Images of America

Integrating U. S. History with Educational Technology
Deborah T. Aufdenspring

Picture ©1993 Capitol Nashville, Garth Brooks video "We Shall Be Free", see below

Analyzing Music Videos

Lesson Plan Ideas
Integrated U. S. History and American Literature Class
Deborah Aufdenspring and Sandra Mings-Lamar

New Technology High School, Napa, CA

(Quick Links to related pages)

Music Videos and History

Music videos are an ignored art form. Some, if not most, music videos are little more than "photo shoots" of the band or artist, but others have real content that illuminate songs. The best have images that make you think, as well as feel. Some of the best have historical and/or sociological images. It is those music videos that we'll analyze in this class.

There are a number of reasons for doing this analysis. First of all, it's a fun way to introduce the idea of the American Dream (or Dreams), and what that means to various people in the U.S. Second, music videos are a medium that you, as teenagers, are probably familiar with, but may never have thought about too much. Third, in this class we want to teach you to analyze everything you see and hear. We want you to be able to do the research that will enable you to do the analysis. Why are things the way they are? Why was a particular historical photograph used in a political ad or commercial (or music video)? Why do you often see images of wheat fields, family dinners and flags (as in the still at the top of this page) in country music videos? Why do you often see police cars in rap videos?

We've moved into new historical media in the twentieth century, most of them involving images and sound instead of text. You can't just learn history out of a textbook now, because a lot of your history is happening on TV, or the radio, online or on other computer media. To fully understand those media, you need to know what images mean and what they are used for and in what context they were captured. An image of the Berlin Wall falling doesn't mean much unless you know why the wall was there, who built it and what it divided.

Such images can illustrate our shared history. What binds us together as a nation is shared experiences - your grandparents read the same books as other grandparents, your parents reads books and watched the same TV programs as other parents. You have a lot more media than they did at a similar age: music videos, CD-ROMs, interactive on-line computer programs, etc. History is a lot more visual now. You will share images with your contemporaries. You need to know how to find out what the images mean.

Analyzing music videos is a good (and fun) place to start learning how to do that.

Below are quick links to other web pages about this assignment, other web pages about sample music videos, and some important words about copyright.

Also below is an introduction to analyzing music videos.

Quick Links

Introduction - Analyzing Music Videos
Music Video Assignment
Analysis Tips
Comparing and Contrasting Music Videos
Grading Rubric

Stills of Sample Videos, with Sample Analysis Questions:
Billy Joel.....Erykah Badu.....Pop up Videos.....Tracy Lawrence

Rage Against the Machine.....Vince Gill.....Van Halen.....Aqua.....12 other videos

For Teachers...

For examples of recent student projects on analyzing music videos:
Student Work


Analyzing Music Videos

Music videos that tell stories and histories have themes and images. Images should support the major themes and, like good writing, good videos don't obscure their themes with images that are meaningless. The videos you will see in this unit are more or less effective in thematically exploring aspects of U.S. history, sociology and culture.

You will be analyzing the videos for :

effectiveness of images
clarity of message
political leanings
truth and accuracy of historical images
importance to your life.

If access is available, you might find the World Wide Web of help in research. We have put in some examples of web research. Some of the text that goes with the captured video stills has WWW links (in blue or red text). There don't appear to be too many analyses of music videos on the web, so don't expect to find something that will instantly solve your assignment. However, some stars, such as Amy Grant, have enthusiastic fans that review their stars' videos.

To get started, please read the assignment and please read the grading rubric. Remember, rubrics are your friends.

Before you begin work, read some words about copyright.

Above, in the "Quick Links" section of this page, are some web pages with captured stills from music videos that will help you understand the kinds of analyses you are expected to do. There is also a link to a page with text descriptions of an additional twelve videos that we have on tape this year.

There are two additional pages you might find of help as you work. One is an example of analyzing music video scenes. The second has some exmples if you care to try to compare and contrast two music videos.

Work hard and have fun. Ms. A


The still pictures, taken from music videos, at this site remain the copyright property of their respective music company or music group owners. I am using them under the educational fair use provision of the copyright law. The stills are one frame pictures taken from full length music videos and, as such, represent the equivalent of quotes from a larger work, a protected use in scholarly work.

Students are expected to follow the copyright guidelines laid down in class. Any copyright stills and any copyright lyrics used in student presentations or reports are for classroom use only. Students are expected to credit any copyrighted material. All material published in the U.S., in ant format, is automatically copyrighted according to international treaty (the Berne Convention). All copyrights remain the property of their respective owners.

Teachers should go to the For Teachers... page for additional copyright information.

This assignment, itself, is copyright 1996 and 1997 by Deborah Aufdenspring. Educators are granted free use of the assignment for use in their classrooms. Only attempts to sell material found in the lesson plan are prohibited.

Lesson Plan by Deborah Aufdenspring

Thanks to Sandra Mings-Lamar for input and for co-teaching with me.
Thanks to Gary Aufdenspring for putting it together.

E-mail me.

Return to your previous page by clicking your browser's "Back" button, or
go to Next Page, or
go to the Site Index, or
Return to Ms. A's Class Home Page