Ithaca College Quarterly 2004/2 South Hill Today


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Interdisciplinary & International Studies
Presidential Campaigns Kit

In the presidential election of 1840 the Whig Party put up William Henry Harrison against the incumbent, Democratic-Republican Martin Van Buren. Part of the Whig campaign strategy was staging huge street celebrations in honor of their candidate, a military hero. These parades would often feature parades, sing-alongs, mass meetings, and the rolling of huge slogan-covered balls through towns; this is where the phrase "keep the ball rolling" was coined. This campaign also gave birth to one of the most famous campaign slogans in U.S. history: "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too." (Tippecanoe was Harrison's nickname, after his most famous battle; John Tyler was Harrison's running mate.) The Whigs won the election; Harrison died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration.

The late-Civil War anti-Lincoln poster used by the 1864 George McClellan campaign. Lincoln, the Republican incumbent, beat Democrat McClellan by a comfortable margin, despite the fact that McClellan ran a pretty vicious campaign, as evidenced by this poster. Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865; his vice president, Andrew Johnson, succeeded him.

Republican Ulysses S. Grant had been the commander of Union forces during the Civil War and was one of the first candidates in U.S. history to run on a peace platform. This emblem portrays him as a patriotic warrior who now stands for peace. A half million newly freed and enfranchised African Americans helped him to beat his Democratic opponent, New York governor Horatio Seymour, by a substantial margin.

Buttons were big in the 1940 race between the two-term incumbent, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Republican Wendell Willkie. One campaign topic was whether a president should be allowed a third term. Roosevelt won handily as war raged in Europe.

Just in time for the 2004 presidential elections, Project Look Sharp has released its educational Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns curriculum kit for high school and college students. The package includes more than 140 historical media documents from 26 elections on CD-ROM, video, DVD, and audio CD. Campaign songs, posters, home-made signs, buttons, television skits, political cartoons, photos, magazine covers, comic strips, and TV commercials.

"The idea is to prepare students to think critically about historical, political, and ethical issues," e explains psychology professor Cyndy Scheibe, associate professor of psychology at Ithaca College and executive director of the IC-based national media literacy initiative, which is now in its ninth year. "This unique curriculum not only gives students access to historical documents -- from recordings of old-time campaign songs to video clips from televised debates -- but it also trains them to listen critically and decode the visual messages in campaign materials. Exploring historical context, the impact of new technologies, and evolving techniques for image construction and marketing, the curriculum gives teachers resources to engage students in an interactive, rigorous study of American democracy."

Veteran high school history teacher, director of curriculum and staff development for Project Look Sharp, and coauthor of the kit Chris Sperry '79 adds, "In this media-saturated world we have to teach students to think deeply and critically about how they know what they know. Project Look Sharp developed these materials to help teachers cover core content in an engaging and accessible way while simultaneously teaching essential skills for democratic citizenship."

"Through a viewing and discussion of the 1988 Bush campaign commercial showing Michael Dukakis in a tank, for example, students learn how image-based impressions can affect an election," says Scheibe. "Students compare partisan editorials about the Gettysburg Address, decode campaign posters for Teddy Roosevelt, and analyze how websites now enable the micro-marketing of candidates."

This is the second in a series of curriculum kits published by Project Look Sharp, whose mission is to help teachers integrate media literacy and critical thinking into K-12 classroom curricula in all instructional areas. Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns and the first kit, Media Construction of War, are available for purchase via the Center for Media Literacy/GPN Educational Media: A third kit, Media Construction of the Middle East, is due out in 2005.

Curriculum kit  
The latest Project Look Sharp kit (left) is available for sale online at Center for Media Literacy.Visit Project Look Sharp for more links and resources.

All images courtesy of Project Look Sharp

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