(Note: Not classroom tested!)

Assignment Goals:

  • to learn about songs, photos and interviews collected by New Deal era folklorists
  • to gain an appreciation of the reality of the Dust Bowl and migrant life
  • to hear some of the music and speech that Steinbeck would have heard while researching The Grapes of Wrath
  • to learn about the purposes and accomplishments of the FSA

Resources Used:

You will be using the Library of Congress online collection Voices from the Dust-Bowl, a collection of song recordings, interviews and photos documenting life in migrant labor camps run by the FSA. You will also need to use an intercalary chapter from The Grapes of Wrath.

Assignment Components:

Part One: Learn about the field collectors Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin and why they wanted to record the songs of ‘Okies’ in migrant labor camps (10 points, individual grade)

Begin by using the section entitled the ‘Migratory Experience,’ which can be found on the collection's homepage (see above). You are to:

  • read why migrant workers moved to California, and identify who Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin were
  • select one of the folksong collectors (Todd or Sonkin), and read about why he wanted to record migrant workers’ folksongs
  • browse the set of folksong titles available from the collection’s homepage (see above), and look for songs about ethnic origins, about the depression, that are uplifting or dancible, and that have puzzling lyrics. Listen to several songs (or if audio is unavailable, read the lyrics).
  • complete a folksong summary sheet and turn it in.

Part Two: Match a series of folksongs with one of the intercalary chapters in The Grapes of Wrath. (40 points; 20 for images, 20 for poem)

For this part, you will be working with one or two other people to complete an audio study of the topic of the intercalary chapter assigned to you.

Think of this visual project as a way of creating an audio "scrapbook" of your particular intercalary chapter. The photos and the poetry should help us understand the theme (Steinbeck's point) for this particular chapter.

To complete this portion, you will need to:

  • search the Voices of the Dustbowl collection, by keyword or song title, for songs that relate to the theme of your intercalary chapter (you could search under "dust," "camp," "cotton," "California," etc.)
  • select and save the best five songs that you can find to illustrate the topic and the message of your intercalary chapter. (Note that if you cannot play the audio of the songs, you may still access many songs through the lyrics.) Use bookmarks to help tag potential selections, temporarily.
  • when you are certain you have the exact five songs you want to use, copy and save the titles and singers of the songs (plus lyrics, where available) to a word processing file.
  • create a ‘found poem’ using text from the lyrics of the songs, that summarizes how migrants felt about the aspect of their experience featured in your intercalary chapter. In your poem use language from the intercalary chapter, if you want.

Voices from the Dust Bowl
Folk Song Summary Sheet

Your Name: ________________________________________________________

Folksong Collector Chosen: ________________________________________

Why he wanted to collect migrant workers’ folksongs: 

1. Most "Ethnic" Folksong
Singer / Songwriter: 
Reason Chosen:

2. Best "Depression" Folksong 
Singer / Songwriter: 
Reason Chosen:

3. Most Dancible Folksong 
Singer / Songwriter: 
Reason Chosen:

4. Strangest Song or Lyric 
Singer / Songwriter: 
Reason Chosen: