Section 3: Programming

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Programming Requirements

Libraries selected for the project are responsible for presenting at least three public programs. Two programs described below are required, and sites may select at least one other program from the list of other possible programs. Beyond that, sites are free to present as many programs as they wish. All programs are intended to 1) encourage scholar-led discussion about the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl and its lessons for Americans; 2) acquaint new audiences with firsthand accounts of the Dust Bowl through the Henderson papers and the Oklahoma State University oral histories; and 3) complement the continuing re-broadcast on public television stations of the NEH-funded Ken Burns documentary, The Dust Bowl.

Required program 1: Screening of Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl with discussion led by a qualified scholar. All sites will receive a copy of the film with public performance rights.

Required program 2: A program focusing on the life and writing of Caroline Henderson, or a program based upon three to five oral histories from the Oklahoma State University online collection (libraries may present both programs if they wish). A scholar must lead these programs. See below for links to the Henderson papers and the Oklahoma oral histories:

    The Mount Holyoke College Library’s collection of the papers of Caroline Henderson, who farmed throughout the Dust Bowl period and wrote many letters, essays, and articles about her experiences. Many of Henderson’s observations are gathered in the book, Letters from the Dust Bowl, edited by Alvin O. Turner.

Other public programs:

  • A community-wide Chautauqua-like event about the Dust Bowl, organized with the oversight of the project scholar, and featuring a scholar presentation, and possibly oral history interviews, viewing of excerpts from the Burns documentary; readings from oral histories, poems, fiction and nonfiction works about the Dust Bowl, music and dance, and other cultural expressions of the 1930s. Libraries are encouraged to create a 1930s atmosphere with music, displays of books and photographs, food, and related programs for children.
  • An “Oral History in a Box” program. Developed by the Oklahoma State University Oral History Research Program, an “oral history box” will contain a digital recorder and memory cards, a small digital camera, and oral history instructional DVDs (an oral history workshop for kindergarten through eighth grade, and one for ninth grade through adults). Instruction in using the oral history materials will be provided for libraries which choose this program.
  • A lecture and discussion led by a scholar about the Dust Bowl, its causes and effects, with particular focus on the natural world of the region of the project site. For example, a site in Louisiana could include discussion of the destruction of marshland and its effects on area; a site in Montana could discuss the effects of logging on local lives; many areas could address recent severe droughts across the United States and their effects on communities and livelihoods.
  • A Century of Change: Then and Now in Photos. Libraries invite community members, media, and historical societies to share photos of the history of the community. Libraries prepare a “photo wall” telling the story of their community during the past one hundred years. A discussion program led by a scholar would address questions such as: What did the town look like in the 1930s? How was it affected by the Depression and/or the Dust Bowl? Are winters and summers colder or warmer than before? How did local people get through difficult periods like the Depression? What was the area’s natural environment like a century ago? What is the condition of rivers, lakes and streams in the area now—has the way people use them changed? Are there more or fewer farms—and why? How do former farmers make a living now? What gives people a sense that this is their “community”?
  • A book discussion program or series of programs, or a “One Book, One Community” program with discussion led by a scholar. The sponsors will provide suggested titles for book discussion. A film discussion program would also be possible.



Additional Programming Ideas for adults

  • Host an exhibit “teaser” event before the exhibit arrives to generate interest—possible events include lectures, films, or readings related to exhibit themes.
  • Find scholars in your community to contribute to a webinar. Record the presentation and post to your site’s website.
  • Create displays or related exhibits of books, photos, or other display items about exhibit-related topics.
  • Create intergenerational programs for community members to discuss and learn about local environmental issues.
  • Present a reading of excerpts from oral histories, poems, fiction, and nonfiction works about the Dust Bowl. Invite community members, including local celebrities and journalists, to read works, followed by a scholar-led discussion of the time period.
  • Create a public forum for discussion by making space available for written exhibition feedback. For example, pose a question to site visitors and make a bulletin board/wall space available for public feedback and comments, or encourage visitors to contribute their comments in an exhibit guestbook.
  • Host a Sustainability Day for families. Invite project partners to present activities; ask sponsors to provide information about local farmers, recycling, clean power, etc.
  • Host a videoconference with a local or national science center, focused on exhibit-related content.
  • Invite an environmental group to discuss local conservation efforts.
  • Host a Woody Guthrie lecture and performance. Detail the life, times, and music of Woody Guthrie as he traveled with migrant workers.
  • Invite a scholar to discuss how the music from the Dust Bowl has impacted our culture and collective memory. Does music hold the power to create social change?
  • Host a barn dance with traditional folk music and dancing.
  • Invite a scholar/scientist to develop a walking tour featuring local sites and how they relate to local environmental issues and connect to global environmental changes. Create an online version of the tour for the library’s website.
  • Invite local storytellers or living history performers to present on local Dust Bowl history.
    Host a workshop on collecting and telling family stories.
  • Host a harvest celebration featuring produce from area farmers.
  • Lecture and scholarly discussion of the role of women during the Dust Bowl. Discuss themes found in the Caroline Henderson papers and in the diary of Mary Dyck.
  • Panel discussion of soil science scholars focused on the causes and effects of the Dust Bowl and the current impact of soil erosion.
  • Invite volunteers to work at a local prairie. Map vegetation, identify plants, collect seeds, produce plant art. Invite a scholar to discuss the environmental impacts and benefits of prairie preservation.
  • Host a memoir writing program. Discuss the relevance of keeping records of events and how to best preserve your own family’s memories.
  • Host a pictorial conversation program that compares and contrasts community images from the time of the Dust Bowl with today’s landscape.
  • Lecture on how art and music were affected by American migration patterns.
  • Host a scholarly program focused on local weather and how it has changed since the Dust Bowl. How have weather changes affected crops and the economy?
  • A program focused on art from the Dust Bowl era. Invite a scholar and artist to discuss the photography of the Dust Bowl period and the concept of metaphors in visual and written form. Then invite participants to create their own photo essays relevant to local issues. With permission, display works online or in the library.
  • How was the Dust Bowl represented in the news? What did news and policy experts communicate to those affected by the Dust Bowl? Could a dust bowl happen again? What does news/policy have to say about conditions today?
  • What was the technology/science of farming during the Dust Bowl? How are scientists navigating current agricultural issues that affect the environment? Discuss the positive and negative impacts of technology on past and present farming practices.
  • Global perspective – how has drought impacted other parts of the world? What are the causes and effects of current dust bowls (overgrazing, migration, etc)? How has global agriculture been impacted by climate change?
  • Invite local scientists, environmentalists, and policy makers to lead a panel presentation and discussion focused on the topic “What Will Earth Look Like When Our Kids Grow Up?”
  • Host a program series focused on the Dust Bowl era’s politics, literature, popular philosophies, art, dress, and music.
  • Set-up an online discussion of the Dust Bowl through the library’s website, moderated by a local scholar.
  • Host a debate (in-person or virtual) by local scientists who hold different views on how to prevent another dust bowl.
  • Organize a curriculum workshop for area social science and history teachers in order to assist teachers in engaging students in exhibit-related content.
  • Invite local artists to engage in art-making with library patrons in order to explore what your community might look like in 50 years, from an environmental perspective. Or host a debate or essay contest:  “What Our Community Might Look Like in 50 years”
  • Offer a program or related exhibit focused on the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and feature local Dust Bowl-era photographs and artifacts.
  • Program focused on the local, state, and federal responses to the Dust Bowl. What are the implications of those responses? Include a discussion on the resilience of area residents.



Programming Ideas – Younger Audiences

  • Invite young people to create a multimedia presentation for the library about the Dust Bowl.
  • Plan a program showing young people how to conduct an oral history project.
  • Using first person-perspective, young people write letters to relatives explaining what is going on with their family and farms during the Dust Bowl.
  • Invite students to write poems reflecting their feelings and thoughts about the Dust Bowl. Host a poetry reading, compile poetry into a book, or publish works online to encourage further dialogue (with permission).
  • Essay contest – challenge students to write an essay focused on the current relevance of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Role play – After viewing and discussion the exhibition, challenge young people to consider what it was like to be a child or teen during the Dust Bowl era.
  • Plan a program showing middle grades how to use primary sources in historical research.
  • Hold story time sessions for children using books about the Dust Bowl (see book list for younger readers for ideas).
  • Enlist a Teen Advisory Board to help plan and promote Dust Bowl programs for young adults.
  • Partner with a local children’s museum on programs about exhibit-related themes.
  • Create a documentary shorts contest. Teach youth video production software and invite them to explore exhibition themes via images and sound.
  • Allow youth to curate an exhibit related to the Dust Bowl.
  • Include a title for young people in a Dust Bowl “One Book, One Community” series.
  • Plan an agricultural research-related project for a science fair.
  • Interview a scientist working in agricultural research. Write a career profile for the school newspaper.



Additional Fundraising Information

State Humanities Councils

  • Many state humanities councils award “mini-grants” or “resource grants” to support free admission public humanities programs of short duration. In most states, programs must involve a humanities scholar in order to qualify for a grant.
  • Short-term grants usually cover only the direct costs of a humanities program, for example, honoraria and travel expenses for lecturers, film or video preparation and presentation, printing and postage for promotional items, and the purchase of books for discussion programs. Short-term grants do not in most cases cover the costs of food or beverages for receptions or other social events.
  • Mini-grants and resource grants range from $100 to $1,500 or more, depending upon the state’s guidelines and the purpose of the grant. Matching funds or in-kind contributions are often required for state humanities council grants.
  • Application deadlines for short-term grants vary from state to state. In general, state humanities councils ask that mini-grant applications be received from six to ten weeks before a program is to begin. Some states also award one-time grants of a few hundred dollars that can be applied for at any time.
  • Contact your state humanities council for short-term grant guidelines and application requirements.
  • Humanities council contact information for all states can be obtained:

National Endowment for the Humanities

Federation of State Humanities Councils


Past exhibit participants have reported receiving additional funding for programmatic activities from the following:

Nonprofit sources:

  • Friends of the Library
  • Science/History professional organizations
  • University departments
  • Local science and history groups
  • State and local arts councils
  • University administration (lecture series funds, events planning and coordination committees, dean of faculty, history department, humanities division, president’s/provost’s/chancellor’s funds)
  • Community college cultural advisory board, educational foundation, contracts and grants department
  • Local/regional/state family foundations
  • County historical societies
  • Centers for the Book
  • Women’s business organizations

For profit sources:

  • Credit unions
  • Computer networks and computer stores
  • Department stores
  • Banks
  • Auto dealerships
  • Supermarkets
  • Hardware stores
  • Newspapers
  • Utility companies


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