Volume 8, Issue 2: Fall 2012

    

Roundtable on Teaching Motorcycle Studies

Live to Ride, Ride to Live: Motorcycles and America

Carter A. Edman

Bostwick Design Partnership

 

I teach part-time at Case Western Reserve University in their SAGES (Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship) gen-ed program.  The courses in the program are often interdisciplinary, designed to expose students to areas of study they might not otherwise encounter.  I had been teaching a course on creative problem solving and one on design, both related to my profession as an architect.  These courses also fulfill a writing requirement, and my writing co-instructor suggested I propose a course on motorcycle culture after noticing my passion for bikes and some of the references I would make (e.g. to motorcycle design aesthetics or to investigative problem solving as in motorcycle mechanics).

I wrote a course description and a preliminary version of the attached syllabus, and the course was approved by the university.  Naturally, the committee wanted to ensure that this was a serious class, and I sat down with the head of the committee and laid out my intentions and goals.  This was basically an extended discussion of what is outlined in the syllabus. 

The course filled up very quickly (the class size limit for SAGES courses is 17) and there were requests for overrides.  Many of these students are very focused on their majors and some see gen-ed as a distraction, so something a little unusual that fulfills the requirement stands out.  Also, the intrinsic appeal of motorcycles cannot be denied.  Finally, the fact that I work fulltime means that my courses are in the evenings, and this clearly fits well with the heavy schedules my students typically have, especially with labs and clinicals for science and nursing students, respectively.  All this combined meant no marketing was required to get a full class of enthusiastic students.

The assignments were written essays.  Generic assignment descriptions are also attached.  CWRU students have to submit a writing portfolio, and the final essay assignment is designed to meet the requirement in that portfolio for a 10- to 12-page researched persuasive paper.  All the other assignments lead up to that one, building in complexity and rigor through the semester from a simple reflective essay to a response to a given reading, to a shorter researched paper, to the final paper, which they also present formally in class to their peers.

The resources we used changed throughout the semester.  For example, we did not end up using No Angel, which I don’t recommend unless you’re using it as an example to critique a quasi-journalistic memoir perspective.  The first reading was the first few chapters of ZAMM, followed immediately by Hunter S. Thompson’s “Sausage Creature” essay.  I like presenting such contrasting views back-to-back and right at the beginning.  Most of the students’ images of cycles come from reality TV, so that needs to be deconstructed.  Thanks to the IJMS conference, I will have a much wider range of materials available if (as I hope) I teach this again next Spring.  (CWRU actually offered to let me teach this course this Fall, but as I am starting a new “day job,” I didn’t feel I could give the course its needed attention.)

We used some short video almost every day.  These ranged from interviews with James (Hammarhead) Loughead or Shinya Kimura to Richard Thompson singing “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” to the Honda RC30 promotional video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO9YVYg4FyU .  These were always followed by 5-10 minutes of discussion to get the class rolling (class period length was 75 min.).  The only full-length movie we watched in its entirety was The Wild One.  The students really responded to this (which was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me), and we ended up spending three class periods on it.  We saw excerpts from Rumblefish and Easy Rider.  We also read voluminous articles from the periodical sources listed in the syllabus.  Sometimes the article itself was the subject of the critique. 

We were fortunate enough to have Scott Colosimo of Cleveland Cyclewerks and the owner of a local multibrand dealership visit the class and lend their perspectives.  We also visited The Gas Box (see my article on Hell for Leather for info on this shop: http://hellforleathermagazine.com/2012/08/inside-the-gas-box/).

There were a few challenges in this course.  First, the topic as described is really too broad for one 3-credit class.  We ended up going into more depth in some topics (e.g. motorcycles in film) and really going lightly on some others (e.g. outlaw clubs).  This was not all bad, because our cursory treatment of some topics left plenty of room for students to pursue their own research.  Another challenge had to do with the final papers.  Some of them were outstanding, but several of the final papers were either a history of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company or a report on outlaw clubs, and these were generally lightly researched.  I do require drafts along the way, but of course it is those students who need the most guidance on their papers who tend not to turn in drafts or to change topics after the draft.

In-class discussions always present challenges.  The SAGES courses are meant to be seminar style as much as possible, so participation is extremely important (20% of the grade in my classes).  One the one hand, the level of participation in this class was terrific—the best I’ve had.  Discussion started easily and usually developed its own momentum.  On the other hand, the discussion was often dominated by three to four students who either had motorcycles or were otherwise into bikes, and they often (unintentionally) used jargon that excluded other students.  A lot of traffic direction and requests for explanation were needed.

Overall, I had very positive student feedback and I think this was a fresh challenge for both the students and myself.

 

Syllabus

Live to Ride, Ride to Live: Motorcycles and America

The purpose of this course is to explore motorcycle culture as an outcome, microcosm, and sometimes foil for broader American culture from the end of World War II to the present.  We will examine historical accounts and current media to understand the variety of perspectives on this elastic and evolving subculture.  Many within the motorcycle press and industry believe that motorcycling is in the midst of a major cultural shift, which may reflect changes in generational values as well as economic realities, and which makes this a uniquely fascinating time to study this significant American subculture.

Course Objectives:

Students will:

1: Gain an appreciation for the commonalities and heterogeneities of motorcycle culture as an example of a subculture dependent upon but distinct from broader American culture.

2: Consider the relationships between motivations such as adventure, companionship, autonomy, and solitude and the current and past social conditions that may drive or affect them.

3: Question and consider why certain artifacts and activities become identified as distinctly American.

4: Analyze organic movements and compare these with mass media interpretations and corporate messages and brand identity.

5: Shed popular misconceptions about motorcyclists and question received ideas about American archetypes.

We will proceed by posing questions intended to make connections and inspire independent answers.  Some unexpected questions will surely arise from our readings and discussions, but the basic questions we should expect to address will include:

1: How do different machines address different functional, aesthetic, and social needs?  How have these needs changes over time, and how has technology responded?

2: How is identity created through signifiers such as language, clothing and emblems, machine choice, riding style, music, etc.?  How do different sub-groups relate to one another, including race and gender differences?

3: How are groups and events portrayed differently by different participants and by outside media?

4: How are motorcycles marketed and how does this reflect implicit "American" values and archetypes?  What are the roles of "heritage" and "genuine"-ness in marketing, and the relationship between corporate messaging and biker self-identification?  What other messages can we find?

5: How is customization used as an expression of craftsmanship and individual agency? 

6: How do European and American riding cultures compare, especially British Rockers & Mods and motorcycle racing?  Are they influencing on another?  Are they converging or diverging?

7: What is the future of motorcycling in America?  Is this really the beginning of a new era?

Methodology:

Both student- and instructor-guided discussion in a seminar setting

Critical analysis of primary and secondary sources

Guest speakers representing different aspects of motorcycle culture

Field trips to an independent cycle shop and a bike rally

Comparative physical analysis of actual specimen motorcycles

Oral and written presentations by students

Writing Liaison will contribute writing instruction throughout the course

Texts:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Shop Class as Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford

Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

No Angel by Jay Dobyns

Bike Lust: Harleys, Women, and American Society by Barbara Joans

Films & Television Shows:

The Wild One

Easy Rider

Rebel Rousers

Rumblefish

American Chopper and other "reality" programs

It's Better in the Wind

Blogs and Magazines:

Hell for Leather (students will be asked to subscribe to this blog)

BikeEXIF

The Vintagent

Pipeburn

Lowside

CycleWorld

Iron Horse

Writing Assignments:

Writing assignments build throughout the semester, beginning with two simple 2-3 page Reflective Essays which serve as initial writing exercises and help the students investigate their existing conceptions of creativity and creative work.  The next written assignment is a 4-5 page Reaction Paper, which is a critical analysis of a reading given in class.  This includes practice summarizing, responding to, and evaluating an argument and the incorporation of accurate, appropriate citations.  The next paper is a researched Persuasive Essay of approximately 6 pages.  This will be on a topic of the student's choice.  They must find their own sources, and a draft will be turned in prior to the final paper.  The last paper is a Thesis of 10-12 pages, designed to fit into the SAGES portfolio requirements.  All the other assignments are practice papers for this final Thesis.  In addition to turning in a final copy of the paper, students will submit proposed topics, an outline, an annotated bibliography, and a rough draft at various points leading up to the final paper.  Students will also make a graded in-class presentation of their final paper.

Grading:

Grades will break down as follows:

Reflective Essay #1

50

 

Reflective Essay #2

50

 

Reaction Paper

100

 

Thesis Topics

50

 

Persuasive Draft

50

 

Participation (1st half)

100

 

Persuasive Paper

100

 

Thesis Outline

50

 

Thesis Draft

50

 

In-Class Presentation

100

 

Thesis

200

 

Participation (2nd half)

100

 

Total

1000

 

 

Paper assignments:

Motorcycles and America

"Summarizing, Responding to, and Evaluating an Argument"

 

Spring 2012

 

Due: 2.7.2012

Purpose:  Your purpose in writing an evaluative essay is to convey an informed judgment to your readers.  You can establish authority and credibility by basing your judgment on sound reasoning and solid evidence and provided in your essay.

 

Assignment:  Write a 4- to 5-page essay analyzing a selected reading from the class.  You should consider your audience to be someone who is familiar with the subject matter, but who has not read the article.  Therefore, it is very important that you include a brief summary of the article as well as the author's thesis (a paragraph or two – at most a page).

 

Making an Evaluation:  Is the article believable?  Useful to another researcher?  Why or why not?  What details support your conclusion?  Be sure to give specific reasons for your assessment as well as evidence to support your judgments.  Your reasons should be based on whatever criteria you decide are relevant to your subject.

 

In making your evaluation (is the article worth reading?), you will want to lay out your reasons in somewhat general statements, such as "This essay was clear and detailed as best exemplified by...," or "The UCLA campus article was entertaining and informative."  Then provide supporting evidence and examples that can be introduced by "For example" and "For instance" statements.  Feel free to use specific (properly cited) paraphrases and quotes to support your observations.

 

Basic Features:  Your essay should:

·      make a judgment (your response to the reading)

·      include a short summary of the article for those who haven't read it as well as those that have and need a refresher

·      try to convince readers that the essay is helpful/not helpful in the context of the subject, i.e. what does it bring to the table as far as the issues of the course are concerned?

·      support your judgment using examples from the essay (Did you like the essay?  Why or why not?) and analyze the essay's features

·      include your own assessment of the issue discussed and possible explore new lines of thought

·      us proper MLA format for essays, including header, works cited page, and at least 1 quotation documented appropriately in your essay

 

Motorcycles and America

A Researched Persuasive Essay

 

Spring 2012

 

The researched essay is your first chance to develop a clearly organized, thesis-driven argumentative essay based upon multiple sources.  It is not necessarily essential to the success of you paper that all your sources agree with your argument, but the sources should relate in a demonstrable way to your topic and argument.  Before anything, determine if you have settled on a clear, arguable topic.  Remember, you are not summarizing the articles you research, nor are you giving a term (report) paper that is informative in nature.  You must take a side.  Before you start to write your essay, you must thoroughly read each source you collect and take comprehensive notes (notecards are recommended) that analyze, critique, and investigate the topics covered.  Analyze what the authors did right and what could use improvement.  Look particularly at the way they develop their thesis statements and how they uses synthesis to appropriately "fuse" the information they are borrowing.

 

Your essay should contain:

 

            1: A title that accurately reflects the topic and/or thesis of your essay

            2: A well-developed thesis statement that argues a position.  A thesis is neither and interrogative, nor should it be merely implied.  The thesis msut formulate a celar and tenable position, i.e. one that can be definitively defended by your sources.

            3: A well-developed introduction and conclusion.  They are the book-ends that hold everything together.

            4: Synthesis of your source elements; that is, combining of ideas from your sources according to such concepts as cause-and-effect, comparison and contrast, and/or arguments and counter-arguments.

            5: Balanced development of all your main supporting points.  If your points are to be accepted as valid by your audience, you must support them in a logical way that draws upon relevant evidence.  This means you must use both your own findings and a sampling of proper MLA citations (both direct quotations and paraphrases) to support your assertions.  This activity is at the heart of synthesis.

            6: Quotations and paraphrases that are properly framed and not simply "dumped" into the essay.  Establish "before and after" information so that your audience understands the necessity of the quotation.

            7: A Works Cited page that follows MLA format precisely.  Electronic sources can be particularly problematic, so please ask when you need clarification.

 

Procedure:

 

            1: Develop a clear one- or two-sentence thesis.  This statement may change as you find information that will lead you down a different path.

            2: Explore your research venues, e.g. the Kelvin Smith Library.  Many different paper and electronic resources are available there.  Collect as many sources as you can that are relevant to your topic.  While you are not required to have more than 4 sources for this paper, it cannot hurt to investigate more.

            3: Analyze the sources critically.  This is similar to the critical analysis of texts we have done in class

            4: Gather excerpts fro your sources – place these on note cards, a Word file, sheets of paper, etc.  Make these quotations, paraphrases, opinions, statistics, and facts you can transfer to your paper.

            5: Outline your thesis (It will probably be different now that you've looked at your sources), main points, and counter-arguments.

            6: Begin writing the rough draft.  This is where the synthesis comes into play.  Do not underestimate this task.  If you fail to examine the relevance of the information you're inserting into your paper, it will be very apparent to your audience that you're reaching for support.

            7: Bring two drafts (one anonymous) the day the Draft is due.

 

Length:

Your paper should be approximately 6 typed pages (generally 1350-1750 words, if you prefer, but please do not count words or add "filler").  We're looking for quality, not numbers.  Do not use a cover sheet.

 

Remember to include your header and pagination, thus:

 

 

Fuller 2

 

Buckminster Fuller

USSY 286J

Essay Title

October 15, 2009

 

Motorcycles and America

Reflective Essay

Spring 2012

 

First Essay due: 1.19.2012

Second Essay due: 1.26.2012

 

A reflective essay represents your thoughts and observations about a particular topic.  This is not a research paper, and citations are not required, although you may wish to refer to things you have read for class or on your own.  Conversely, this is not a journal entry; it should be cogent, grammatical, and thoughtful, developing one or a very few ideas in an interesting direction.

 

As with all your writing, your thoughts and words must be your own.  There is not a length requirement, but generally these tend to be approximately 3 pages double-spaced.

 

The first reflective essay will help us understand the background you bring to the class.  It may be a specific memory or experience and how it affected you.  Perhaps it is simply your ruminations or a description about what motorcycle culture is.  The form may be very loose, but it should convey something genuine about your perspective on the topic of the class.

 

The second reflective essay will be about your first week's experience with this topic in our class.  You may write about our reading, discussions we've had, or anything that has given you cause to reflect.  You are not required to generate a profound revelation in the first week.  It may be as simple as identifying what areas of the topic you would like to explore more and what interests you about them.

 

Motorcycles and America

Final Essay

 

Spring 2012

 

You final paper will follow the same format as your 6-page persuasive paper, but will be larger in scope and length.  It will be a different (presumably more significant) topic from your 6-page paper, though the two may be related.  Again, you must take a position on a topic that is important to you and related to the course material. 

 

It is important to the success of your paper that you turn in the progress assignments (topics, outline, bibliography, and draft) on time, so that we can help you shape your thesis and arguments.  The intent of this assignment is that you will be able to use it in your SAGES portfolio, so you have a double interest in producing a quality product.  To that end, progress assignments are graded for completion only.

 

You should have at least 5-7 sources.  You may cite readings from class, but not exclusively.  Sources may also include interviews, journal articles, and even some carefully selected websites (Wikipedia is not allowed as a source).

 

For your convenience, the basic essay criteria are repeated here:

 

Your essay should contain:

 

            1: A title that accurately reflects the topic and/or thesis of your essay

            2: A well-developed thesis statement that argues a position.  A thesis is neither and interrogative, nor should it be merely implied.  The thesis must formulate a clear and tenable position, i.e., one that can be definitively defended by your sources.

            3: A well-developed introduction and conclusion.  They are the bookends that hold everything together.

            4: Synthesis of your source elements; that is, combining of ideas from your sources according to such concepts as cause-and-effect, comparison and contrast, and/or arguments and counter-arguments.

            5: Balanced development of all your main supporting points.  If your points are to be accepted as valid by your audience, you must support them in a logical way that draws upon relevant evidence.  This means you must use both your own findings and a sampling of proper MLA citations (both direct quotations and paraphrases) to support your assertions.  This activity is at the heart of synthesis.

            6: Quotations and paraphrases that are properly framed and not simply "dumped" into the essay.  Establish "before and after" information so that your audience understands the necessity of the quotation.

            7: A Works Cited page that follows MLA format precisely.  Electronic sources can be particularly problematic, so please ask when you need clarification.

 

Procedure:

 

            1: Develop a clear one- or two-sentence thesis.  This statement may change as you find information that will lead you down a different path.

            2: Explore your research venues, e.g. the Kelvin Smith Library.  Many different paper and electronic resources are available there.  Collect as many sources as you can that are relevant to your topic.  While you are not required to have more than 4 sources for this paper, it cannot hurt to investigate more.

            3: Analyze the sources critically.  This is similar to the critical analysis of texts we have done in class

            4: Gather excerpts fro your sources—place these on note cards, a Word file, sheets of paper, etc.  Make these quotations, paraphrases, opinions, statistics, and facts you can transfer to your paper.

            5: Outline your thesis (it will probably be different now that you've looked at your sources), main points, and counter-arguments.

            6: Begin writing the rough draft.  This is where the synthesis comes into play.  Do not underestimate this task.  If you fail to examine the relevance of the information you're inserting into your paper, it will be very apparent to your audience that you're reaching for support.

 

 

Length:

Your paper should be approximately 10-12 typed pages, but please do not count words or add "filler".  We're looking for quality, not numbers.  Do not use a cover sheet.

 

Remember to include your header and pagination, thus:

 

 

Sullivan 2

 

Louis Sullivan

USSY 286J

Essay Title

April 12, 2012

 

 

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