American Studies

Sonja Carlson - American Popular Culture

Immediately following graduation, Sonja moved from Berkeley to Los Angeles and began working as an administrator at a small independent elementary school. For two years, she led the after school enrichment program and managed the schools internal and external communications. Sonjas duties increasingly involved working in the admissions office, assisting with prospective parent communications, event coordination, and the collection of admissions data and materials. Beginning in July 2016, she transitioned from the enrichment coordinator position to the full-time admissions and communications assistant. Sonja is currently applying to graduate programs in library science and archival studies.

Area of Concentration Courses

History 124B: The United States from World War II to the Vietnam Era
African American Studies 142AC: Race and American Film
Media Studies 101: Visual Communications
American Studies 101AC: World War II
American Studies 101: The Birth of Consumerism
American Studies H110: The New Literary History of America


Sonja Carlson : - The Making of an American Girl: Perspectives of Race and Class in the Literature of The American Girl Collection (Class of 2014)

Sonjas honors thesis unpacks the cultural work of American Girls products by looking at the dolls, books, and accessories as tools of childhood education. The histories presented by American Girl characters are often a young girls first foray into American history, giving great power to the stories. Many critics of American Girl question whether or not the narratives are accurate, disregarding that history is a series of ideologies and perspectives retold as truth. American history is regularly told from a white and upper-class perspective, disregarding the experiences of others. The characters of American Girl and their stories tackle gender, race, and class conflicts throughout American history but rarely present histories different from the normatively white cultural readings of history present in textbooks. When the history is presented from a Black or Latino standpoint, the American-ness of the character is questioned, signaling a division in the message and cultural work being done by the narrative. American Girls products reinforce the normative white values instead of pushing boundaries and urging young and impressionable girls to explore new perspectives and question what they have been taught as fact. The first chapter discussed the relationship between dolls, books, and play, giving an understanding of how dolls and doll-play help form understandings of what it means to be young, female, and American. Three character case studies followed, with each focusing on how class and race are constructed within the characters six-book series. The final chapter explored how education and the historical characters were reconsidered under Mattels ownership beginning in 1998.

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