Hard Times: Oral History

terkel-micStuds Terkel is one of America’s greatest treasures: a person who devoted their entire life to recording and retelling the stories of common people who lives encounter extraordinary events and issues.  Perhaps one of Terkel’s greatest works is Hard Times, a collection of oral histories from the Great Depression.

Here in AP US History, we are going to explore his work in a multi-part project. For examples of how this project worked with my students in 2009, 2008 and 2007, please click on the links.  There is some very creative and well-researched student work there.

Part I:

Text Analysis:
Describe 10 Facts & Research a Topic [Read, Describe, Choose, Research, Post & Respond] Students will 1) read Chapter 24 in The American People (The Great Depression and the New Deal, Part One and Part Two) and AMSCO: Chapter 24: The Great Depression and then 2) describe ten facts (or statistics, events, individuals, issues, etc.) that represent some of the main ideas of your reading. Students will then 3) choose one topic from their reading to research.  This topic may reflect any of the issues, events or individuals related to the political, economic or cultural aspects to the Great Depression or FDR’s New Deal.  Students will then 4) use the Internet to research their topic and then 5) post a descriptive essay concerning their findings (primary sources are encouraged and all sources must be cited).  Finally, students will be asked to 6) respond to another student’s post by explaining what you learned either a) from their essay or b) from their sources concerning their topic.  Your 10 facts and research topic will be worth 40 points each [80 total] and your question/comment will be worth 10 points. Finally, your detailed response to a student’s post will be worth 10 points.

Part II:

Lewis Andreas | Dorothe Bernstein | Sam Heller | Jerome Zerbe | Robin Langston | Louis Banks | Emma Tiller | Buddy Blankenship | Jim Sheridan | Eileen Barth | Bob Stinson | Evelyn Finn | Dorothy Day | Max Naiman | Oscar Helein | Cesar Chaves | Doc Graham | Peggy Terry | Mike Widman | Arthur Robertson | John Beecher | Jane Yoder | Aaron Barkham | Earl Dickinson | Ed Paulsen | Vincent Murray | Larry Van Dusen

People: Write a brief (1 page) biography based on your interviews and your understanding of the personal experiences of your character.  You may use artistic license to add information as long as you don’t change the historical context of your character or the events/issues of the times. [Example: I am a 25 year old woman living in western Oklahoma whose husband left the farm two months ago in search of work.  The dust blows so hard at night that we have to cover our windows with wet towels] [20 points]

Describe the historical events that have influenced your life during the Great Depression. You may write a description in paragraphs or compile a list explaining the connections to your personal experiences.  Connections may be direct (personally experienced) or indirect (affecting the scenario around you). [Example: When the Federal Farm Board was established, we thought we could continue to grow more food to pay our mortgage, but no one was buying. Prices plummeted.  We overproduced and were left with rotting crops.  Things even got worse when the Farmer,s Holiday Association tried to sabotage our food from going to market] [20 points]

How have any of these issues below affected you?  What is their relationship to the events you are connected to? Explain in detail by analyzing the relationship between your experiences, historic events and these issues.  Choose a minimum of four of the issues listed here. Justice | Patriotism | Racism | Politics | Economic Power | Rights | Prejudice | Gender | Equality [Example: Hoover seems to want to protect the large farmer-owners and not the small ones. (Economic Power) Doesn’t everyone deserve to be protected from poverty in this country? (Equality) [20 points]

Randomly select groups.  Introduce yourselves and then create a story involving yourself and two others.  You may decide to either write a short story (4-5 pages) or outline a skit and then act it out in the class (10 minutes).  The objective of the story is to describe and explain the political, economic and social impact of the Great Depression through your collective experiences, but remember to have fun creating and/or acting out your story as well!] as well as adding feedback to each others stories for accuracy and context. [40 points]

Part III:

Dear Mrs. Roosevelt Letters from Children of the Great Depression
http://newdeal.feri.org/eleanor/index.htm, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eleanor/
Imagine yourself as Eleanor Roosevelt.  You’ve toured most of the country, visiting injured factory workers, climbing down mine shafts, ate dinner with dispossessed sharecroppers and listened to countless stories of unemployed and homeless Americans.  You return to the White House late at night from another trip abroad to a small mountain of letters.  You notice they are all from children.  You begin to imagine the Depression through their eyes as you read their letters. Choosing three of the letters available on the website, write a response for each in detail both to the child and to the parent explaining your efforts & feelings. [50 points]

Photo Essay of the Great Depression
Assignment: Imagine yourself a photographer during the Depression. You’ve been given a position working for the government documenting the effects of the economic crisis.  Your supervisor visits you one day completely disheveled and speaks to you in a hurry.  You have been asked to bring your photos to the President himself.  He wishes to know more about your work and how it may help him create policies to help the nation.  You have to select ten of your best photos and explain why they are symbolic of the times.  Visit the website and choose ten images.  Explain what message each image tells and why it is important to remember. [50 points]

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