Historical Analysis

Historical analysis is less a separate analytical framework or approach than it is an element that should be present in any analysis of popular culture. Observing and analyzing changes over time is essential to understanding why a contemporary text is the way it is. We cannot understand our present without understanding our past. And we cannot fully imagine change without a sense of how our culture has changed over time. Our ability to understand the improvements in and the limits of current media representations of African Americans, for example, is greatly enhanced by viewing two documentaries that detail the history of African American representations in the mass media, Ethnic Notions and Color Adjustment.

General Sites

  • Ad Flip. Advertises itself as the “world’s largest archive of classic print ads,” and it is in fact an excellent resource with hundreds of ads from the 1940s to the present, arranged by year or by subject matter.
  • Advertising Age magazine. Includes a section on the history of the advertising industry.
  • Baseball Cards, 1887–1914. Nice site on early history of baseball.
  • Edison Motion Pictures. American Memory Project site on one of the important sources for early silent films.
  • Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920. Excellent resource from Duke University.
  • Film and History. Website from the journalFilm and History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television History.
  • Lyrics World. Amazing collection of Top 40 Hits music lyrics from 1930 to 1999.
  • New Deal Network. Another excellent thirties site that includes many photographs, cartoons, and other pieces of popular visual culture.
  • Nineteen Thirties Project. Excellent site from the University of Virginia that includes nice sections on film and radio.
  • Nuke Pop. Excellent site exploring images of nuclear weapons in post-WWII US (and some Japanese) popular culture.
  • Old-Time Radio. Links to radio programs from the Golden Age of radio in the mid-20th century.
  • Origins of American Animation. An excellent site from the Library of Congress.
  • Psychedelic Sixties. Fine site that includes much on popular culture of the 1960s in social context.
  • Red Scare, 1918–21. Includes a number of cartoons, and other pop culture representations of the anti-radical craze that swept America after World War I.
  • TV in the 1950s. Divided by categories of drama, comedy, quiz shows, etc. Includes a number of audio clips of theme music from the shows.

Historic Advertisements

  • Ad Access. Duke University presents images and database information for over 7,000 advertisements printed in US and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955.
  • Classic Advertisements Gallery. Includes about twenty ads made between the 1880s and 1930s (two pages).


[Few topics on popular culture can be adequately researched on the web alone. These reading suggestions are designed as beginning points for further offline study.]

Color Adjustment.Dir. Marlon Riggs. San Francisco: California Newsreel, 1991.
Documentary on the evolution of the potrayal of blacks in television.
Ethnic Notions.Dir. Marlon Riggs. San Francisco: California Newsreel, 1987.
Documentary on the history of black prejudice.
Gaspar de Alba, Alicia.Chicano Art Inside/Outside the Master’s House: Cultural Politics and the CARA Exhibition.Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.
Brilliant interpretation of a major Chicano art retrospective that raises key questions about the construction of high art vs. popular art among marginalized ethno-racialized groups.
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall.Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising.New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Classic study of how advertising techniques have shaped the American electoral process.
Lears, T.J. Jackson.Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of American Advertising.New York: Basic Books, 1994.
Richly detailed study of the rise of American advertising in the context of later 19th and early 20th century American culture.
Lee, Robert G.Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture.Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
The most comprehensive study to date on Asian Americans in pop culture, covering two centuries and many different cultural forms.
Lefèvre, Pascal and Dierick Charles, eds.Forging a New Medium: The Comic Strip in the Nineteenth Century.Brussel: Vub Brussels University Press, 1999.
Establishes the historical background necessary to understand the origin and nature of the modern comic strip. Includes essays on rise of comics in particular countries, among them England, Spain, Germany, and the US, essays from prominent artists in the genre, as well as a useful timeline on the development of the comic strip.
Levine, Lawrence.Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Highly influential study of the formation of our current split of “high” and “popular” culture in the later 19th, early 20th century.
Lipsitz, George.Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
Innovative study of relations between mass-produced pop culture and the realities of communal memory dimly present in those commodified productions.
Lutz, Catherine and Jane L. Collins.Reading National Geographic.Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Two visual anthropologists study the racial, gender, and international politics of this influential journal.
Marcus, Greil.Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock and Roll Music.New York: E. P. Dutton, 1975.
The revised American Studies dissertation of one of America’s foremost rock critics is a searching study of the gritty roots of what has become glossy pop culture.
McCloud, Scott.Understanding Comics.New York: Harper Perennial, 1993.

Very lucid, rich introduction to the history and visual and verbal meaning making processes of comic books. The book itself is done in brilliant comic book form.

Nasaw, David.Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements.New York, NY: Basic Books, 1993.
Wide-ranging study of the culture industries of the early 20th century, with particular emphasis on the role they played for immigrant workers.
Peiss, Kathy.Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York.Philadelphia, PN: Temple University Press, 1986.
Classic American Studies text, looking at the various forms of early 20th century pop culture aimed at women from the working class.
———.A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
One of the few books that looks carefully at the construction of “middle-brow” taste as exemplified in the book of the month club’s efforts to provide enlightening reading.
Ross, Andrew.No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture.New York: Routledge, 1989.
Important collection of essays tracing the various kinds of analysis US intellectuals have made of popular culture over the course of the 20th century.