Written Assignments

The Cultural Event Essay


Assignment

   The "Culture Project" is required of all sections of General Education 111; its purpose is to introduce students to "high culture." We've studied this notion in part when we talked about the Enlightenment: if human beings are tabula rasa at birth, then they can be formed through experiences. This idea creates the notion of "high" and "low" culture; "high" culture, such as operas, symphonies, plays, art galleries, is distinguished by the fact that it inspires exalted, humane, and moral feelings in an individual and so creates exalted, humane, and moral individuals. "Low" or popular culture, such as television, folk songs, films, etc., inspire base, selfish, and immoral feelings in individuals and so create base, selfish, and immoral individuals. That, at least, is the assumption. The border, however, between high and low culture is very slippery; in the early part of this century, jazz was manifestly "low" and base culture whereas it is now considered "high" culture and, in fact, great art.
   The general intent of the culture project is to introduce students to aspects of their cultural heritage which they may not have experienced as yet, but this Enlightenment notion of "high" versus "low" culture still operates in the assignment. However, the general tenor of this section is that everything is culture and that the experience of modernity is an experience of cultures in conflict. In respect to the first notion, I am balancing this paper project with an extra-credit paper project focussed on "low" or popular culture. In respect to the second notion, I have narrowed this paper project down to only a few "cultural events," those which focus on non-European cultures or European sub-cultures that are founded on non-European cultures, such as African-American culture.
   I want you to attend one of the events listed below and write a 2-3 page paper explaining the cultural meaning of what you saw. You are going to read the event the way someone from that culture or sub-culture would understand it. So, if you focus on one of the Native American events, you should use material you've read and heard in class on Native Americans to put the event or talk in focus.
   Your paper should have a clear thesis stating what you are going to use to explain the meaning of what you saw or heard. In your paper, you should spend no more than a short paragraph describing the event. The rest of the paper should involve applying a particular primary reading you've read or material from class itself, such as the library projects or class lectures, in order to explain how a person from the culture or sub-culture might understand the culture event you're dealing with. The best papers will discuss how European and non-European ideas are combined or clash with each other in the culture event you attend. If you attend an event and none of the material applies, see me and we'll discuss possibilities.

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