Class Consciousness

Stephen W. Potts

Midterm Paper Assignments for LTWL 120

LTWL 120 has now concluded. If you’re thinking about taking the class in the future and are curious about the midterm paper assignments, I’ve retained some general guidelines here:

MIDTERM: For the first paper, the emphasis was on the subject matter of the first half of the quarter, twentieth-century youth culture up to 1970. You had, of course, a wide range of topics to choose from. In most cases you would want to settle on one specific period (e.g., the Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll, the Late Sixties). You could work with a single medium: literature, music, movies, television, comics. You may deal with clothing styles, fads, or other social practices. Or you may take a historical, sociological, or developmental approach to some aspect of youth in the period in question. See sample topics below.

As models for possible topics, reflect on issues brought up in specific course lectures: e.g., the controversies over various media and juvenile delinquency; subcultures like the hipsters, beats, bikers, surfers, or hippies; specific books (fiction or non-fiction) mentioned in class but not read in full; specific music genres or artists; the role of fashion and style in culture and subcultures; the changing image of young women in magazines of the time; aspects of ethnic subcultures such as latino, African-American, a specific Asian or Asian-American group, etc. The basis of a good topic is a precise question you would like to answer. It should be about something that interests you or that you are curious about.



  • What racial assumptions were used to frame the hipster/zoot suit culture of the World War II era, whether in African-American northeast U.S. or the Mexican-American southwest?
  • What were the expectations for girls and young women in the pre-feminist 50s and early 60s? How were these reinforced by media (movies, magazines, TV)? How did advertising endorse these expectations (as Friedan suggests in our reading excerpt)? Hint: don’t try to answer all these questions. Select and focus.
  • How did the Sexual Revolution impact popular culture, and especially youth culture, in the 1960s?
  • Black and white youth received most of the press in this period, but what were other ethnic groups doing? Focus on one: did its youth participate in the social developments of the decade or go its own way?

Youth culture:

  • Analyze a specific musician or musical group from the 50s or 60s. Was your choice noteworthy for any musical innovations, lyrical themes, public image? (Note: If you select an important group like the Beatles, don’t try to analyze their entire career. Focus on one album, or trace development through contrasting a pair of albums.)
  • What were the “tribal practices” and values of a particular subculture (i.e., “homology”; see Hebdige excerpt in Reader)? How did the reality differ from public perception?
  • How did a particular fashion trend of the period—like 50s greaser, early 60s mod, or late 60s hippie—infuse particular subcultural values into youth culture?

Popular media:

  • How was the influence of media (e.g., movies, music, TV, comics) on youth framed in public debate in the 50s or 60s? Looking backward, were any of these concerns legitimate?
  • What were the portrayals of African Americans, women, or gays/lesbians in movies or TV? How did these images change by the end of the 60s? (Once again, select — don’t deal with all.)
  • Address a cult movie of the young — from The Wild One to Easy Rider. How did it reflect youth values of its time?
  • How was a specific youth trend — surfing, mod, psychedelia — exploited in the media or advertising?
  • How did comics change in the 1960s? How did the “underground” comics that emerged in the late 60s challenge the standards set by the Comics Code of the 50s?


  • Choose one of Kerouac’s other novels. How does it compare with On the Road, and what does it add to our understanding of this author or Beat attitudes?
  • Select another figure associated with the Beats — like Ginsberg or Burroughs. What was significant about his work? How does he present a different view of the Beats than that presented by Kerouac?
  • What was the role of women in the Beat Generation? What does the writing of Carolyn Cassady or Diane di Prima add to our understanding?
  • Analyze another cult book from the 60s. How did the work speak to contemporary concerns of youth? Examples might be the books excerpted in the reader, mentioned in class, or suggested in office hour. Your choice can be fiction or non-fiction. If a landmark book like The Feminine Mystique, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Soul on Ice, or Germaine Greer’s feminist classic The Female Eunuch, does the book still seem controversial today? For different reasons?

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is to define your topic narrowly enough that the finished project is focused and deep rather than general and broad. You must do some research outside of course materials, using books, articles, websites (but not alone; see next page), or other information that you have gathered yourself. We will expect a handful of sources at least (4-6 books, articles, reviews, interviews, documentaries, etc.). Papers will be approximately 1500 words each, with attached bibliography/list of works cited. You are also welcome to attempt projects in other media — say, CD, DVD, website, or artwork — provided the work demonstrates research and effort equivalent to a written paper.

TERM PROJECTS: In certain cases, students may be permitted — with instructor approval — to do a single long term project that will satisfy both midterm and final paper requirements  Permission hinges on the nature of the project and the student’s background, and can cover periods or topics too large for a 1500-word paper or its equivalent.

OFFICE VISITS are recommended for anyone who is unsure what to do for either of the assignments. I can help you focus on a good topic and thesis, and point you in the direction of research. I even have copies of papers from last year, in case you would like to see what topics your predecessors have covered. Get a head start, and talk to me before the office gets crowded, which it will the week before a paper is due.


In the age of the Internet, an increasing number of students have come to believe that “research” means Googling for half an hour. While there are now more excellent resources than ever online, relatively few know how to find them or evaluate their usefulness.  Besides, as students at UCSD, you are paying a lot for your education, some of which goes to support a superb library/research system on campus. Get your money’s worth: take advantage of this university’s facilities and its reputation for higher learning. As UCSD students, in fact, you may even access most of the university’s library and online resources from the comfort of your own home.

Not all research materials, whether in print or in photons, are created equal. For example, Cliff Notes, SparkNotes, and their equivalent are for high school students who haven’t done the reading, not for college students supporting critical arguments. Likewise, most general encyclopedias are so-oo secondary school. That includes Wikipedia, which is simply an online encyclopedia; it may be useful for inspiration and direction, but it is not a quotable resource. Instead, begin by seeking out the many focused series in encyclopedia format recommended below or turning to the databases available through the library website. Fortunately, UCSD offers access to many electronic journals and other potential research materials (see “Words for the Wise“), alongside the non-virtual books and periodicals in the library building itself.

There are some useful online sources, like those mentioned in “Words for the Wise.” However, countless books and articles have been written about the Jazz Age, the Fifties, and the Sixties, so don’t overlook print sources about them. A 1500-word paper should have at least a handful of sources in “Works Cited” — that is, 4-6 items. Furthermore, these should actually be quoted and cited in your paper.


About runawayserfer

I am a writer and editor living on the Left Coast & writing my first novel: a 1980s-era political thriller titled El Imperio.

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This entry was posted on January 19, 2013 by .
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