British Culture Through Things


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Students explored British culture through food, song and sport. This slide demonstrated how something like fish and chips tells us a lot about a culture (geography, climate and the like). We had used Lord of the Rings as an example of culture through literature. You will have to modify for your use.

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  • Here are some issues I saw with the teaching, that I wanted to share.
  • PowerPoint is a tool. One danger you have is to put too much information on a slide.For example, I might tell you that England is one of four parts of the United Kingdom, which also includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Union Jack, as seen above, is a mash of those flags. And, the capital of the UK is London. Great. On the notes section I have this information, which I say, but I don’t clutter up the slides visually.
  • At the same time, you want to balance visuals for visual learners. Some facts are good. Because PowerPoint slides don’t cost you anything, you could spread this one (for example) over three slides.
  • There are seven provinces in the United Kingdom? False.There are four. We just did it on the last slide. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.True or False test questions are badly designed test questions? True.If you give students false information, it reinforces wrong ideas in their head.Now, you have two answers floating around in your head. You may know it is four, but you start to doubt it and think seven.
  • For example, Team Handball does not seem to be British. For example, the UK is the only country in Europe where it is not professionally played.Indeed, looking at its history there seems to be no English origin at all. My source, Wikipedia, may be wrong, but you need to be sure.
  • Every class has a point. When you walk out the door, you should have learned some small nugget; a fact, a skill, or something. It might reinforce something, but you should not waste the class’ time.That goal drives the lesson.What you do should support that goal, just as supporting evidence all goes back to the thesis. Otherwise, you are wasting people’s time.Your goal was British culture. Did it work? Were your lessons, in the end, effective?
  • How is Fish and Chips British?
  • Too understand why fish and chips might be British, let’s look at a map. What do you notice about the United Kingdom?(Answer: it’s an island. The main feature of an island is being surrounded by water. Water contains fish, an excellent source of protein. Thus, fish becomes a primary food in British culture, even as we go global).
  • These are cod, a popular fish in the North Atlantic.From their size, you can imagine commercial fishing providing a lot of food and employment. It becomes important to the culture of the country.
  • This is called Social Geography.Social Geography is looking at how a place’s geography affects its culture. For example, on an island fish tends to be a main staple of diets. Look at Japan and the central place fish plays in their diet (think: sushi). Nebraska, a landlocked culture, puts steak at the center of its culinary culture.Social Geography extends to everything from history (why did little England, the Netherlands and Spain have the great navies—and thus military—of Europe, and why did their power expand just as trade became central to expanding empires? Hmmm) to social norms such as architecture (what materials are used, and how are buildings designed?) to fashion.
  • Let’s take a look at other aspects of England with regard to food. Here is a climate chart. Notice how the UK is in the middle of Europe’s climate: not too cold, but not particularly hot, either. In the 50s, F.
  • Here we see rainfall. There is a lot on the western half of the UK, which faces the ocean and picks up the gulf stream.
  • Then there is the soil. The pH is a bit acidic.
  • With moderate temperatures, decent rainfall and a slightly acidic soil the crops that become part of England’s diet are limited.Remember, crops need to be plentiful and reliable if a society is to thrive.What crop could grow under such conditions?
  • Our friend the potato.Cut it up, and you have the chip.
  • Toffee? When the British colonized the Caribbean it was to produce sugar.This lead to the slave triangle, that helped build America in the early years.Products were brought to Africa to buy and capture slaves. Slaves were sent to the Caribbean to raise and harvest sugarcane. Sugar and rum were sent back to England and the process started again. Vanilla is grown primarily in Mexico and Central America, and, like sugar, were part of the triangle.So, toffee is an example of England’s rise to being a colonial power, where their colonies lay, and the slave trade they took part in. This historical legacy still remains, centuries after slavery was banned and with most of its colonies gone, as seen in their choice of sweets.
  • Bonus cultural geography point: How does having mountains and a landscape blasted by sea breeze and cold affect fashion? You can breed sheep, that feed off the grass that is able to grow in damp, cold, windy climates and on terrain too rocky or vertical to farm.Sheep is an excellent source of protein, and, for fashion, wool. In addition to being a basic fiber, wool is warm when wet.This is exactly what someone on an island, and who might supplement their living by going to sea to fish, needs for clothing.
  • Indeed, to take it a step further….So, the Hebrides, on the northwestern part of the British Isles (aka Scotland) is home of Harris Tweed, the world’s premier wool manufacturer.And, of course, Scotland is known for its kilts, which traditionally are large wraps of wool.
  • British rock music comes down to three basic elements:Three chordsStrong backbeatCatchy melody
  • These three elements can be seen over the course of British rock music, from the Beatles to the punk music scene with The Sex Pistols.In fact, when The Sex Pistols broke out, the cover of a popular music magazine said, “Here’s your three chords, now start a band.”
  • Why? The reasons are many fold.First, England is very urban. This means that people gather together (bands vs. individuals). There is little to do for kids in a city (other than cause touble), so kids get together and play music, form bands, and go to hear music in clubs.Second, members of bands like the Beatles and Sex Pistols come from poor urban families. When they can get instruments (often guitars), they are self taught (thus the three chords). Again, what else is there to do for a kid other than play, form a band, and hear music.Third, lower social classes have a tradition of song that is simple (again, three chords and a melody). Those songs are sung at gatherings and social events. This fosters bands and responding to the crowd (simple beats, melodies).Four, unemployment was rampant in the 50s, 60s and 70s. That means depression, little money, and nothing to do. Music is an escape.Finally, lower social classes had a social link to poor jazz and blues musicians from America. The basic elements of those genres, which came from the same type of poverty and social music traditions (think: hymns) was the foundation for British pop.
  • In thinking about the three elements of British music, you can know about British culture—its urban nature, its poverty, the unemployment. The Spice Girls are predictable result of British culture (notice the flag).If you think about American music—its focus on individuals (Elvis, Springsteen, Kid Rock), the complexities of its instrumentals (read: guitar solo; Prince), our affluence—you can see America.Indeed, rap is one of the few genres that is most British—strong beat, few chords, some good melodies (sampled)—having shared many of its roots (urban poverty, jazz and blues). But is dominated by the individual (rap start and artists like P. Diddy) and, over time, has gotten very technical.Our other result from the American trend of individuals, complexity of playing and affluence can be seen in the rise of Guitar Hero. That, and the laziness of Americans that we don’t even bother to learn to play even three chords!
  • Teamwork. One British element is the idea of teamwork. The British value teamwork above all else.Compare that to the Americans. We herald the home run hero, the quarterback, and the player who can slam dunk. While teamwork makes us one of the great nations, and we talk a lot about it, it is often celebrated after or in conjunction with individual success.
  • Toughness. While the British may have a reputation for drinking tea and being a bit foppish, in truth their empire was built on the backs of people who could make things happen in any condition. They were tough, and they brought this element with them in every country they conquered and ran.
  • Historically, rugby was invented at The Rugby School. The game was named after the school.What does this tell us about England?First, it honors the tradition of English public schools, which are really private schools. These schools are one of the pillars of British history, culture, social class and society in general.Second, it demonstrates how the elite social class—the ones that would go to such as school—valued the ideals of teamwork and toughness. As they grew up, joined the army, and went off and conquered the world, they spread the gospel of rugby. In a social class that believed in fair play and the role of the gentleman, they still felt such a game had an important place in society.Compare that to American sports. Which social class plays football today? Lacrosse and soccer?
  • In looking at portraits, the art is realistic. This is very British. While Britain is the home of several avant-garde artists, their art tends to be in reaction to the tradition of realism.
  • So, the work of outsider artistsGilbert and George, while quite bold and different, have a great deal of realism. It is the juxtaposition of ideas, not their expression, that is different.The real Gilbert and George are on the right.
  • On the other hand, American artist Jackson Pollack is known for his abstract work (left). Even his self portrait (right) has abstract elements, conveying truth not through a detailed illustration of his physical self but through the emotion his techniques convey.
  • Many cultures have theatre, but the British bring us a host of new ideas.We focus on Shakespeare, but let’s focus on another type of theatre that is with us today.
  • Absurdist Humor is based on simply being weird. You expect one thing, and get something really ridiculous. Humor is created through the uneasiness of “things not being right”.Early examples are British author’s Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and Edward Lear’s stories and poems (including “The Owl and the Pussycat”). An entire century of British children were raised on such stories, including those members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
  • Stream of consciousness is the telling of a story as someone would think. So, while a traditional sitcom might be tight, and end with someone leaving the room after deciding to go to the bank, with the next scene happening in a bank, a stream of consciousness story would follow that character as a real person might do and think. They might follow them picking up the paper, thinking about lunch, waiting in traffic, etc. before they finally get to the bank. It’s dull, but real, so it makes for an interesting perspective.This style was developed by the Bloomsbury writers after World War I in Britain. Two of the great authors are James Joyce and Virgina Woolf.
  • We’ve talked about Arthur, and the influence he’s had. It is no coincidence that Monty Python’s first foray into movies was poking fun at this very British subject.
  • I’m seeing a lot of wool clothing. I’m seeing farms.Notice Tolkien’s own wool clothing.
  • I see small villages, with livestock. Much like the villages of Northern England, Scotland and Wales. Note the use of stone and straw roofing.
  • Note how British meals are a lot like Hobbit meals. To the British, elevensies and second breakfast are the same. Also, Afternoon Tea is sometimes an extension of Dinner. Generally, the British have several meal options, but do not eat all of them on the same day (but they do break a lot).In America, it might be like having breakfast, brunch, snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and bedtime snack.
  • Celtic influences in Tolkien—and British—music.Three chords: MadolinStrong backbeat: DrumsCatchy melody: Repeat, repeat, repeat.
  • Teamwork. The Fellowship is the great example of two things:First, that the hero of the story is not a great superhero, but the smallest of all.Second, that the goal can only be completed through a team that sees each other through to the end, regardless of the cost.These are ideas seen in rugby, cricket and even team handball. There is not one, great hero.These ideas saw a small island in Europe create the biggest and greatest empire the world has yet seen.
  • This is the Battle of Helms Deep, one of the tough battles fought in Lord of the Rings. This toughness and tenacity is deep in the rugby tradition, getting down and dirty in the field of battle.It was also the daily routine of several wars, most notably for Tolkien, World War I.
  • When Tolkien created things, he did not stray far from what was already known in British myths.Goblins, Trolls, Elves, Dragons, Dwarves and Orcs already “existed”. Hobbits are just villagers who live in the English countryside.Gandalf is Merlin. Aragon is any fabled king.Tolkien distilled the myths, and breathed real life into them. Original? No. Tolkien was not even trying. He was making these myths—myths which had gone for hundreds of years—and made them relevant to the 20th century. His “art” was a reflection of what already existed.
  • Tolkien followed the ideas laid out in Beowulf, Arthurian legends and the like. His story fell along the way of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It was exactly NOT absurdist nor was it stream-of-consciousness. Tolkien’s way of story telling was exactly what the absurdists and Bloomsbury group were fighting against.
  • British Culture Through Things

    1. 1. Choose a Prompt:<br />How did your topic reflect British culture?<br />Or<br />2. What elements particular to British culture did you see demonstrated in these lessons?<br /><ul><li>Use details
    2. 2. GUM does not “count” but it tells me if I need to be doing more in LA around it.
    3. 3. LEAF should be second nature.</li></li></ul><li>Some Basics About Teaching<br />
    4. 4. PowerPoint Slides<br />
    5. 5. PowerPoint Slides<br />Name: United Kingdom<br />Made up of four provinces:<br />England<br />Scotland<br />Wales<br />Northern Island<br />Capitol: London<br />
    6. 6. True or False<br />There are seven provinces in the United Kingdom?<br />True and False test questions are badly designed test questions?<br />
    7. 7. Research, Research, Research<br />The modern game (team handball) is most popular in Europe, where it is the second most played sport after football (soccer). the only country in Europe where it is not professionally played is England and the rest of the United Kingdom. Handball is not recognised as a national sport in the United Kingdom, where the most played sport is football.<br />Team handball has origins reaching as far as antiquity: urania in ancient Greece, harpaston in ancient Rome, fangballspiel in medieval Germany as examples. There are also records of handball-like games in medieval France, and among the Inuit in Greenland, in the Middle Ages, and in Ancient Africa, primarily Egypt. By the 19th century, there existed similar games of haandbold from Denmark, hazena in the Czech Republic, hádzaná in Slovakia, gandbol in Ukraine, torball in Germany, as well as versions in Ireland and Uruguay.<br />
    8. 8. Backward Design<br />Goal? Ask yourself what students should leave the class knowing.<br />Everything you do reinforces this idea.<br />Your goal was to explore British culture and share it with the class.<br />
    9. 9. Fish and Chips<br />
    10. 10.
    11. 11.
    12. 12. Social Geography<br />How geography affects society, including history, politics, architecture, agriculture, social norms, philosophy, etc.<br />
    13. 13.
    14. 14.
    15. 15.
    16. 16.
    17. 17.
    18. 18.
    19. 19.
    20. 20.
    21. 21. Music<br />Three chords<br />Strong backbeat<br />Catchy melody<br />
    22. 22.
    23. 23.
    24. 24.
    25. 25. Rugby<br />
    26. 26.
    27. 27.
    28. 28.
    29. 29. Art<br />Realism vs. Abstract<br />
    30. 30.
    31. 31.
    32. 32.
    33. 33. Dramatic Theatre<br />
    34. 34. Absurdist Humor<br /> Based on bizarre juxtapositions, absurd situations and nonsense logic. A common element of surreal humor is the non-sequitur, in which one statement is followed by another with no logical progression.<br />
    35. 35. Stream of Consciousness<br />
    36. 36. Arthurian Legend<br />
    37. 37. Your Topics and Tolkien<br />
    38. 38. Hobbit Clothing<br />
    39. 39. Hobbit Villages<br />
    40. 40. Meals<br />First Breakfast - omelette, mushrooms, bacon (cooked in the fireplace), coffee - which, fortunately for us, they did actually drink in the books<br />Second Breakfast - whipped cream and berries, seedcakes<br />Elevensies - bread, cheese, fruits. This is when the ale started.<br />Luncheon - leek and mushroom-stuffed puff pastry boxes, cold chicken<br />Afternoon Tea - seedcakes, banana bread and Keemun tea<br />Dinner - coney (rabbit) stew with red wine, onions, garlic, carrots and herbs, cooked in the fireplace for about 6 hours<br />Supper - we were going to have a selection green salads, but could only muster up enough hunger for a few sprigs of watercress<br />
    41. 41. Hobbit Music<br />Three chords<br />Strong backbeat<br />Catchy melody<br />
    42. 42. Tolkien Teamwork<br />
    43. 43. Tough: Battle of Helms Deep<br />
    44. 44. Art and LOTR Creatures<br />
    45. 45. Absurdist and Stream-of-Consciousness<br />