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”

Primary websites: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html and http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snintro00.html

Books

  • 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. 

DVDs

Websites

Online lesson plans

Federal Writers’ Project “American Life Histories”

Primary website: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wpaintro/wpahome.html

Books

  • 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.

Websites

  • http://xroads.virginia.edu/~1930s/PRINT/document/lives/doc.html
    “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.
  • http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/exhome.html
    “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