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Charles Todd at the recording machine

[Detail] Charles Todd at the recording machine

Lesson Overview

This lesson presents social history content and topics through the voices of ordinary people. It draws on primary sources from the collection, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

Using excerpts from the collection, students study social history topics through interviews that recount the lives of ordinary Americans. Based on these excerpts and further research in the collections, students develop their own research questions. They then plan and conduct oral history interviews with members of their communities.


Students will be able to:

  • Define social history and formulate questions about social history topics.
  • Analyze, interpret, and conduct research using oral histories.
  • Use oral history interview techniques to gather information about social history.
  • Interpret recent changes social life in the United States using existing oral histories and by conducting original oral history interviews.


Time Required

  • One to weeks

Recommended Grade Level

  • 9-12
  • 6-8


  • Oral Histories
  • City & Regional History


  • Great Depression and WWII, 1929-1945