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Case Study: Jazz, Jezebels, Gigolos: 1920s in Berlin & New York Films

GRMN 172. Professor Mihaela Petrescu, Hamilton College

Please provide the course description as it appears in the catalog and the typical enrollment for the course.

To many, the Golden Twenties mean jazz, movie stars, dresses bouncing in the rhythm of the Charleston, bobbed hair, drugs, gigolos, and women's emancipation. This course seeks to expand our understanding of the 1920s to the international arena by focusing on diverse experiences of modernity in two of the most vibrant and significant urban centers of the time: New York and Berlin. How did Berliners react to the invasion of American culture through movies, music, dances, sports and fashion? Were experiences of the big city gender specific? How did definitions of mass culture and high culture operate in the USA and Germany? Who are the New Man and the New Woman? How did the concept of race operate in Berlin and New York?

In this course, students will become skilled analysts of cross-cultural influences between the USA and Germany in the early 20th century. Students will acquire knowledge about concepts of consumerism, Americanization, mass culture, working-class culture, sexual liberation, the New Men and the New Woman; they will develop a general understanding of the complex relationships between literature and society, art and technology, high and mass culture; and they will develop their visual media literacy skills. Enrollment: 14

What are the learning goals of the media assignment(s) in the course. If your course assignments contain both analysis and creative production components, describe the learning goals of each.

This course had a sequence of 6 media assignments and all focused on increasing students' analytical visual literacy skills in incremental steps. The instructor provided examples as well as grading criteria for each assignment. Since this was a film class it was very important that its its goal of developing and increasing students' visual analytical skills be achieved through media assignments tailored for film. The goal of Assignment 1 was to help students learn how to interpret in a 500-words long essay the relationship between content and form from a film-clip provided by the instructor. The goal of Assignment 2 was to help students refine independently their visual critical thinking by asking them to capture a film clip that they deemed to best represent issues of the modern city and to provide a written analysis (600-700 words) of their selected clip. Prior to submitting this assignment students attended a workshop in which they learned to capture film clips.

Building conceptually and technologically on the skills and competencies students developed in assignments 1 and 2 the third and fourth assignments asked them to: 1. watch a film they selected from a list provided by the instructor; 2. to capture a clip from their selected film and 3. provide a written essay (600-700 words) in which they investigated the depiction of femininity (assign 3) and masculinity (assign 4) respectively and 4. compare said depiction with one film viewed for class.

The final project asked students to interpret in an essay (700-800 words) clip(s) from a self-select contemporary film that demonstrate(s) a fascination with the 1920s. The final project functioned as the apex of students' independent work: while for assign 1 and 2 they worked with films viewed for class and thus selected by the instructor, and for assign 3 and 4 they chose films from a list generated by the instructor, for the final project students chose their own film based on their critical understanding of concepts discussed throughout the semester. The final project thus increased students' responsibilities as active and critical members of the class.

What are the relationships of the media assignment(s) to the other aspects of the course?

The 6 media assignments were thoroughly weaved into the way this class unfolded.

Describe your assignment design/structure.

Assignment 1: Using time code, type a one-page detailed analysis of a clip from Asphalt (1929) addressing both content and form.
Assignment 2: On your own, select one clip from any of the films viewed in class. Create and submit a voice over commentary of the selected clip through the assignment feature in Blackboard.
Assignment 3: Create a media folder with images, text, audio files, and notes for discussion about the representation of the Flapper/New Woman.
Assignment 4: Create a media folder with images, text, audio files, and notes for discussion about the representation of masculinity in the 1920s.
Final Project: The final project entails creating a media folder with images, text, audio files, and notes for discussion about the contemporary fascination with the 1920s and have a presentation that is video recorded.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of visual/aural literacy?

All 6 assignments seek to increase visual literacy skills in a gradual progression: starting with sensitizing students to the relationship between content and form in short film clips (assign 1 and 2); moving to more detailed analyses of said relationship in films selected by the instructor (assign 3 and 4) and finally asking students to apply their knowledge and visual literacy to chose on their own a film for their final project.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of information literacy?

NA. Due to the cross-cultural scope of this class all written sources and films were provided by the instructor except for the film to be used for the final assignment.

To what extent does your assignment design address issues of technology skills?

Students had to learn to capture film clips. They did so in a workshop offered by Janet and in individual follow-up meetings.

What are the resources necessary for your assignment (content/materials, institutional support, equipment)?

Materials: readings, several films IT support was VITAL for students and myself

Describe how you evaluated the project outcomes? Did you evaluate process? Outcomes? Both?

I graded the outcome. Students received a sheet with grading criteria before each assignment was due so that they could have a clear understanding of my expectations.

Estimate the time invested in the project by you, your students, and academic support staff.

My time: I created models for each assignment throughout the semester and this took about 5 hours overall.

I do not recall how much time students invested. I do not know how much time the support staff invested. It seems like they were always reachable - which was great!

How many times have you taught this course/assignment? What would you do differently next time?

Once at Hamilton College (Spring 2008) and in a changed form once at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Spring 2009). Due to class size at HWS (26 students) I had them work in groups on Assignments 2, 3 and 4. However, this was a change dictated by practical reasons. I would not change anything else, particularly not the media assignments.

What is your level of expertise with respect to media technologies and scholarship?

I was a novice in terms of media technologies. I have some knowledge of media scholarship and furthermore my discussions with Janet helped me broaden my understanding of media scholarship.

An instructor created model, instructor comments and students projects can be found here.