Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940-1941
Although Voices from the Dust Bowl, 1940-1941 was amassed over a short period of time and focused on people in a unique set of circumstances, there are themes that reoccur in history such as migration, the economics of agriculture, and labor movements.
1) Chronological Thinking
Students can compare the migration of Dust Bowl farmers with other migrations in the U.S. Have students use this collection and other sources to construct a time line of migration surges in North America from 1800 to 1900. Ask students to illustrate their timeline with lyrics, photographs, or other historical records of migration. They might include pioneers on the Oregon Trail, the Trail of Tears (forced migration of Native Americans), the 1849 California Gold Rush, and The Great Migration of African-Americans to the North during World War I.
Other Web resources that might help students prepare and illustrate their time line include National History Day materials on the topic of Migration in History.
2) Historical Comprehension
Ask students to browse the collection song titles and audio titles to identify familiar songs and common song themes. Students might discover old familiar songs such as She'll Be Coming Around The Mountain, Skip to My Lou, and Sweet Betsy from Pike. Students might also identify common song themes such as love, death, work, and home.
Ask students to imagine that they are migrant workers at a camp in California. In that role, have each student write a letter home to Oklahoma describing the songs they sing at camp, and why familiar songs and songs about common themes are important to the migrant workers.
3) Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Have students review The Migrant Experience and then use a map of the United States to locate the southern Great Plains states affected by drought storms. Next, have students visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA for Kids web site. Using the Disaster Area page and a map, have students identify potential natural disasters in their local area. As a class, discuss and prepare a Disaster Supply Kit for Dust Bowl farmers of the 1930's and 1940's. Then have students prepare Disaster Supply Kits for their home.
4) Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making
Ask students to read Charles Todd's letter dated September 10, 1985. In this letter, Todd writes to a Library of Congress curator describing the Voices of the Dust Bowl collection that he has in storage. After students have worked with the collection on other projects, ask them to take the role of the curator and write back to Todd. They should answer questions such as:
- Does the Library of Congress want this collection? Why or why not?
- What is the historical significance of this collection?
5) Historical Research Capabilities
As a class, review the description of an Ethnographic Field Collection. Using the Folksong Questionnaire Part III, have students prepare a family Ethnographic Field Collection. The collection should contain family songs, interviews, and other written or photographic material that documents family traditions.