Posted 1:13 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021

UWL History Professor Kenneth Shonk will present “Popular Music and Gender During the MTV Era."

UWL professor shares what we can learn from MTV that we didn’t learn in school

Singing along in the car to our favorite pop song or downloading a new song on iTunes, music fills our lives with entertainment. But what is it teaching us? 

If you’re paying attention, it is teaching a lot, says UWL History Professor Kenneth Shonk

Shonk plans to share some of the alternative education that comes from pop culture music during a virtual public lecture, “Popular Music and Gender During the MTV Era, 1981-1994" from 6:30-7:30, Wednesday, Sept. 8. Because the event is virtual only, those interested can register and find additional program information on the La Crosse Public Library website. Registration is required to receive Zoom login credentials. 

The talk is the first in a new History Lecture Series in cooperation with the La Crosse Public Library. The series is open to all — history lovers and pop culture enthusiasts alike — but the primary aim is to bring cutting-edge research from UWL’s History Department faculty to future and current K-12 teachers to spark new ideas for their curriculum. 

Shonk spent seven years as a high school teacher before transitioning to higher education where he now teaches future social studies educators.  

“One thing social studies teachers will struggle with is how to teach a wide array of students with different linguistic skills and reading abilities,” he says. “I’ll show how we can use non-traditional sources. We can teach complex historical theory with the common language of popular music.” 

During the last 15 minutes of the event, teachers will have the opportunity to participate in a workshop on how to incorporate some of the ideas into classroom curriculum, says Shonk. “Teachers may not choose to show video from MTV in class, but they can translate the same skill set to analyzing a different video or work of art in their classroom.” 

The History Lecture Series will continue with History Professors Ariel Beaujot and Víctor Macías-González presenting on the history of queer La Crosse in January. Lectures will be accompanied by a workshop for students and teachers. 

The UWL History Department’s outreach into the community isn’t new. Beaujot launched the award-winning Hear, Here project with her students in 2015, bringing oral histories to downtown La Crosse. History Professor James Longhurst has shared his bike history research to help produce books, public TV programs, and local bicycle plans. The department faculty are well published and have contributed research that isn’t just theoretical in nature, but also can be applied to people’s lives both locally and internationally.  

“The History Department wants to extend itself more into the community. We are doing the Wisconsin Idea,” says Beaujot. “We don't want any lag time between the research we are doing at UWL and the young people and teachers being able to use it in their classrooms.” 

What alternative education do we get from MTV?  

Growing up in the late 1980s and 90s, Kenneth Shonk listened to hip hop and alternative music. It provided a different way of looking at the world compared to the white, political history he had learned about in school. When he transitioned into a career in higher education, Shonk and Daniel McClure, of Fort Hays State University in Kansas, became curious about the alternative education they both found in music. They saw how it challenged the traditional narrative of history, economics, gender and nationality. Their curiosities led to the book “Historical Theory and Methods Through Popular Music, 1970 to 2000.” 

Shonk’s focus in the book is on MTV’s impact on the way we view gender and nationality. Some of the versions of masculinity and femininity on MTV reinforced traditional gender roles, while others broke them. When The Go-Go's came out with the hit, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” a seemingly simple pop song about boy and girl falling in love, they were actually singing about an affair. The Go-Go's are seen throughout the video as being free and in charge of their own sexuality instead of subscribing to traditional feminine gender roles that paint women as submissive. They were changing society’s understanding of what it means to be feminine, explains Shonk. 

“I hope people walk away with an understanding that there is history in everything,” says Shonk. “I also want to help people to understand their own assumptions of how gender is presented, constructed and challenged, so they can begin to pick these things up all around them in all aspects of popular culture.” 

Check out recent research from UWL’s History Department 

Ariel Beaujot 

Beaujot, Ariel and Hamilton, Michelle A. "Hear, Here: Oral History, Gentrification, and Memory Politics" International Public History, June 2021, pp. 000010151520212015.  

Beaujot, Ariel and Macías-González, Víctor. "Hear, Here: Mapping Queer Stories in La Crosse, Wisconsin," in Queer Sites in Global Contexts:  Technologies,  Spaces, and Otherness, ed.  Regner Ramos. New York and London: Routledge, 2020. 

Penelope K. Hardy  

Hardy, Penelope K. “Finding the History of the World at the Bottom of the Ocean: Hydrography, Natural History, and the Sea in the Nineteenth Century.” In “The Power of Maps and the Politics of Borders,” special issue, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 110, no. 4 (July 2021): 117-132. 

Hardy, Penelope K., and Helen M. Rozwadowski. “Maury for Modern Times: Navigating a Racist Legacy in Ocean Science.” Oceanography 33, no. 3 (September 2020): 8-13. 

James Longhurst 

Such business will be impossible’: Mitsubishi Trading Company and the roles of design and tariff policy in the American bicycle market (1933–1938),” The Journal of Transport History 42:1 (2021). 

“Bikes for Children, Cars for Adults: Postwar American Transportation Culture and the Legacy of Moving Images” in Transportation and the Culture of Climate Change: Accelerating Ride to Global Crisis, edited by Tatiana Prorokova-Konrad (West Virginia University Press: 2020), 41-62.  

Heidi Morrison 

Morrison, Heidi. “Beyond Symptomology: Listening to How Palestinians Conceive of their own Suffering and Well-Being” in Feeling Dis-Ease: Experiencing Medicine and Illness in Modern History edited by Rob Boddice and Bettina Hitzer.  London: Bloomsbury (2021).  

“Unchilding by Domicidal Assault: Experiences of Childhood and Home during the Second Intifada” in Jerusalem Quarterly.  Institute for Palestine Studies: December 2020, Issue 82. 

Heidi Morrison and Mary Jo Klinker.  “On the Pedagogy of ‘Boomerangs’: Exposing Occupation Through Co-Implication (Teaching about Capitalism, War, and Empire).  Radical Teacher. Vol 117 (2020). 

Gita V. Pai 

“When humans pose as Hindu gods,” in Rethinking the Body in South Asian Traditions, edited by Diana Dimitrova (New York and London: Routledge, 2021), 116-136. 

“Viral Vilification,” in Media Narratives During the Corona Pandemic: The Asian Experience, edited by Shubhda Arora and Keval J. Kumar (New York: Routledge, 2021). [forthcoming] 

Architecture of Sovereignty: Stone Bodies, Colonial Gazes, and Living Gods in South India. [Cambridge University Press, early 2022] 

Hanadi Shatara 

Aponte-Safe, G. J. & Shatara, H., (2021) "Realities and possibilities: Critical global education in Wisconsin elementary social studies standards," The Critical Social Educator 1(1).

Shatara, H. (2021). "Justice-oriented global education within three world history teachers' worldviews and practice. Social Studies Research and Practice."

Shatara, H. & Kim, E. J., (forthcoming, Spring 2022). The global color-line: Critical race theory and global citizenship education in conversation and in classrooms. In A. Vickery & N. Naseem Rodriguez (Eds.) Dreaming Out Loud: Critical Race Theory and Social Studies Futures. Teachers College Press. 

Kenneth Shonk 

Ireland’s New Traditionalists—Fianna Fáil republicanism and gender, 1926-1938. Cork: Republic of Ireland, Cork University Press, 2021. 

Ireland’s Love of Freedom—The global revolution in Ireland, 1936-1968’ in History Ireland. April, 2019. 

‘Help, given in a disinterested manner—Emerging Nationhood and Extraversion in Ireland, 1950-1979’Radical History Review 143 (Forthcoming, May 2022).