world.” (Stuart Hall)
“Cultures consist of the maps of meaning, the frameworks of intelligibility, the things which allow us to make sense of a world which exists, but is ambiguous as to its meaning until we’ve made sense of it.” (Stuart Hall)
“Culture is experience lived, experience interpreted, experience defined.” (Stuart Hall)
“The question of the circulation of meaning almost immediately involves the question of power. Who has the power? In what channels? To circulate which meanings? To who? But it’s why the issue of power can never be bracketed out from the question of representation.” (Stuart Hall)
“Popular culture is one of the sites where this struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged” (Stuart Hall)
“If you can understand the changes that are taking place in the culture of the society, you will have a very important strategic clue to understanding broader changes in society’s nature and how it is working.” (Hall, Stuart. Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History, 7)
“Ideas always arise in particular concrete historical locations which inflect the ideas in certain ways. The ideas arise in part because of the history.” (Hall, Stuart. Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History, 2)
“A sense of transformative possibility often manifests itself in cultural expressions long before it becomes fused into a political force. New signs and symbols spring up, new forms of speech emerge, new styles of dress become popular, and new kinds of songs take route, because the old ones no longer seem to suffice.” (Lipsitz, 55)
“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” (James Baldwin)
“I want to suggest two propositions. The first one is that the poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only the poets. That’s my first proposition. The second proposition is what I really want to get at tonight. And it sounds mystical, I think, in a country like ours and at a time like this when something awful is happening to a civilization — when it ceases to produce poets, and what is even more crucial, when it ceases in any way whatever to believe in the report that only poets can make.” (James Baldwin, “The Artist's Struggle for Integrity,” 1963)
“For culture is merely the vital effort through which each race and each individual by their experience and aspirations, their work and reflections, reconstruct a world which is filled with life, thought and passion and seems to thirst more than ever for justice, love and peace.” (Presence Africaine: The 1st International Conference of Negro Writers and Artists, “Modern Culture and Our Destiny,” 1956)
“Popular culture is energized in ‘moments of freedom,’ specific, local plays of power and flashes of collective imagination. It is ‘popular’ because it is the culture of ‘the people,’ the common folk, the poor and the powerless who make up the majority of society.” (Flores, Juan, From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture and Latino Identity, 17.)
“We need images of tomorrow; and our people need them more than most. Without an image of tomorrow, one is trapped by blind history, economics, and politics beyond our control. One is tied up in a web, in a net, with no way to struggle free. Only by having clear and vital images of the many alternatives, good and bad, of where we can go, will we have any control over the way we may actually get there in a reality tomorrow will bring all too quickly. And nothing gives such a profusion and richness of images of our tomorrow—however much they may need to be revised—as science fiction.” (Samuel Delaney, Starboard Wine: More Notes on the Language of Science Fiction, 35.)
“Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always towards justice. We believe this space is vital for any process of decolonization, for the decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive form there is, for it is where all other forms of decolonization are born. Once the imagination is unshackled, liberation is limitless.” (Adrienne Maree Brown & Walidah Imarisha)
“The surrealist not only taught me that any serious emotion toward freedom must begin in the mind, but they have also given us some of the most imaginative, expansive, and playful dreams of a New World I have ever known. Contrary to popular belief, surrealism is not an aesthetic doctrine but an international revolutionary movement concerned with the emancipation of thought.” (Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams, 5)
“The most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling.” (Robin Kelley, Freedom Dreams, 11)
Unit Final Project
The final project for this unit should allow students to not only analyze art throughout the 20th century, but also to choose an artform of their choice, be it visual art, music, dance, or fashion, and to create art that sends a political message. Teachers may choose whether the art students create is meant to reflect social movements of the past or present, or can give students the choice. Use unit essential questions to guide students in developing their final project. Create an opportunity for students to exhibit and present their artwork with an authentic audience, including their peers, school staff, and broader community.