Johns Hopkins University
Fall/Winter 2007
Vol. 5, No. 1


A Conversation with Matthew Crenson '63

A New Kind of Pre-Med

Freshman Book Discussion Yields Rich Insights

[Tech Tools] Museum World Tour 2007

[Tech Tools] A Melding of the Muses

> [Classroom Encounters] Mass Media's Messages

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Mass Media’s Messages

As a history major with a concentration in medieval Europe, Katherine Jacob doesn't often get to reference Sex and the City in class. For that matter, Will and Grace episodes, drag queens, and beer commercials don't find their way into most of her reading assignments either.

But this summer Jacob discussed television characters such as Grace Adler and Jack Tripper like they were Joan of Arc and Richard the Lionhearted. She did so as one of nine students in Katherine Hijar's summer session course, Race, Gender, and Identities in American Mass Media: 1940-2007.

Jacob says that any class that allows her to quote Carrie Bradshaw and friends certainly has her seal of approval. "It's a nice break from medieval Europe," says Jacob, who minors in the writing seminars. "We get to talk about popular culture and, unlike many of my courses, my life experiences and tastes are very relevant."

Instructor Hijar, a graduate student in history, created the seminar course last spring and has taught it the past two summer sessions. The five-week class explores the ways race, gender, economic status, and ethnicity are depicted in magazines, newspapers, films, and television.

"I think it's really important that [students] be fully aware of the world in which they live," says Hijar, who has also taught courses on the History of Photojournalism and the History of Women in the United States. "The media influences us in lots of subtle ways, and this course can illustrate how they do it."

Students learn about such diverse figures as Rosie the Riveter, Bill Cosby, Superman, Rita Hayworth, Homer Simpson, the cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and even Budweiser's Spuds MacKenzie, the "original party dog" who would somehow attract mobs of beautiful women.

As a seminar class, each session begins with a short lecture and then morphs into student-led discussions. Although a 100-level course, Hijar assigns a 300-level reading load, or so her students are quick to point out. In a class as small as this, the students know they'd better come prepared.

Hijar is "really good at relating all your observations to the discussion, and if you wander, to bring you back on point," says Kristine Dizon, a Peabody dual-degree student majoring in history at the Krieger School. "She's a great teacher."

"I learn a lot from the students," says Hijar. "Students bring their own social background and histories, and it can be an interesting learning experience for all of us."