British children interact with the culture of the USA on an almost daily basis, more often than not, without realising that they are part of a global process of cultural exchange.
American television programmes, Hollywood films, American or American-influenced pop music, fashion, and food, are integral parts of our children's lives. Whether they are watching The Simpsons, the most recent Hollywood blockbuster, listening to the latest R & B track, surfing the web, eating fast-food or asking for Nike trainers, they are engaging with a culture that is both far removed from them, and entirely intertwined with their own.
'What America Means To Me' is part of a pilot-project where Dr Wendy McMahon, Lecturer in American Studies and two PhD students, Catherine Barter and Lucien Giordano, went into three local schools and work-shopped the place of the USA in the lives of the children as well as its history and diverse culture.
The workshops were an extraordinarily fruitful experience for both the staff and the children. Their enthusiasm and excitement for, and engagement with the history and culture of the USA is commendable and the workshops allowed us to build upon their already sophisticated knowledge of American culture. We shared a range of activities, from thinking about how much American popular culture influences our perceptions of the place and its peoples, through imagining ourselves as part of the Lewis and Clarke expeditions across the newly acquired lands bought in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, exploring the roots of today's popular music, contemplating the values upon which America is founded, to playing American football. The work produced formed a book which outlined the children's responses to some of these things.
An important outcome of the workshops is that most of the children were delighted to realise that 'what we do' in universities can be fun and, indeed, relevant to their lives.
Dr Wendy McMahon
Lecturer in American Studies
In association with the British Association for American Studies