Honors American History - March 1999

Assignment Goals:

  • Learning about different ways to record and write oral history.
  • Gaining an appreciation for the diversity of American culture and experiences.
  • Learning about the purposes for and accomplishments of the Federal Writers' Project.

Resources Used:

The Library of Congress' online American Memory Collection of American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project: 1936 - 40

This Collection includes:

  • information on the WPA and its Federal Writers' Project.
  • 2900 documents from 24 different states.
  • transcriptions and page images of original manuscripts.
  • "life histories "written by WPA employed writers which offer information on American religions, occupations, folktales, and diversity between 1936-40.

Assignment Components:

Part One: Learning about the Writers' Project and how it can be used (15 points)

Directions: Use the "Special Presentation: Voices from the 1930's: An Introduction to the WPA Life Histories Collection" to answer the following questions.

"Introduction" Section

1. How many people did the WPA put to work?

2. How many people worked for the Writers' Project and how much did they make per week?

3. Identify two notable writers who were involved.

4. What did writers write during the early years of the project?

5. When did the Writers Project come to a halt and why?

6. What did B.A. Botkin see as the purpose of assembling life histories?

7. Identify two works of fiction based on Life Histories.

8. How did interviewers record their data?

9. What is the connection between Invisible Man and the Life Histories?

10. What instruction did Botkin give to writers about the process of conducting interviews?

11. What helped bond interviewers to their subjects?

"Interview Excerpts" Section

Directions: Choose two of the listed topics (All in a Days Work: Industrial Lore, Rank and File, Hard Times in the City: Testifying, Making Do: Women and Work) the excerpts focus on to investigate. Each has three separate excerpts from longer Life Histories related to the topic which you should read. After doing so, answer the following question. Warning: If you click on "Listen to the Response" you will likely crash and need to restart your computer.

What significant information did I learn about each of the topics? (Identify at least two things for each topic.)

Topic One:

Topic Two:

Part Two: Using the Collection to learn about oral and American history (15 points)

1. Best Capturing of Subject's Speech Patterns / Dialect


Reason Chosen:

2. Life History Mentioning a Significant National Event


Reason Chosen:

3. Most Interesting Person Interviewed for a Life History


Reason Chosen:

4. Best Written Life History (style, language, etc)


Reason Chosen:

5. Most Unusual Job / Work Description


Reason Chosen:

6. Most Interesting Life History Involving a Minority (Group or Person)


Reason Chosen:


Due Dates: Your research findings should be turned in no later than Wednesday, March 10.