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Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

[Detail] Charley Williams and Granddaughter, Age 94

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Lesson One: What can be learned from a photograph?

Not all primary sources are documents with words that provide details and stories. Some primary sources require observation. You can learn about family life during the Great Depression from photographs. By carefully observing photographs, you can learn details and facts about a time period.

Carefully study and observe the first Dorothea Lange photograph of the migrant woman with her children.

  • What do you see?
  • What do you infer?
  • What questions does this photo spark?
  • What questions do you continue to have about this photo? Are there any facts or details that you cannot learn from the photo itself?

Record your thoughts about the photograph on the primary source analysis tool. Your teacher may have additional questions to guide your analysis.

Now study the other pictures by Dorothea Lange of the same woman and her children. Think about the following questions as you observe and study these photographs.

  • How do these pictures add to your understanding of this woman and her situation?
  • What do the photographs reveal about family life in the Great Depression?
  • What do you understand about the Great Depression from your observations of the photos?
  • What additional information is provided by the title and details about the photos?
  • What more do you want to learn about the life of this woman and the time in which she lived?

What else would you need to know in order to understand how this woman's life fits into family life during the Great Depression?

If you were to summarize what you learned from these photographs to another person, what would you say?

Lesson Two: What can be learned from a document?

In Unit Two: Interviewing, you read "Women and the Changing Times," a transcript of an interview with a Mrs. Blount, from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. As you read this primary source document you made some notes. Review your notes on these questions about the interview.

  1. Where and when did this interview take place?
  2. Who was the interviewer?
  3. What questions do you think the interviewer asked Mrs. Blount in order to elicit the information in this document?
  4. What additional questions would you ask Mrs. Blount if you were conducting the interview?
  5. What aspect/topic of this interview appeals to you most?

Now, you are going to observe and study this interview in greater depth. Record your thoughts about the interview on the primary source analysis tool. Your teacher may have additional questions to guide your analysis.

What does the interview reveal about family life during the Great Depression? Answer the following questions about Mrs. Blount, a woman who lived during the Great Depression:

  1. Make a list of the details you learn about Mrs. Blount and her family. For example, how many people were in her family? What kind of work did the family members do? What do you learn about the type of family? About the children? About the town? About business? About school, etc.? Read the document very carefully. Make notes and write annotations in the margins.
  2. What do you notice about the way the informant, Mrs. Blount, responds to the interviewer during the interview?
  3. What are her attitudes towards other people?
  4. What more do you want to learn about the life of this woman and the time in which she lived?
  5. What else would you need to know in order to understand family life during the Great Depression?

If you were to summarize to another person what you learned about family life in the Great Depression from this document, what would you say?

Lesson Three: Gees Bend

You are a TV reporter who has been hired for a presentation on Gees Bend, Alabama. You must research Gees Bend for this presentation. Start with a selected group of Twenty Photographs of Gees Bend, Alabama, taken during the Great Depression.

You may wish to access other photographs of Gees Bend found in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. These pictures show life at home, at work, at school, and at play during the Great Depression. There are more than sixty images, taken by two photographers, that depict life in Gees Bend, Alabama.

Studying the twenty photos, what can you learn about this community? What observations can you make? What conclusions can you infer from the details you observe? Record your thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Your teacher may have additional questions to guide your analysis and discussions.

Develop a list of at least six questions from which you can provide answers during your presentation on family life during the Great Depression in Gees Bend. The answers should be based upon the information you learned from your research. Note that Gees Bend may also be found as Gees' Bend and Gee's Bend. The presentation should be about ten to fifteen minutes.

Lesson Four: What can be learned from a sound recording?

Not all primary sources are documents or photographs that can be read or seen. Some primary sources require careful listening.

You have learned about family life during the Great Depression from documents and photographs. In this section, learn details and facts about the time period by listening carefully to a sound file, a song by Mrs. Mary Sullivan about the travels of her family to "Sunny California." The song is part of the Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941.

Listen carefully to the song "Sunny California."

Listen to the song more than once and answer the following questions:

  1. What can you tell about the family life of these people during the Great Depression?
  2. Recall the questions you used when studying the interview with Mrs. Blount. Try to answer some of the same questions about Mrs. Mary Sullivan and her family.
  3. If you were to summarize what you learned from the song to another person, what would you say?