January 13, 1998 'Voices of the Dust Bowl' Electronic Collection Debuts

Ethnographic Materials Document Life of Migrant Workers in 1940-41

Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

"Voices of the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection" is now available from the American Memory Program of the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/.

This ethnographic field collection documents the everyday life of residents of Farm Security Administration (FSA) migrant work camps in central California in 1940 and 1941. It comprises audio recordings, photographs, manuscript materials, publications and ephemera generated during two separate documentation trips supported by the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture), which is part of the Library's American Folklife Center.

Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin, both of the City College of New York (currently the City College of the City University of New York), took disc recording equipment supplied by the Archive of American Folk Song to the California cities of Arvin, Bakersfield, El Rio, Firebaugh, Porterville, Shafter, Thornton, Visalia, Westley and Yuba City. There, they documented dance tunes, cowboy songs, traditional ballads, square dance and play party calls, camp council meetings, camp court proceedings, conversations, storytelling sessions and personal experience narratives of the Dust Bowl refugees who inhabited the camps.

The collection consists of approximately 18 hours of audio recordings (436 titles on 122 recording discs), 28 graphic images (prints and negatives) and print materials including administrative correspondence, field notes, recording logs, song text transcriptions, news clippings and dust jackets from the recording discs with handwritten notes.

The American Folklife Center was created by the American Folklife Preservation Act of 1976. The purpose of the center is to "preserve and present" American folklife through programs of research, field documentation, archival presentation, exhibitions, publications and professional training.

The center is also the home of the Archive of Folk Culture, which contains more than 1.5 million manuscripts, sound recordings, photographs, films, videos, periodicals, microfilms and printed materials such as posters and brochures. The collection, the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world, covers all 50 states and regions of the world.

American Memory is a project of the National Digital Library Program of the Library of Congress. It aims to make freely available on the Internet millions of items from the Library's incomparable collections relating to American history. This public-private initiative is being supported in part by the U.S. Congress and mostly by contributions from the private sector. More than $33 million has been pledged in donations so far, enabling the Library to have more than 500,000 items currently on-line with millions more in the pipeline.

"Voices of the Dust Bowl" joins more than two dozen other American Memory electronic collections, including "African American Perspectives," "Selected Civil War Photographs," early short films, sound recordings and panoramic maps.


PR 98-002
ISSN 0731-3527