What’s This All About?

SmithsonianX: The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture course.

This blog (and resulting comic art) was prompted through studying the SmithsonianX: The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture course.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History worked with Michael Uslan to present this course through edX. The course ran chronologically through the rise of superheroes from ‘the Pulps’ to comics today. It looked at many of the creators, artists, writers and publishers who contributed towards the American comic book industry. It explored collections of comic books and memorabilia within the Smithsonian.

The course also had a secret weapon… discussions and interviews with Stan Lee !!

Screen shot of a video from the course of Michael Uslan talking with Stan Lee.
Screen shot of a video from the course of Michael Uslan talking with Stan Lee.

“I love the work. I love the people I’ve worked with. They were all talented. And when you work with competent, talented people who enjoy what they’re doing, and always do their best, how can you miss?”  Stan Lee.

Course Structure
Screen shot of a text page from Week 1's material.
Screen shot of a text page from Week 1’s material.

Week 0: The Secret Origin of Comic Books

The mythical origins of superheroes.

Week 1: From Chaos Came Superheroes

The Great Depression, gangsters, international conflicts, the first comic strips, books and super heroes.

Week 2: The Golden Age of Superheroes

The cultural milieu comics emerged from, America and WWII, stories behind the creators and their creations.

Week 3: After the Golden Age

The influence of wars, McCarthyism, American 1950’s culture, arts censorship on the comic book industry.

Week 4: Superheroes of the Silver Age and The Age of Marvel

New growth, the influence of Stan Lee, Batman’s transformation, a shift in the language of comics.

Week 5: The Bronze Age to Today

The influence of globalisation and the information age on comics, superheroes in film, comic book fandom.

Course Community

Collaborative spaces were created on various social media platforms for comic book lovers to share ideas, ask questions, get feedback and generally talk comics. The edX platform included discussion spaces for assignments and course material. Positive and respectful discussion of materials presented by the course was encouraged within the online spaces.

Course Presentation

A weekly topic was presented in different formats. Videos and interviews featured luminaries from the comic universe. Superhero biographies and historical narratives provided information as text and images. Pictures of comic book covers, heroes and villains offered rich visual information.

Weekly assignments offered two options – Historical Analysis (an essay resulting from research) and Creative Analysis (guided exercises working towards creating a comic book). Weekly submissions were accompanied by opportunities to review peer’s work and provide (and receive) feedback. A certificate was issued upon successfully passing all assignments (with a verified option available).

Course Review

The course was…

Sound FX

The passion for comics and professional presentations by the team who created this course were outstanding. The materials were informative, educational and just whiz bang! The edX platform was easy to navigate (with great FAQ’s and a ‘How To’ support section).

The course was a great introduction to American comic history and an excellent platform for continued learning about comics.


Published by

Shirley Burley

Artwork Craft Creative Writing Graphic Design Photography

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