The Sock Hop and the Loft


The Center for the Humanities will conduct a Summer Institute for schoolteachers entitled “The Sock Hop and the Loft: Jazz, Motown, and the Transformation of American Culture, 1959-1975.” The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Division of Education Programs awarded a grant to fund the institute, which will bring together thirty school teachers (including two graduate students) from various humanities disciplines including English, History, Social Studies, Art, and Music, to explore two streams of popular music within the larger context of the transformation of American taste and changing ideas about the role and importance of music in society. 

This institute is critically important for two large pedagogical reasons: 1) As a way to teach teachers how to use the rise of popular music in the 20th century to teach aspects of the racial and commercial history of the United States; 2) As a way of understanding how these two streams of music and their impact on and response to American taste affected literature, film, fashion, cultural aesthetics, even language. 

The institute’s instructors include Gerald Early, director of the Center for the Humanities and Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis; Patrick Burke, Associate Professor of Music at WUSTL; Sowande Mustakeem, Assistant Professor of History at WUSTL; Benjamin Looker, Assistant Professor of American Studies at St. Louis University; Matthew Calihman, Assistant Professor of English at Missouri State University; Farah Jasmine Griffin, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African American Studies and director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University; Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of Music at Harvard University; and other noted scholars.

The Sock Hop and the Loft Digital Institute

In July 2011, Washington University in St. Louis hosted a Summer Institute for schoolteachers entitled "The Sock Hop and the Loft: Jazz, Motown and the Transformation of American Culture 1959-1975" funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Through an NEH Digital Dissemination Pilot Grant, we are now able to offer the Institute in digital form to the public. The following resources offer an exciting opportunity to learn about one of the most extraordinary cultural periods in American history and to explore lectures, essays, interviews, and curriculum resources from our Institute. We hope that this Digital Institute will enhance our ability to create a stronger scholarly community among our participants and will enable us to reach out more effectively to K-12 as well as college and university teachers who have an interest in our subject matter and our pedagogical approaches to it.

Curriculum Resources:

  • Artistic Resource Guide This group focused on the artistic movement of Jazz, Motown, and the Transformation of American Culture from 1959-1975. Our resources include books, music recordings, music transcriptions, documentaries, music videos, scholarly articles, poetry anthologies, visual art, biographies, autobiographies, speeches, journals, children’s books, essays, and Web sites. Some of the resources, such as the jazz transcriptions, may require specialized knowledge in order for them to be useful.
  • Commerce Resource Guide In the words of the prolific Peter Griffin, “It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. The only color that really matters is green.” Notwithstanding the music industry’s rampant racism, the clearest view of how African Americans transformed popular music between 1959 and 1975 is through the lens of commerce. Scrutinizing the relationship between creators and consumers opens up a broad view of both visual and auditory arts. The sources we selected range from cover art and an Andy Warhol silkscreen to books on the industry’s backroom deals and the Billboard Hot 100 to a retrospective Boyz II Men album on Motown’s history and an NPR special on Jimi Hendrix for kids.
  • Criticism Resource Guide At the center of our Institute this summer has been a recurrent question: What is music? This section addresses that question through the lens of criticism, which we have defined broadly as the meanings that people have made of the jazz and Motown music we studied. Criticism, in this sense, is a record of the various answers that have been given to the question of what music is.

The participants of our past NEH summer institutes and workshops on jazz and American culture were asked to choose some particular aspect of the content of the institute or workshop which they thought was most directly related to their own subject concerns and to write either lesson plans or resource guides. These lesson plans were collected and published in book form, the distributed to the participants; the 2005 and 2007 versions are also available on our website. All our past institute/workshop participants are also on the Center's mailing list and receive our monthly newsletter, The Figure in the Carpet; in this way, they are able to keep up with news about new institutes we may be offering and speakers invited during the academic year who may be presenting on subjects relevant to their interests. Please email us if you would like to be added to our mailing list.

Thanks to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding the production and editing of these Digital Institute materials. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.