What's that stuff you're listening to Sir?' Rock and pop music as a rich source for historical enquiry

Article

By Simon Butler, published 31st May 2003

Building on the wonderful articles by Mastin and Sweerts & Grice in TH 108, Simon Butler urges us here to make greater use of rock and pop music in history classrooms. His reasons are persuasive. First, it provides a rich vein of initial stimulus material to tap, helping us to engage and intrigue even our least motivated learners. Second, it allows students to construct layers of meaning that might escape them purely through the written word. Students often find it easier to ‘read’ the tone of a source by listening to it and this can be a powerful way to consider perspective. Third, the use of this type of music supports close textual analysis, providing ways of exploring the lyrics at different levels. Finally, it helps us to pose rigorous historical questions about significance and interpretation. Enquiries that explore why people still sing about the Diggers and what impact Billie Holliday’s songs had on the Civil Rights movement provide students with both challenge and motivation. They also provide teachers with imaginative ways to combine depth and overview in their planning.

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