Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Analysis of Popular Culture
Sherry Schirmer
American History
Time Frame:
One or Two 45 Minute Class periods to introduce and work in teams, One week to write individual paper
Popular Culture
Analyzing Secondary Sources
World War I
Analyzing Primary Sources

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

Task:  Your job in this exercise is to

  • Work in a team to group examples of pop culture in categories based on their shared characteristics.
  • Work as an individual to find at least one secondary work that shows why your categories make sense
  • Work as an individual to write up your findings in a paper that correctly cites all of your sources.


Purpose:  The purposes of the exercise are to give you practice in

  • Thinking like a historian
  • Using historians’ methodology to analyze something
  • Using your knowledge about the time period and a secondary work to explain the context or significance of your findings.
  • Writing up your findings in a polished, convincing and correct paper.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Missouri Standards

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

6. Relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)

Kansas Standards

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

7. (A) analyzes how the home front was influenced by United States involvement in World War I (e.g., Food Administration, Espionage Act, Red Scare, influenza, Creel Committee).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

3. (A) uses primary and secondary sources about an event in U.S. history to develop a credible interpretation of the event, evaluating on its meaning (e.g., uses provided primary and secondary sources to interpret a historical-based conclusion).

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:


Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Artifact Packets-Teacher chooses primary souces relevant to WWI popular culture  

WWI Propaganda posters

Technology Required:

Computer to type paper

Full description of activity or assignment.
  1. Guided Practice:  Your teacher will show you how historians do this task by giving you an illustrated lecture that groups WWI propaganda posters according to how they used images of women.
  2. Check for Understanding:  Make sure everyone understands what these terms mean:  popular culture; salient; characterize; categorize; context; secondary source; primary source; artifact; genre.
  3. Form a team of no more than 3 students.  Every team will need a recorder, a presenter, and a fact-finder.  Each team will be given a packet that contains reproductions of a genre of American popular culture from 1914-1919.  As a team, identify and record the salient characteristics of the artifacts.  You might ask questions like, “How are images of animals used?”  or “Is combat depicted realistically or mythologically?”  “What actions does the artifact expect from the ‘consumer’?”
  4. As an individual, write a 3-5 page paper that follows the accompanying rubric by
    1. Reporting your team’s findings
    2. Explaining either the historical context or the historical significance for the characteristics you discerned.  The “Manual for Doing History” should help.
    3. Finding a secondary work that validates some or all of your analytical conclusions.
    4. Presenting your analysis to the reader convincingly.
    5. Correctly citing all your sources using the Turabian or Chicago style.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:

Paper will be graded using a Standard Rubric