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Archive of Childhood Assignment Sheet

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AMS 311, Popular Culture and American Childhood

Assignment Sheet: Writing the Archive of Childhood

All of the authors we’ve discussed so far have written about childhood from the perspective of adults long-separated from the culture they enjoyed as children. At the same time, many of the authors—especially Henry Jenkins—argue that scholars of children’s cultures should ask children themselves what they think about their culture. You’re not children, but you’re closer to childhood than many cultural critics and historians. The idea behind this assignment is to create a public archive of primary sources that meant something to you in your own childhood. I’ll put these sources up on the Internet, using the archive-building software Omeka, and publicize it in a number of ways (through Twitter, through the AMS departmental website and blog, and through my own blog).[1]

In this assignment, you’ll introduce the primary source you’ve picked, situate it historically, and perform at least one analytical move (more on that below).

Timeline for the assignment:

  1. Come up with a subject for your entry that’s related to the theme we’ve discussed in the most recent unit. Throughout the first unit, Moral Panics, we’ve been talking about adult fears about loss of innocence that children might experience through consumer or popular culture. So, you might pick as a subject a book, TV show, band, album, or song, foodstuff, toy, or anything else that you loved but your parents either prohibited you from owning or worried about you owning.  Or, if that doesn’t ring any strong memory bells, you might pick something that you remember was an object of a moral panic in society at large when you were younger, but with which you don’t necessarily have a personal connection.
  2. Do some preliminary research. We’ll talk about this more in class, when we discuss library research and databases. Your goal in this first step is to find out whether there’s enough material available to allow you to carry out the a), b), and c) of the assignment’s content that I outline below.
  3. If it seems like your source won’t allow you to carry out the assignment, pick a new source.
  4. If you can’t figure out how to find a source that will let you fulfill the requirements, or if you’re confused about the assignment, come visit me at office hours (Caffe Medici, MW 3:15-4:45) and we’ll discuss.
  5. If it seems like you’re good to go, read through the research you’ve done and begin writing.
  6. Bring a first draft of the assignment to class on Friday, September 23, for Peer Review Day #1.
  7. Email me your final draft of the assignment as a Microsoft Word (or equivalent) document, by 5 pm on Monday, September 26.

Content of the assignment:

Harking back to kindergarten, I want you to think of this assignment as an exercise in Showing and Telling.

a)    Show us, in words, exactly what your primary source is. This is the who-what-when-where of this exercise. Who made this? What is it? (If it’s a book or a TV show, give a BRIEF synopsis of its narrative. If it’s a toy or a type of food, describe its shape, size, taste.) When was it produced? Where?

b)   Tell us a bit about your own experience with the primary source. You can mix this part in with a), if you’d like.

c)    Tell us a bit more about what this source can say about American children’s culture. You can carry out c) by performing any of the analytical moves I outline on the handout “Some Ways of Looking at a Primary Source.”

Note: This assignment doesn’t need to conform to a typical “essay” format such as you might have learned to execute in high school (intro-thesis-argument paragraphs-conclusion). I will give you some examples of structures you might pursue, but in the three website entries, it’s far more important to me that you fit a, b, and c into your 750 words, than to see you conform to a particular structure. We’ll leave that for your final essay, in which you’ll need to pursue and develop an argument.

Nuts and bolts:

  • Use Zotero to create Chicago Manual of Style-formatted citations in your document.
  • Make sure to attribute well: avoid overly long block quotes, integrate quotations into your sentences, and make sure to introduce the authors you cite (more on this in class).
  • Don’t forget to tell me at the top of the document which level of privacy you prefer (see my footnote on page 1 of this assignment).
  • The document should be at least 750 words.
  • If you come across an image that would work with your entry, feel free to include it in your submission, along with the URL where you found it. Copyright law may not permit me to use the image; I’ll handle that side of things.
  • Submit the assignment to me, via email, as a Word document (.doc)  or equivalent, by 5 pm on the due date.  Please name your file using your last name (if I were submitting, I’d use “onionassignment1.doc”), so that I don’t end up with a desktop full of “website.doc”s.


[1] A note on privacy. You’ll have a number of different options when it comes to your visibility with this project. Please let me know at the top of each entry which option you wish to exercise. 1) Full visibility: Use your full name to sign your entry. This means that people (including future employers) might find this site when they Google your name. This might be to your advantage, especially if you envision pursuing a career that requires skills in creative written communication, or it might not. 2) Pseudonymity: Pick a pseudonym, and I’ll attach it to your entry. This protects you from having this work associated with your name on Google. 3) Complete anonymity: Just let me know, and I’ll keep your work off the site altogether. I’ll grade it the same, whichever way you choose to go.

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