Music History

Teaching U2: Inside a College Course on the Band

David Whitt teaches at Nebraska Wesleyan University where he’s in charge of a required course for all first-year students. I’ll let him describe it.

While the topic of each [Archway Seminar] is different, each course includes some requisite speaking and writing assignments, which made developing the course syllabus a little easier. The capstone project is a 10-page research paper due at the end of the semester. For my AWS that paper is called U2 in 10, described as follows:

After several months of listening to U2 music, watching U2 concerts and documentaries, and reading critical scholarship about U2, you are all now experts on the band. For your major research paper, you will summarize this knowledge and write a 10-page paper (minimum) arguing which 10 songs, albums, people and/or events you believe best reflect the music and meaning of U2. It will probably be easiest to write your paper using a chronological organizational pattern moving from past to present. For example, if you believe the album Boy (1980) should be on your list, discuss it first rather than toward the end of your paper. A chronological pattern will also help you see how the band’s music, influence and popularity have evolved over time.

To be clear, students don’t select 10 songs, 10 albums, 10 people and 10 events. They only have 10 selections total, which means each must be carefully considered and supported with sources (books, periodicals, radio/TV programs, etc.). So the research paper is more like writing 10 one-page papers, requiring the students to be concise with their descriptions and discussion. When first explaining the objective of the U2 in 10 paper, I tell students to imagine they’re sitting around the table during holiday season and a relative asks, “You took a college class on U2? That sounds (cool/ridiculous/interesting/a waste of tuition money).” The student can then provide specific examples of U2’s influence on music and activism to not only impress fans and skeptics, but also further justify the value of U2 as a subject of inquiry.


Thanks to Michael for the link,

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38321 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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