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Letters from an American farmer

[Detail] Letters from an American Farmer

Lesson Overview

In 1782 Jean de Crèvecoeur published Letters from an American Farmer in which he defined an American as a "descendent of Europeans" who, if he were "honest, sober and industrious," prospered in a welcoming land of opportunity which gave him choice of occupation and residence. Students will look at life histories from the interviews of everyday Americans conducted by Works Progress Administration officials between 1936-1940 to see if his definition still holds true in this country 150 years later. Students will conclude by working toward a modern definition.


Students will:

  • understand that the meaning of "being an American" has enlarged and become more complicated since 1782;
  • recognize key ideas from a famous document of American history;
  • become familiar with rich online collections of primary sources;
  • be able to read an oral history and use such materials in historical analysis.


Time Required

  • Two classes

Recommended Grade Level

  • 9-12


  • Culture & Folklife
  • Immigration & Ethnic Heritage


  • Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1945


Mary Virginia Attarian & Kathleen T. Isaacs