British children interact with the culture of the USA on an almost daily basis, more often than not, without realising that they are part of a global process of cultural exchange.

American television programmes, Hollywood films, American or American-influenced pop music, fashion, and food, are integral parts of our children’s lives. Whether they are watching The Simpsons, the most recent Hollywood blockbuster, listening to the latest R & B track, surfing the web, eating fast-food or asking for Nike trainers, they are engaging with a culture that is both far removed from them, and entirely intertwined with their own.

But what version of ‘America’ and ‘American culture’ are young British children engaging with, exactly? ‘What America Means To Me’ is a project run by Dr Wendy McMahon from the School of American Studies at the University of East Anglia that explores young British people’s relationship with the culture of the United States and the place of the USA in their lives, as well as provide an opportunity for them to explore its history and diverse cultures.

The workshops are proving to be an extraordinarily fruitful experience for both the staff and the students. The students’ enthusiasm and excitement for, and engagement with the history and culture of the USA, is commendable and  the project is providing a platform for the students to build upon their already sophisticated knowledge of American culture. The workshops involve a range of activities, from thinking about how much American popular culture influences our perceptions of the place and its peoples, through imagining ourselves as different peoples at different points in American history, exploring the roots of today’s popular music, contemplating the values upon which America is founded, to thinking about the ways culture ‘travels’ and takes on different forms in different places.

 As a result of the workshops each student expresses their response to some of the pertinent issues they dealt with by  producing a creative piece of work which is then published in book.
An important outcome of the workshops is that most of the children are delighted to realise that ‘what we do’ in universities can be fun and, indeed, relevant to their lives.

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