Program Based on “Slave Narratives” and/or “American Life Histories”
“Soul of a People: Voices from the Writers’ Project” Online Site Support Notebook
Some points for discussion
- What is the value of these interviews and life histories for Americans today?
- Why might people who idealized America be upset by some of these accounts? What would they object to? What might be a comparable situation now?
- There are major questions about the slave narratives: first, whether the interviewers were able to elicit candid responses from their informants and, second, whether what the informants said was accurately recorded. How does this affect their interpretation?
- Are people different today than they were in the 1930s? How?
- How do you identify with the people being interviewed? How are they similar to or different from you?
- What did it mean to be an American in the 1930s? What does it mean now?
Federal Writers’ Project “Slave Narratives”
- Berlin, Ira, et al.
Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation. Norton, 1998.
Book and tape package contains interviews and transcripts from the Slave Narratives; original re-mastered recordings and dramatic readings by prominent African Americans
- Howell, Deborah Wyant, ed. I Was a Slave: True Life Stories Dictated by Former American Slaves in the 1930’s. American Legacy Books, 1994-. Six volumes are available in this planned 24-volume series which presents the Slave Narratives in themes. Also see www.iwasaslave.com/what-happened.php
- Rawick, George P., ed. The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. Greenwood Press, 1972-79. The complete collection of the transcripts from the FWP interviews. Multiple volumes, out of print.
- Yetman, Norman R., ed. Voices from Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives. Dover, 1999.
- Yetman, Norman R., ed. When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection. Dover, 2002.
“Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives” is an HBO project presenting dramatic selections from the extensive Slave Narrative Collection through on-camera readings by over a dozen actors, interspersed with archival photographs, music, film and period images. 75-minute DVD at http://store.hbo.com/product/index.jsp?productId=1888686&cp=1890186
“Slavery and the Making of America” is a four-part PBS documentary about the history of American slavery from its beginnings in the British colonies to its end in the Southern states and the years of post-Civil War Reconstruction. Available in DVD or VHS at www.pbs.org/wnet/slavery/about/buy.html
“American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology” provides an opportunity to read a sample of the FWP slave narratives and to see some of the photographs taken at the time of the interviews.
Also features related websites and readings.
“The African American Experience in Ohio, 1850-1920” includes 27 FWP interviews with former slaves that were not deposited at the Library of Congress at the time. The same material is available at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award97/ohshtml/aaeohome.html
Online lesson plans
Grades 3-5. Site sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities with lesson plans and activities based on the FWP slave narratives.
High School. “Slave Narratives: Black Autobiography in Nineteenth-Century America” is a curriculum plan for the high school level for the study of the FWP Slave Narratives.
“Been Here So Long” focuses on 17 of the 2,300 slave narratives collected by the Federal Writers’ Project and provides a lesson plan for each.
PBS website for the documentary “Africans in America,” which was presented in four parts, each with a resource bank and teacher’s guide. Contains a youth activity guide which teaches students to do oral history projects at www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/educational/yag/index.html
Federal Writers’ Project “American Life Histories”
Primary website: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wpaintro/wpahome.html
- Banks, Ann. First Person America. Knopf, 1980.
- Federal Writers’ Project. These Are Our Lives. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939. (scheduled to be reprinted)
- Mangione, Jerre. The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers’ Project, 1935-1943. Boston: Little Brown, 1972.
- Rae, Noel, ed. Witnessing America: The Library of Congress Book of Firsthand Accounts of Life in America, 1600–1900. N.Y.: Penguin, 1996. (contains information about “American Life Histories”)
- Terrill, Tom E., with Jerrold Hirsch. Such As Us: Southern Voices of the Thirties. University of North Carolina Press, 1987.
“These Are Our Lives” is an online collection of 35 representative “Life Histories” recorded by FWP interviewers in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, arranged by the interviewees’ diverse views on religion, politics, health and education.
“Voices from the Thirties: Life Histories from the Federal Writers’ Project” by Ann Banks provides an online introduction to the “American Life Histories” through interviews and photographs.
Online lesson plans
Ideas for student projects related to the “American Life Histories.”
Lesson plans for analyzing selections from the Life Histories using the themes: Working Women in the 1930s; Dancing as Recreation; and Americans and the Automobile.
“Found Poetry and the American Life Histories Collection” shows how students have created poems with words taken from the American Life Histories interviews, using this web page as a catalyst: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/lessons/98/poetry/poem.html