Dom Flemons performs in The Attic for the FYS seminar.

First-Year Seminar: Protest Music and Social Change in the American Experience

Sitting in intimate tables of four to six people, three first-year seminars (FYS) gather in The Attic to have lunch and enjoy a performance and Q&A by folk musician, Dom Flemons.

Dom Flemons performs
Guest artist Dom Flemons performs for the Huber Burg in The Attic. Listen to songs by Dom Flemons on SoundCloud.

This is part of the fourth hour activities of Education Prof. Dave Powell’s FYS: “This Machine Kills Fascists!”: Protest Music & Social Change in the American Experience. Powell and his administrative partner in the Burg program, Jeff Rioux from the Center for Public Service, brought in three guest artists over the course of the semester to meet with the class and also perform for campus in the evening.

“You don't have to be wealthy to effect social change.”
– Madison Jaulin '18

The seminar is focused on three main themes, history, democracy, and communication, and how these themes are explored through music.

“While art entertains us, it can enlighten and liberate us as well,” Powell said. “My hope is that students will emerge from this course with a stronger sense of what it means to be human, and with a better sense of how we can express our humanity through music.”

The course was created out of Powell’s passion for history and his enjoyment of listening to music. “I wanted to create a course that tied history and music together in a non-conventional way. Music itself is an entry point – it’s creative and interesting,” Powell said. “This course draws heavily from popular music and culture.”

Erin McKeown discusses what makes a good song
Guest artist Erin McKeown discusses what makes a good song with Powell's FYS students. Listen to songs by Erin McKeown on SoundCloud.

In the course, students are introduced to various genres and forms of popular protest music in the 20th century, ranging from jazz to rock music with political messages. They are also encouraged to listen to as much music as possible during the semester, along with readings, analytical writing, and focused, philosophical discussion on their experiences.

View course description

What is class like?

Madison Jaulin '18 listens to guest artist Erin McKeown“The guest artists were amazing,” said Madison Jaulin ’18, from Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s one experience to hear the songs, it’s another to hear the story behind the musician – to find out what they believe or don’t believe, their ideals, and how that affected their song writing. The musicians that came to class were not performing music for money, they were in the industry because they love creating music and change.”

Leah Falk '18, from Providence, RI, loved the flexibility of the course. "If our reading material prompted an unexpected discussion, we were able to follow that and have valuable, open conversations in class. The convergence of different perspectives, heard in this open space, made for a memorable experience and beneficial way to work through the study of history and current issues."

How it changed me:

"The seminar reinforced my interest in history, but I found that I felt very passionate about the issues under the surface," Falk said. "I’m grateful that I could take this class in my first year, because it was so impactful and signaled an area that is genuinely exciting and interesting to me."

“I enjoyed taking this course because it was very relevant to today’s society and the social changes taking place in our culture,” Jaulin said. “You don’t have to be wealthy to effect social change. This was a course that challenged us to place ourselves in the role of someone else and to understand there are multiple interpretations and perspectives to history.”


Learn about more first-year seminars, including how the past shapes our present, why public health matters, and how a day in your life can change everything

View the Fall 2015 First-Year Seminars.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Contact: Shawna Sherrell, senior assistant director of creative services, 717.337.6812

Posted: Mon, 20 Apr 2015

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