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My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

[Detail] My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.


The day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash of the fourth hijacked airliner in Pennsylvania, the American Folklife Center called upon the nation’s folklorists and ethnographers to document America’s reaction. A sampling of the material collected through this effort was used to create the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project.

The collection captures the voices of men and women from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, a cross -section of America. Included are interviews with people who were in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon during the attacks. The majority of the interviews, however, are from other parts of the country, from those who first heard the news on television or radio. In all, materials were received from 27 states and a U.S. military base in Naples, Italy. In addition to audio and video interviews, the online collection features written narratives, photographs, and drawings by elementary students.

Teachers using the collection should be aware that some of the stories told in the interviews are disturbing reminders of the magnitude of the tragedy. Teachers should help students prepare to deal with the emotions that the interviews may evoke.

The American Folklife Center’s September 11, 2001, Documentary Project is modeled on a similar initiative, conducted 60 years earlier, documenting national sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After the Day of Infamy: "Man-on-the-Street" Interviews Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor can be used to show similar reactions to those recorded in the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project.