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Texas State University to offer Harry Styles class next spring: NPR

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Harry Styles performing at the Tiny Desk concert in 2020. It will soon become the subject of a course at Texas State University.

Max Posner/NPR


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Max Posner/NPR


Harry Styles performing at the Tiny Desk concert in 2020. It will soon become the subject of a course at Texas State University.

Max Posner/NPR

A new college history course at Texas State University will focus on Harry Styles and celebrity culture. Starting next spring, some 20 lucky undergraduate students will discover how, in the famous pop star phrase, “it’s not the same as it used to be.”

Louis Dean Valencia, professor of digital history and longtime Styles fan, announced on twitter Over the weekend, the university’s honors college approved his course “Harry Styles and the Celebrity Cult: Identity, the Internet, and European Pop Culture” for Spring 2023.

Since then, the post has received over 10,000 likes, inspired media around the world and sparked what Valencia estimates hundreds of posts.

“At the very least, the fact that this course has gotten so much attention around the world means that maybe I know *something* about how celebrity culture works,” he later tweeted. “I want students to not just learn modern history, but also gain important skills that they can use! Like how to manage a social media campaign!”

BUT course flyer says he will focus on styles and popular European culture to better understand the cultural and political development of today’s celebrities, covering a range of topics including gender and sexuality, internet culture, media, class and consumerism. Students will practice evaluating sources, hone their visual and auditory analysis, and acquire technical skills such as audio editing while working on their final podcast project.

Valencia’s own work focuses mainly on countercultures, especially fascist and anti-fascist youth cultures in 20th century Europe. But he had to put his research on hold — most recently — the comparative history of HIV/AIDS in European cities — when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Valencia told NPR in a phone interview that he started two new projects in the summer of 2020: learning to play electric guitar and writing a book about how the world has changed over the past decade through the lens of styles. Two years later, he has made tangible progress.

“As my guitar instructor would happily say, if you record me and then speed it up twice, it will sound almost like a normal song,” Valencia says and laughs. “As for the book, it’s very close to completion.”

He ends the book with a chapter comparing scenes and experiences at different Styles concerts, and there are several more concerts on his calendar – one in Madrid next week, three in Austin in the fall. In addition, Valencia says he may have to add another chapter on the events of the past week, adding that “she might get a little meta after all.”

The research Valencia did for his book, as well as his personal penchant for One Direction and styles, helped shape the direction (no pun intended) of the class. But, as he explains, the process of planning, developing and getting approval was not entirely straightforward.

Valencia poses for a selfie at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where the colorful Styles cardigan that sparked a craze during the pandemic was on display.

Louis Dean Valencia


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Louis Dean Valencia


Valencia poses for a selfie at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where the colorful Styles cardigan that sparked a craze during the pandemic was on display.

Louis Dean Valencia

He hatched and developed the idea during the pandemic

Valencia wants to talk about her love for Styles’ music and the role it has played in his personal and professional life.

He was working on his doctoral dissertation. from 2010 to 2016, exactly the years when One Direction were active (not to mention the worldwide sensation). As a historian of fascism who often works with dark material, Valencia says she appreciates the band’s uplifting music and the pleasant atmosphere at its concerts. Then in 2017, Valencia took a one-year teaching job at Harvard, just as Styles’ solo career was taking off.

“As I got back on my feet, seeing him develop as an artist, as someone who wants to be taken seriously, maybe in a world that doesn’t necessarily always seem hospitable to you… I guess when he left as a solo artist, it resonated with me in many ways,” he recalls.

Valencia had been teaching in the state of Texas for several years when the pandemic hit. He first taught completely remotely, and then in a masked class, in a socially distancing class, which he said made it difficult to communicate with students. He found that talking more openly and passionately about his interests, which is that he appreciates Stiles, at the beginning or end of the class, helped overcome those boundaries.

“Whenever I did that, the students would discover their interests in music, sometimes they would overlap with mine, and a lot of times we had really good conversations about his music,” he said, pointing to Styles’ performances. and activism.

It is not unheard of for colleges to offer courses on contemporary music icons: some have created courses on Beyoncé, a University of South Carolina professor has taught a sociology course on Lady Gaga, and NYU’s Clive Davis Institute recently introduced a course on Taylor Swift ( who received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the university this spring).

In the fall of 2021, Valencia approached the dean of an honors college with the idea of ​​running a course and wrote a 23-page proposal during the winter break. A long process, and seven months later the course is officially registered.

Now Valencia is hearing from a lot of people who are excited about the activities. People of all ages want to sign up, some want to follow the discussions online, others even want him to include their fan poetry in the program.

Valencia estimates he has received about a thousand emails and messages in the last week and says he was “overwhelmed” by the positive response. In fact, between posting media requests and savoring the messages, he wasn’t quite able to respond to them.

“I’m actually trying to think of how to answer all these questions in a way that shows as much love as people show in their posts,” he says. Or, as Stiles likes to say, treat people with kindness.

Students will study historical records and create a podcast

The class is open to undergraduate honors college students from the university, but is not limited to history majors.

High interest classes usually select students through a lottery system, and Valencia modestly says he thinks that might be the case here.

Once students get their coveted places, what exactly will they study over the next 15 weeks?

Valencia says that in order to stick to the facts, they only consider things that Styles himself has released to the public. These include his music, films and products, interviews, and musical and literary influences he has spoken about in the past, from Susan Sontag to Haruki Murakami and Alain de Botton.

The course will mostly run in chronological order, with topics changing depending on the day. Of course, adds Valencia, they will consider One Direction and Styles solo albums in order.

Valencia visits Styles’ hometown, Holmes Chapel, England.

Louis Dean Valencia


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Louis Dean Valencia


Valencia visits Styles’ hometown, Holmes Chapel, England.

Louis Dean Valencia

He says he’s especially excited to teach a history class about recent events, which is a relative rarity in the field. In addition, he notes, younger freshmen may not even remember some of the highlights and trends that the class will cover for 12 years.

“I think a class like this has the advantage of really exploring what has changed in the last 12 years and helping to put that into context for students in a way that complements other classes in the history department that kind of give those other perspectives. , which may be in the distant past or in longer time periods,” says Valencia.

Students will talk about things like how Brexit has affected Stiles’ tours and products, as well as social issues that Stiles has talked about, including the Black Lives Matter movement and gun control.

Valencia says that in addition to participation assessment, students will be assessed as they complete additional parts of their podcast, such as research, scripting, audio editing, and peer review.

He presents the end product as a series of podcast episodes that are different enough to cover a range of topics, but cohesive enough that they can be combined into a single series and published online for a wider audience.

Class limited to 20, at least for now

Valencia plans to meet with university officials to consider possible ways to meet the demand. He estimates that it will likely take him another six months to develop the online version of the course people have been asking about.

“I kind of assumed nobody needed another online class anymore,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, plot twist! ”

In any case, he hopes to do this lesson as many times as the university will allow him.

And to answer the other question that’s on everyone’s mind: no, Stiles himself shouldn’t be making a guest appearance – at least not yet. Valencia says he would love it, but he doesn’t know how to contact the star team.

Aside from being a guest celebrity, what are his other dreams of class? Valencia says he has one big one, though he admits it might sound a little silly:

“I would like students to leave the classroom feeling a touch of self-love that many of Harry’s fans feel when they leave his concerts,” he says. “And also thought maybe now they have the tools to do something in the world.”


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