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Steffen - Junior Theme Research: Assignment


Popular Culture
“Junior Theme” Synthesis/Research Essay

Popular culture, in its various forms, has made profound impacts on American society.  The development of music, film, television, dance, fashion, visual art (painting, sculpture, etc), video games, comic books/graphic novels, architecture, and various other digital and performance arts – even, yes, fiction and poetry -- influenced and shaped society, culture, and politics.  Popular culture has played a pivotal role in changing attitudes toward race, class, gender, sexuality, exploring concepts of order and freedom and the American dream, and leading protests over controversial local or international issues.


In your essay, you will analyze how a specific genre of popular culture has had a specific impact on and/or is a direct reflection of an aspect of American society, culture, or politics.


The first step of the process will be developing a central focus question that will express the topic you are going to explore.  For example, if you were exploring the impact of folk music on the 1960s, your focus question might be: What role did folk music have in changing American attitudes toward the Vietnam War?


Ultimately, this question will be the foundation of the synthesis prompt that you will be creating and presenting as part of your final product in preparation for the AP Exam on May 10th.  Your essay, in whole, will be your own individual response to that question.  You will research, reference and cite a variety of primary and secondary sources to make your argument.

We will be taking the research and writing process step-by-step – so don’t get overwhelmed by the project as a whole.  Just focus your energy on the step at hand:


Step #1 - Develop that specific focus question and a thesis that provides a preliminary answer to the question. Also, indicate what artist you think will be your focus artist.

  • Due: Tuesday, April 11 … Begin note-taking


Step #2 – Create a preliminary Works Consulted in MLA format – a list of primary and secondary sources you might be using in your essay. Due: Friday, April 14th

  • Continue taking notes on sources
  • Note Check #1 on Friday, April 14 (15 notecards or 5 full pages)


Step #3 – Write the thesis statement and introduction to the essay--a bold and complex thesis statement/answer to your focus question as well as a brief, but specific outline of your argument.

  • Due: Wednesday, April 19 … Continue note-taking


Step #4 – Create a topic outline of your essay.

  • Due: Tuesday, April 25… Continue taking notes on sources
  • Note Check #2 on Thursday, April 27 (+ 15 cards or 5 pages)


Step #5 – Create a sentence outline of your essay. Due: Monday, May 1


Step #6 – Complete a first draft of your essay. Due: Tuesday, May 16  


Step #7 – Complete a final draft of your essay. Due: Tuesday, May 23





“Junior Theme” Research Essay Requirements


*Your essay should be 1250-2500 words (~5-10 pages), discussing and citing at least ten primary and secondary sources.


*You should focus the body of your essay on a close analysis of a how a single artist (or possibly two artists) exemplifies your thesis.  At the heart of your essay will be a cultural analysis of multiple specific artifacts from your genre (songs, television episodes, films, clothing designs, buildings, etc), looking at their particular meaning and power.


*You should have close to an equal number of primary and secondary sources.   As a reminder, here is a list of possible sources:

  • primary sources: songs, lyrics, video clips, images and contemporary media coverage (like newspaper articles, magazine articles, reviews/criticisms)
  • secondary sources: excerpts from essays, books, book reviews, websites, and other sources that tie into your essay question and support your thesis


*Consider finding sources from books, videos or DVDS, and online databases.  You may use a web-based sources, but if they are not from the following sites, you must complete an evaluating web sources worksheet (introduced in class after break):


  • PBS websites (for artists and genres)
  • NPR music page or other popular culture pages
  • Library of Congress
  • Websites of artists or films/shows (for primary-source material)
  • YouTube or other streaming video/audio sites (only for primary-source performances)


*Although you are relying on these sources, you must try hard to develop your own conclusions, your own original claims about the impact of the genre you have chosen.


*And you must always write in your own words – unless you are quoting and crediting someone else.  Whether you quote or not, you must always cite any source from which you get information.  Anything less than that is plagiarism.


*Remember that you are making an argument, answering a specific question.   All of your body paragraphs, all of your points should be building your argument.   


You are:

  • NOT simply talking about some real cool musicians/directors/artists/writers
  • NOT simply giving a history of your genre
  • NOT digressing to other topics you might find interesting



Here is a very quick outline of the essay (5-10 Pages):


  1. Introduction (one paragraph)
  1. Description of genre
  2. Thesis statement that asserts how the genre influences/reflects America
  3. Brief, but specific outline of argument


  1. Overview of genre and its influence (2-3 paragraphs)
  2. Close analysis of a single artist as an example (4-6 paragraphs)


Important: At the heart of your essay will be a cultural analysis of multiple specific artifacts from your genre (songs, television episodes, films, clothing designs, buildings, etc) – and specific lyrics, lines, etc within those artifacts.  You need to show in specific terms how the genre of popular culture made the impact you say it did.


  1. Conclusion (one paragraph)
  1. Reaffirm your argument
  2. End with something catchy and new – maybe a reflection on how your genre is still relevant and making an impact today










Junior Theme Research Essay Check List


Assignment                                                            Due Date               Points


1. Specific focus question with thesis + focus artist     4/11                      _______ 25


2. Preliminary Works Consulted                                4/14                      _______ 25


3. Note Check #1 (15 note cards or 5 pages)             4/14                      _______ 25


4. Introductory Paragraph                                        4/19                      _______ 25


5. Topic Outline                                                      4/25                      _______ 50


6. Note Check #2 (15 more cards or 5 more pages)    4/27                      _______ 50


7. Sentence Outline                                                 5/1                        _______ 50


8. First Draft (Typed – Complete – with Works Cited) 5/16                      _______ 100


9. Final Draft (Typed – Complete – with Works Cited) 5/23                      _______ 100


10. Final Check of Documentation/Citations               5/23                      _______ 75


Total                                                                                                 _______ 525


If you are not sure what an assignment requires, ask before the due date!


Work ahead.


Plan to meet each step on time to receive full credit for the assigned objective.