Syllabus—US Popular Music History

Golden Age of Popular Music

US Popular Music History

Michael J. Kramer, History and American Studies, Northwestern University

Winter Quarter 2016

Course Info

HISTORY 300-0-32 (25050)


nesmit/Th, 12:30-1:50pm,

occasional Friday discussion sections (see schedule)


Lectures: University Hall 101

Discussion sections: see Caesar

Class Website



This course examines the historical significance of popular music in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present. No musical training is necessary to enroll in the course, however we will think about how to analyze musical sound as “texts,” which is to say as historical material. We will also focus on contexts: the cultural, social, political, and economic dimensions of genres ranging from Tin Pan Alley to blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, country, folk, soul, rock, disco, hip-hop, and classical music. We will explore popular music as an art form, a business, an activity of identity-making, a phenomenon encompassing both conflict and consensus, and a key area in the life of Americans. Students are expected to attend lectures, discussion sections, and complete all reading, listening, and viewing assignments. There will be four essay assignments in the course, plus a number of potential quizzes and shorter assignments.


Dr. Michael J. Kramer

History and American Studies

Office hours: Tu/Th, 2-3 pm, Harris Hall 212, or by appointment

Teaching Assistant

Sean Harvey

Office hours: Th, 10 am–noon, Bergson Cafe (NU Library Cafe).


  • Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman, American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MP3, 4th edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). ISBN: 9780199859115. **Note: be sure to purchase the proper edition and to save the code to download the MP3 audio files from the Oxford University Press website. The MP3 files will also be available over Canvas, accessible on your own computer or any NU computer on campus through and/or**
  • David Brackett, The Pop, Rock, and Soul Reader: Histories and Debates, 3rd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). ISBN: 9780199811700. **Note: be sure to purchase the proper edition.**
  • Additional readings, viewings, listenings on Canvas.


WEEK 1                                      

·      Waterman and Starr, American Popular Music (hereafter APM), Ch. 1, 5-44


·      Michael J. Kramer, “The Multitrack Model: Cultural History and the Interdisciplinary Study of Popular Music,” in Music and History: Bridging the Disciplines, edited by Jeffrey H. Jackson and Stanley C. Pelkey (University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 220-255.


Listening (from APM MP3 tracks):

·      Jean Ritchie, “Barbary Allen”; Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers, “Soldier’s Joy”; Tommy Jarrell, “Soldier’s Joy”

·      Dink Roberts, “Coo Coo”

·      Lightning Washington and fellow convicts, “Long John”

·      Mississippi John Hurt, “Stagolee”

·      Carlos Gardel, “La Cumparsita”; Francisco Canaro y Quintero Pirincho, “La Cumparsita”

·      AfroCuba de Mantanzas, “Enique Nigue”

·      Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, “La Negra”

·      Optional: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bobby Womack, Brothers and Sisters Gospel Choir, Bob Dylan and the Band (1974), U2, Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, Dave Matthews Band, Bryan Ferry, Bob Dylan (Unplugged, 1994), Neil Young, Richie Havens (Grace of the Sun version), Richie Havens (Sings Beatles and Dylan version), Pickin’ in Hendrix, Eddie Vedder and the Million Dollar Bashers, “All Along the Watchtower”


Tu 1/5 Introduction
Th 1/7 Introduction — The Multitrack Model: Approaches to Popular Music Studies

·      APM, Ch. 2, 45-72.

·      WT Lhamon, “Dancing for Eels at Catherine Market,” in Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), 1-55.

·     From PRSR:

    • Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones, from Blues People: The Negro Experience in White America and the Music that Developed from It

·      Jody Rosen, “The 2013 VMAs Were Dominated by Miley’s Minstrel Show,” Vulture, 26 August 2013,

·      Brittney Cooper, “The first rule of blackface: It’s not hard to understand, everyone,” Salon, 29 October 2013,

·      Tressie McMillan Cottom, “When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland,” tressiemc, 27 August 2013,

·      Aimee Levitt, “A tale of two minstrel shows,” Chicago Reader, 17 December 2013,


·      Thomas Hampson (written by Stephen Foster), “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair”

·      Joan Morris and William Bolcom, “After the Ball”


·      Stephen Foster.

·      American Experience Stephen Foster website,


Tu 1/12 The Troubling Legacy of the Racial Masquerade: The Minstrel Show
Th 1/14 The Empire of Sentimentalism: In the Parlor with Stephen Foster, In the Street with John Philip Sousa
Fr 1/15 Discussion sections.
This week. Reading:

·      APM, Ch. 3, 73-104, Ch. 4, 104-124.

·      Brackett, The Pop, Rock, Soul Reader (hereafter PRSR),

o   1. Irving Berlin in Tin Pan Alley, Charles Hamm, “Irving Berlin and the Crucible of God”

o   2. Technology, the Dawn of Modern Popular Music, and the “King of Jazz,” Paul Whiteman and Mary Margaret McBride, “On Wax”

o   3. Big Band Swing Music: Race and Power in the Music Business, Marvin Freedman, “Black Music’s on Top; White Jazz Stagnant”

o   Irving Kolodin, “The Dance Band Business: A Study in Black and White”


·      Dick Hyman, “Maple Leaf Rag”

·      James Reese Europe, “Castle House Rag”

·      Original Dixieland Band, “Tiger Rag

·      Creole Jazz Band,  “Dipper Mouth Blues”

·      Duke Ellington, “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”

·      Louis Armstrong, “West End Blues”

·      Gene Austin, “My Blue Heaven”

·      Al Jolson, “April Showers”

·      Ben Selvin, “Blue Skies” (Irving Berlin)

·      Josephine Baker, “Blue Skies” (Irving Berlin)

·      Bing Crosby, “Beautiful Dreamer”

·      Paul Whiteman, “Rhapsody in Blue” (George Gershwin)

·      Ethel Merman (written by George Gerswhin), “I Got Rhythm”


Tu 1/19 Syncopatin’ Modernity: Jazz In “The Jazz Age”
Th 1/21 No Class
This week. Reading:

·      APM, Ch. 5, 125-154, Ch 6, 155-198.

·      PRSR:

o   5. Hillbilly and Race Music, Crichton, “Thar’s Gold in Them Hillbillies”

o   6. Blues People and the Classic Blues, LeRoi Jones, from Blues People: The Negro Experience in White America and the Music that Developed from It

o   7. The Empress of the Blues, Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff, from Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It

o   8. At the Crossroads with Son House, Jerry Gilbert, “Son House: Living King of Delta”

·      Michael J. Kramer, “Tunesmithing History: Tin Pan Alley Imitation for Historical Inquiry,” Culture Rover, 12 November 2015.


·      Bessie Smith (with Louis Armstrong, written by WC Handy), “St Louis Blues”

·      Charley Patten, “Tom Rushen Blues”

·      Blind Lemon Jefferson, “That Black Snake Moan”

·      Robert Johnson, “Cross Road Blues”

·      Jimmie Rodgers, “Blue Yodel No. 2,” “Dreaming with Tears in My Eyes”

·      Carter Family, “Gospel Ship”

·      Golden Gate Quartet, “The Sun Didn’t Shine”

·      Fletcher Henderson, “Wrappin’ It Up”

·      Benny Goodman, “Taking a Chance on Love”

·      Duke Ellington, “Caravan”

·      Count Basie, “One O’Clock Jump”

·      Glenn Miller, “In the Mood”

·      Charlie Parker, “A Night in Tunisia”

·      Charlie Parker, “Koko”

·      Dizzy Gillespie, “Salt Peanuts”

·      Dizzy Gillespie, “Manteca”



·      Jazz, dir. Ken Burns, Episodes 5-8

Tu 1/28 Standardization: Tin Pan Alley
Th 1/30  Anti-Standardization: Race Records, Hillbilly Music, and the Emergence of Niche Markets
Fr 1/31 Discussion sections
Mo 2/1, midnight. Assignment 1. Upload to Canvas.
This week Reading:

·      APM, Ch 7, 199-239; Ch. 8, selection, 240-277

·      PRSR:

o   10. Jumpin’ the Blues with Louis Jordan, Down Beat, “Bands Dug by the Beat: Louis Jordan”, Arnold Shaw, from Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues

o   13. Country Music as Folk Music, Country Music as Novelty, Billboard, “American Folk Tunes: Cowboy and Hillbilly Tunes and Tunesters”; Newsweek, “Corn of Plenty”

o   16. “The House that Ruth Brown Built,” Ruth Brown (with Andrew Yule), from Miss Rhythm: The Autobiography of Ruth Brown, Rhythm and Blues Legend

o   17. Ray Charles, or, When Saturday Night Mixed It Up with Sunday Morning, Ray Charles and David Ritz, from Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story

o   18. Jerry Wexler: A Life in R&B, Jerry Wexler and David Ritz, from Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music

o   20. From Rhythm and Blues to Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Songs of Chuck Berry; Norman Jopling, “Chuck Berry: Rock Lives!”

o   21. Little Richard: Boldly Going Where No Man Had Gone Before, Charles White, from The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock

o   22. Elvis Presley, Sam Phillips, and Rockabilly, Elizabeth Kaye, “Sam Phillips Interview”

o   24. The Chicago Defender Defends Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rob Roy, “Bias Against ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Latest Bombshell in Dixie”



·      Mills Brothers, “Paper Doll”

·      Roy Acuff, “Great Speckled Bird”

·      Sons of the Pioneers, “Cool Water”

·      Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, “New San Antonio Rose”

·      Xavier Cugat, “Brazil”

·      Machito and His Afro-Cubans, “Nagüe”

·      Frank Sinatra and the Axel Stordahl, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face)”

·      Nat “King” Cole, “Nature Boy”

·      Perez Prado, “Mambo No. 5”

·      Rosemary Clooney, “Mambo Italiano”

·      Louis Jordan, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie”

·      Charles Brown and His Band, “Black Night”

·      Muddy Waters, “Hoochie Coochie Man”

·      Ruth Brown, “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean”; Big Mama Thornton, “Hound Dog”

·      Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, “It’s Mighty Dark to Travel”

·      Hank Thompson, “The Wild Side of Life”; Kitty Wells, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels”

·      Hank Williams, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”; “Hey, Good Lookin'”

·      Big Joe Turner, “Shake, Rattle, Roll”; Bill Haley and His Comets, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”

·      The Chords, “Sh-Boom”; The Crew Cuts, “Sh-Boom”; Junior Parker, “Mystery Train”; Elvis Presley, “Mystery Train”

·      Chuck Berry, “Maybellene”

·      Little Richard, “Long Tall Sally”

·      Elvis Presley, “Don’t Be Cruel”

·      Ritchie Valens, “La Bamba”

·      The Coasters, “Charlie Brown”


Tu 2/2 A New Deal Fusion and a Wartime Refusal – Swinging’ the Machine: Swing and the 1930s // A Night in Tunisia: Bebop in the 1940s
Th 2/4 Everybody Eats When They Come to My House: Postwar Reconfigurations // Roll Over Beethoven: The Rise of Rock ‘n’ Roll
This week. Reading:

·      APM, Ch. 9, selection, 284-315; Ch. 10, selection, 339-347

·      PRSR:

o   25. The Music Industry Fight Against Rock ‘n’ Roll: Dick Clark’s Teen-Pop Empire and the Payola Scandal, Peter Bunzel, “Music Biz Goes Round and Round: It Comes Out Clarkola”; New York Age, “Mr. Clark and Colored Payola”

o   26. The Brill Building and the Girl Groups, Charlotte Greig, from Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Girl Groups from the 50s On

o   27. From Surf to Smile, Richard Cromelin, “Interview with Brian Wilson”

o   29. Bringing It All Back Home: Dylan at Newport, Irwin Silber, “Newport Folk Festival, 1965,” Paul Nelson, “Newport Folk Festival, 1965”

o   32. No Town Like Motown, Harvey Kubernik, “Berry Gordy: A Conversation with Mr. Motown”

o   36. The Beatles, the “British Invasion,” and Cultural Respectability, William Mann, “What Songs the Beatles Sang . . .,” Theodore Strongin, “Musicologically . . .”

o   37. A Hard Day’s Night and Beatlemania, Andrew Sarris, “Bravo Beatles!,” Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun”



·      The Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”

·      The Ronettes (Phil Spector), “Be My Baby; The Crystals, “Uptown”

·      The Temptations, “My Girl”

·      The Supremes, “You Can’t Hurry Love”

·      The Kingston Trio, “Tom Dooley”

·      Bob Dylan, “Talkin’ New York”; “The Times They Are A-Changin'”; “Mr. Tambourine Man”

·      Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”

·      The Beatles, “Please Please Me”; “A Hard Day’s Night”; “Yesterday”; “Eleanor Rigby”

·      The Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction”

Tu 2/9 Twistin’: Teenage Symphonies, Hitsville USA, and More from the Early 60s
Th 2/11 Revivals and Invasions: Dylan and the Folk Revival; The Beatles and the “British Invasion”
Fr 2/12 Discussion sections.
Mo 2/15, midnight. Assignment 2. Upload to Canvas.
This week. Reading:

·      APM, Ch. 10, 322-339, 348-367

·      PRSR:

o   31. From R&B to Soul, Jerry Wexler and David Ritz, from Rhythm and the Blues: A Life in American Music

o   35. Aretha Franklin Earns Respect, Phyl Garland, “Aretha Franklin-‘Sister Soul’: Eclipsed Singer Gains New Heights”

o   38. England Swings, and the Beatles Evolve on Revolver and Sgt. Pepper; Richard Goldstein, “Pop Eye: On ‘Revolver'”; Jack Kroll, “It’s Getting Better . . .”

o   39. The British Art School Blues, Ray Coleman, “Rebels with a Beat”

o   40. The Stones versus the Beatles, Ellen Willis, “Records: Rock, Etc.-the Big Ones”

o   41. If You’re Goin’ to San Francisco, Ralph J. Gleason, “Dead Like Live Thunder”

o   42. The Kozmic Blues of Janis Joplin, Nat Hentoff, “We Look at Our Parents and . . .”

o   43. Jimi Hendrix and the Electronic Guitar, Bob Dawbarn, “Second Dimension: Jimi Hendrix in Action”

o   46. Festivals: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, J. R. Young, “Review of Various Artists, Woodstock”, George Paul Csicsery, “Altamont, California, December 6, 1969”

o   49. Sly Stone: “The Myth of Staggerlee,” Greil Marcus, from Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music



·      Sam Cooke, “You Send Me,” “A Change is Gonna Come”

·      James Brown, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”

·      Aretha Franklin, “Respect”; Otis Redding, “Respect”; The Vagrants, “Respect”

·      The Beatles, “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

·      The Beatles, “Revolution”

·      The Beatles, “Back in the USSR”

·      The Rolling Stones, “Street Fighting Man”

·      Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”

·      Janis Joplin, “Piece of My Heart”

·      Grateful Dead, “St. Stephen,”; “Turn on Your Love Light”; “Uncle John’s Band”

·      The Doors, “Break on Through”

·      The Temptations, “Cloud Nine”

·      Jimi Hendrix, “Star Spangled Banner” and “Purple Haze” (Live at Woodstock)

·      Cream, “Crossroads”

·      Credence Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son”

·      Sly and the Family Stone, “Everyday People”; “Don’t Call Me Nigga, Whitey”


Optional Viewing:

·      Woodstock

·      Gimme Shelter

Tu 2/16 Respect: Soul and Civil Rights in the Sixties
Th 2/18 Are You Experienced? Rock and the Youth Counterculture
This week. Reading:

·      APM, Ch. 11, 368-407, Ch. 12, 408-444

·      PRSR:

o   47. The Sound of Autobiography: Singer-Songwriters, Carole King, Robert Windeler, “Carole King: ‘You Can Get to Know Me through My Music’

o   52. Heavy Metal Meets the Counterculture, John Mendelsohn, “Review of Led Zeppelin,” Ed Kelleher, “Black Sabbath Don’t Scare Nobody”

o   57. Get On Up Disco, Andrew Kopkind, “The Dialectic of Disco: Gay Music Goes Straight”

o   51. Parliament Drops the Bomb, W. A. Brower, “George Clinton: Ultimate Liberator of Constipated Notions”

o   56. The Global Phenomenon of Reggae, Robert Hilburn, “Third-World Theme of Bob Marley”

o   58. Punk: The Sound of Criticism?, James Wolcott, “A Conservative Impulse in the New Rock Underground”

o   70. Hip-Hop, Don’t Stop, Robert Ford, Jr. , “B-Beats Bombarding Bronx: Mobile DJ Starts Something with Oldie R&B Disks,” Robert Ford, Jr. , “Jive Talking N.Y. DJs Rapping Away in Black Discos”

o   71. “The Music Is a Mirror,” Harry Allen, “Hip Hop Madness: From Def Jams to Cold Lampin’, Rap Is Our Music,” Carol Cooper, “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ but Trouble”



·      Carole King, “It’s Too Late”; Stevie Wonder, “Superstition”; Elton John, “Crocodile Rock”; Barry White, “Love’s Theme”; John Denver, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”; The Eagles, “Hotel California”

·      Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”; Santana, “Oye Como Va”

·      Donna Summer, “Bad Girls”; Chic, “Good Times”

·      Townes Van Zandt, “Pancho and Lefty”

·      Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, “Pedro Navaja”

·      Sex Pistols, “God Save the Queen”

·      The Clash, “1977”

·      Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”

·      Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message”


Tu 2/23 Mainstream and Margin in the 1970s: AOR, Funk, Punk, Disco, and More / Two Turntables and a Microphone: The Rise of Hip Hop
Th 2/25 Guest Lecture: Sean Harvey
Fr 2/26 Discussion sections.
Mo 2/29, midnight. Assignment 3. Upload to Canvas.
This week. Reading:

·      APM, Ch 13, 445-490; Ch 14, 491-565; Ch 15, 542-565

·      PRSR:

o   62. Thriller Begets the “King of Pop”, Greg Tate, “I’m White! What’s Wrong with Michael Jackson”, Daryl Easlea, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough: Sweden Remembers the Times with Michael Jackson”

o   63. Madonna and the Performance of Identity, Camille Paglia, “Venus of the Radio Waves”

o   65. R&B in the 1980s: To Cross Over or Not to Cross Over?, Nelson George, from The Death of Rhythm and Blues

o   72. Where Rap and Heavy Metal Converge, Jon Pareles, “There’s a New Sound in Pop Music: Bigotry”

o   73. Hip-Hop into the 1990s: Gangstas, Fly Girls, and the Big Bling-Bling, J. D. Considine, “Fear of a Rap Planet”

o   79. Grunge Turns to Scrunge, Eric Weisbard, “Over and Out: Indie Rock Values in the Age of Alternative Million Sellers”

o   80. “We Are the World”?, George Lipsitz, “Immigration and Assimilation: Rai, Reggae, and Bhangramuffin”

o   82. Public Policy and Pop Music History Collide, Jenny Toomey, “Empire of the Air”

o   85. Country in the Post-Urban Cowboy Era, Mark Cooper, “Garth Brooks: Meet Nashville’s New Breed Of Generously Stetsoned Crooner”

o   86. Performance as Simulacrum, Boy Bands, and Other 21st-Century Epiphanies, Joshua Clover, “Jukebox Culture: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Boy Band,” Nina C. Ayoub, “Idol Pursuits”

o   88. The End of History, the Mass-Marketing of Trivia, and a World of Copies without Originals, Jay Babcock, “The Kids Aren’t All Right They’re Amazing,” Robert Everett-Green, “Ruled by Frankenmusic,” Eliot Van Buskirk, “Why File Sharing Will Save Hollywood, Music”



·      The Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”

·      Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

·      Van Halen, “Jump”

·      Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer”

·      Michael Jackson, “Thriller”

·      Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA”

·      Madonna, “Like a Virgin”

·      Prince, “When Doves Cry”

·      U2, “In the Name of Love”

·      Run DMC with Aerosmith, “Walk This Way”

·      Public Enemy, “Night of the Living Baseheads”

·      Snoop Doggy Dogg, “What’s My Name?”

·      Queen Latifah, “UNITY”

·      Dead Kennedys, “Holiday in Cambodia”

·      Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

·      Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”

·      Radiohead, “Bodysnatchers”

·      Taylor Swift, “Our Song,” “Love Story,” “You Belong With Me,” “Mean,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” “Welcome to New York,” “Shake It Off”


Tu 3/1 Video Killed the Radio Star/Indie Nation: The 1980s/1990s
Th 3/3 MP3: Compression or Expansion? Pop Music in the New Millennium
Fi 3/4 Discussion sections.
Mo 3/14, midnight. Final assignment. Upload to Canvas.


Attendance: Students are expected to attend all lectures and discussion sections. If a student misses more than three meetings, the instructor reserves the right to issue a failing grade.

Reading: This course features roughly 100-150 pages of reading a week in a textbook and additional readings.

Listening/Viewing: Multimedia is an essential part of this course for obvious reasons. Be sure to complete the listening and viewing assignments as well as your readings. In a course on popular music, it would be a shame to privilege reading over other modes of communication, expression, argument, and experience!

Assignments: Students must complete all assignments to pass the course. These are designed to be fun, but they are also demanding—and perhaps for some, frustrating. Please be aware that historical analysis and musical analysis are not a science in the strict sense of the term. There is no purely objective, machine-like way to develop interpretation within the traditions of historical or musical meaning-making. This means there is not some perfectly standardized way to evaluate your work. There is, however, a craft to this mode of thinking, writing, and reasoning. It is that craft that we will use evaluations to help you access, participate in, and through which you can improve your capabilities. Your task is to develop effective and compelling evidence-based arguments informed by historical awareness and thinking. These will often work by applying your judgment and assessment to consider how things connect or contrast to each other: how do different or similar songs, performers, genres, historical moments, geographic locations, etc., relate to each other? And most importantly, why?

Rather than test the breadth of your absorption of course materials, the assignments test your ability to wield knowledge of US popular music in order to mount effective and compelling evidence-based arguments. If this mode of evaluation is not to your tastes, I recommend that you do not take the course.

Rubric: Your assignments must be well written in order to communicate a convincing, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by our description of and analysis of meaning in materials drawn from the course (and other sources if needed). We evaluate assignments based on the following rubric: (1) presence of an articulated argument, (2) presence of evidence, (3) compelling and precise connection of evidence to argument by comparing and contrasting details and their significance, and (4) logical flow and grace of prose: an effective opening introduction; the presence of clear topic sentences; the presence of effective transitions from one part of the assignment to the next; a compelling conclusion.

If you have any questions about evaluation in the course geared at helping you access and develop the craft of historical analysis, please speak with the instructor or teaching assistant.

Please submit your essay through the course Canvas website.

Late/Extension Policy: Please communicate with your instructor or teaching assistant ahead of time if you require an extension for an essay. Reasonable, occasional requests will be granted, but may involve a slight deduction in points to be fair to students who complete work on time. Late assignments without extensions granted will lose 1/4 point per day.

Your assignments must be well written in order to communicate a convincing, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by our description of and analysis of meaning in materials drawn from the course (and other sources if needed). We evaluate assignments based on the following rubric: (1) presence of an articulated argument, (2) presence of evidence, (3) compelling and precise connection of evidence to argument by comparing and contrasting details and their significance, and (4) logical flow and grace of prose: an effective opening introduction; the presence of clear topic sentences; the presence of effective transitions from one part of the assignment to the next; a compelling conclusion.

If you have any questions about evaluation in the course geared at helping you access and develop the craft of historical analysis, please speak with the instructor or teaching assistant.

Quizzes/Short Assignments: There may be a number of quizzes and shorter assignments in this course. They will be evaluated as part of your participation grade.

History Department Writing Center: The History Department Writing Center is available for students working on your assignments. It is not merely for students having difficulty with their writing (we all have difficulty with our writing for it is difficult to write well), but also for students at any level or stage of the writing process: reading evidence, “brainstorming,” generating an argument, connecting argument to evidence, structuring paragraphs and transitions, and improving style and tone. Students wishing to contact the History Department Writing Center can email

Academic Integrity: All Weinberg College and Northwestern policies concerning plagiarism and academic dishonesty are strictly enforced in this course. The instructor also reserves the right to assign a failing grade for the course if a student is found to have violated college or university policy concerning academic integrity. See for more details.

Special Needs: Students with special needs and disabilities that have been declared and documented through the Northwestern Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) should meet with the instructor to discuss any specific accommodations. For further information, see the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) website:


Assignment 1.

Write an imitation of a Tin Pan Alley song. You will not be evaluated for the quality of your hit-making songwriting skills, but rather for your explanation of how and why your imitation resembles a Tin Pan Alley standard. Have fun with your imitation, try to pay attention to the themes, styles, rhymes, and tones of the quintessential Tin Pan Alley song. To accompany your Tin Pan Alley imitation, in 500 words or less, explain precisely and compellingly how your lyric relates to the content and context of the Tin Pan Alley song as a historical phenomenon. You might even use the moments when your imitation does not seem accurate to you as opportunities to explain what the Tin Pan Alley song was all about in its time, location, and context. Be sure to justify the choices you made in relation to specific examples and aspects of Tin Pan Alley songwriting and its historical context from lecture, textbook, reader, and/or audio selections.

Refer to assignment rubric under Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines.

Assignment 2.

You have been asked by a recording label to write an essay and construct an annotated Spotify playlist of 5-10 songs revolving around a particular artist, group, producer, record label, or other topic between 1840 and 1950 (we will review how to construct a Spotify playlist in class; you may create an actual playlist or, if for some reason you are not able to do so, you may simply create an annotated playlist in a text/word processing document). Your assignment is to create the annotated playlist in Canvas (1-3 sentences of description and justification of selection per track), and follow it with an analytic essay of up to 1000 words. The recording company insists that your essay must offer a compelling, precise, and clear evidence-based argument as to the historical significance of your profile topic. In other words, the “suits” (the executives) want to know what their customers can learn about the larger story of US history from studying the story you will tell in your annotated playlist and analytic essay.s

Refer to assignment rubric under Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines. 

Assignment 3.

In 750 words approximately, review a live performance of a current musical event by connecting what you experience to a particular theme from the course. If you are unable to attend a live performance, you may review a recording, documentary film about pop music, or a pop music-related movie in connection with a theme from the course. This event can be at Northwestern or in the Chicago area or elsewhere. It can be of any musical genre or style that you find appealing or interesting to explore. But you must develop a compelling, precise, and clear evidence-based argument that explicitly links your review to a theme from the course. What did you learn from the musical experience in relation to US cultural history? What evidence supports your articulation of what you learned? What did you hear? What did you see? Why did it matter?

Refer to assignment rubric under Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines.

Final assignment.

In 2000-2500 words approximately, develop an analytic essay about one genre of American popular music. Your essay must focus on the relationship of this genre to larger cultural issues in the United States: what can we learn about US history through the “amplifier” of this genre? How does this genre relate to other genres of American popular music? Which performers or songs or labels, etc., best exemplify the genre and why? Your essay must offer a clear, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by explications of specific evidence. You only need to draw upon material from the course, but you may also pursue outside sources as well if you wish to do so through additional research.

Refer to assignment rubric under Expectations section of syllabus for more information and guidelines for essays.


Assignment 1: 10%

Assignment 2: 15%

Assignment 3: 15%

Final: 20%

Class/discussion section attendance/participation (including quizzes, shorter assignments): 40%.

Assignments receive grades as both a letter grade (on the scale below) and a point system within the course percentages per assignment. Since assignments are weighted differently, the scales varies as to points given per assignment, but they all translate to the following 100-point scale in terms of letter grades.

93 and above – A

90-92 – A-

87-89 – B+

84-86 – B

80-83 – B-

77-79 – C+

74-76 – C

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