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Magazines > MultiMedia Schools > November/December 2003
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Vol. 10 No. 6 — Nov/Dec 2003
CyberBee
Legacy of the Dust Bowl
By Linda C. Joseph • Columbus Public Schools • Library of Congress

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[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart below.]

Three little words, achingly familiar on a Western farmer's tongue, rule life in the dust bowl of the continent "if it rains." ­Robert Geiger, 1935

As the billowing black clouds of dust rolled and swirled across the plains in the 1930s, the American landscape was drastically changed. With their crops destroyed, a steady stream of humanity trekked westward to the promised land of California. John Steinbeck wrote vividly about the migrant camps in The Grapes of Wrath, Dorothea Lange documented the harsh conditions with compelling photographs, and Woody Guthrie, a refugee himself, sang Dust Bowl ballads. The stark reality of the Depression era contrasts sharply with the decades before and after it. Let's travel down the highway of time and view firsthand eyewitness accounts, pictures, and music archived on a variety of Web sites.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Dust Bowl During the Depression

This page is an excellent starting point for information about the Dust Bowl era. A concise overview is presented with photograph collages of migrant camps, the aftermath of dust storms, and life along the road. In addition, questions are posed to help students think about song lyrics describing the plight of the migrant workers.

National Historic Route 66

Drive off the beaten path and experience the sights of a bygone era. Lots of unique photographs and postcards dot the roadway from the Coral Court Motel to the round barn to the U-Drop-Inn. A short history about Route 66 from its heyday to its replacement by four-lane highways is an interesting side trip for the traveler. John Steinbeck proclaimed U.S. Highway 66 the "Mother Road."

New Deal Network

Study the Great Depression using the New Deal Network as an educational guide. Documents, photos, letters, and lesson plans for teachers are included in this extensive site sponsored by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University. Read letters written to Mrs. Roosevelt, recollections of Utah residents growing up in the 1930s, or view a photo-documentary of the impact of the Great Depression on Carbon Hill, Alabama.

Surviving the Dust Bowl

At this PBS site, read poignant eyewitness accounts that express the despair as crops withered and the dust turned into fiery storms. Listen to personal accounts and historical perspectives in extended interviews on topics such as homesteading, Black Sunday, and the environment. Rounding out the site is a map of the Dust Bowl, timeline, and teacher's guide to use with the documentary film, Surviving the Dust Bowl.

ART

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945

Photographs from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and Office of War Information (OWI) form an extensive pictorial record of American life between 1935 and 1945. Roy E. Stryker headed the U.S. government photography project at The Library of Congress. The collection contains approximately 107,000 black-and-white photographic prints, 164,000 black-and-white film negatives, and 1,610 color transparencies. It is the only collection where you can view film sequences by looking at sprocket numbers. Using these "phonyfiche," you can piece together pictures like a photographic contact sheet. This is useful in finding related photographs that were not titled.

Documenting America

The job of the photographers hired by the FSA was to inform the public about the poverty in this country and the increased need to help people. Walker Evans was the first photographer, followed by Dorothea Lange, who had been doing the same kind of work in California. There were 98 photographers over the course of the project. Documenting America provides insight into these powerful illustrations that depict the hard life of the 1930s. This online exhibit is a small sampling from the book, Documenting America edited by Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly Brannan, University of California Press, 1988.

A New Deal for the Arts

During the Great Depression, the federal government created a program that employed artists, musicians, writers, actors, photographers, and dancers. In this online exhibit, there are wonderful examples of paintings, posters, playbills, and other artifacts that represent the creativity and diverse styles of thousands of artists. Don't miss "Years of Dust," a resettlement poster by Ben Shahn or the "Jane Adams Memorial" paining by Mitchell Siporin.

LITERATURE

The Great Depression and Children's Books

Carol Hurst has compiled an annotated list of picture books and novels about the Great Depression that can be integrated into the language arts and social studies curriculum. Some of the titles are Year Down Under by Richard Peck, What You Know First by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Barry Moser, and The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. There are also links to related Web sites and suggested activities.

MUSIC

Bound for Glory: A tribute to Woody Guthrie

Wow! This virtual showstopper is a must for all Woody Guthrie fans. Guthrie's story is told through a series of documents, quotations, photographs, letters, sheet music, and songs. Listen to him play the "Railroad Blues" on the harmonica, learn about his political activism, and his generosity for sharing music. For more information about the legendary figure, visit the Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wwghtml/wwghome.html].

Southern Mosaic

During the spring of 1939, John and Ruby Lomax traveled the southern highways in search of songs. Many of their stops were at prisons, places they deemed rich in blues, gospel, and ballads. Within this collection are recordings that represent the regional culture of nine states and a variety of genres. Listen to the lilting call of the "Hiding-Seek Song" by Vera Hall, the foot-tapping fiddle tune "Turkey in the Straw," or the unusual lyrics of "Ring Around the Rosy" by a group of school children. The wealth of field notes and photographs enhance the material by providing details about the locations and individuals that help complete the story. In a footnote to the collection, it was at Angola Prison Louisiana that John Lomax and his son, Alan, discovered Huddie Ledbetter, known as Leadbelly.

Voices from the Dust Bowl

A kaleidoscope of folk culture is preserved in this collection of square dance calls, traditional ballads, cowboy songs, and storytelling. Jack Bryant wrote and sang "Sunny Cal," a reflection of the Dust Bowl experience, at the Firebaugh Camp in 1940. Another notable feature not to be missed is the Collection Connection [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/collections/vdb/history.html], rich with supplemental materials and suggestions for analysis, interpretation, and comprehension of the subject matter.

Sunny Cal

You've all heard the story
Of old Sunny Cal
The place where it never rains
They say it don't know how.

They say, "Come on, you Okies,
Work is easy found

Bring along your cotton pack
You can pick the whole year round.

"Get your money ever' night
Spread your blanket on the ground
It' s always bright and warm
You can sleep right on the ground."

But listen to me Okies
I came out here one day
Spent all my money getting here
Now I can't get away.

RECIPES

Great Depression Recipes

Have a feast in your classroom using recipes handed down from mother. Your menu might consist of Perfection Salad, Swiss Loaf, Poor Man's Bread, and for dessert, snow ice cream. This would make a wonderful culminating activity.

LESSONS

Dust Bowl Days

The National Endowment for the Humanities and MarcoPolo present a comprehensive unit on the Dust Bowl. Since there are ready-made materials for teaching the lessons, links to supporting resources, and organized activities, teachers will find that preparing for this unit is more fun than work. Most of the lessons are based on primary sources such as contemporary song lyrics, photographs, and sound recordings of the 1930s.

Migrant Workers Through the Lens of Dorothea Lange

This lesson is targeted to grades 5-8, spotlighting the series of photographs taken by Dorothea Lange and collectively titled "Migrant Mother." Using Web resources, students study the prints and events from the 1930s that supply context to the work.

Out of the Dust WebQuest

In this WebQuest based on the book Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, fifth grade language arts and social studies students select a journal entry and use it to create a newspaper about the Depression. Students research the Dust Bowl, and then write human-interest stories, editorials, and other news of the day illustrated with vintage 1930s photographs.

Then and Now Prices

Compare prices during the Great Depression to prices today. This is a great economics and math lesson for your students. Prices for the 1930s are provided, so you do not have to search for that information. Fill in a table with current prices for a variety of items such as clothes, toys, and wages. Then, answer questions like how many weeks it would take to buy each of the items on the table of prices. Download classroom worksheets for easy printing.

Visions in the Dust

American Memory Fellows Jan King and Rena Nisbet have created a lesson that helps students gain an understanding of Dust Bowl history through the eyes of a child. Activities include Images of the Depression that focuses on how to interpret a photograph, keeping a journal while reading Out of the Dust, exploring images from the Farm Security Administration, and using selected images to create a presentation.

Out of the Dust and into the Light

Although the Great Depression was a time of hardship, it was also a wellspring of creativity, leaving us a legacy of unprecedented artistry, from music to photographs. Think about how you can use these resources with your students when teaching a novel like The Grapes of Wrath or a picture book like The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. Putting the setting in context can give students even greater understanding.

Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools home page [http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools] with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee [http://www.cyberbee.com] for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.

 

Historical Background

Dust Bowl During the Depression
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/
ndlpedu/features/timeline/depwwii/dustbowl/
dustbowl.html
National Historic Route 66
http://www.national66.com/index.html

New Deal Network
http://newdeal.feri.org/

Surviving the Dust Bowl
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/dustbowl/

Art

America from the Great Depression to World War II:
Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsowhome.html

Documenting America
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fadocamer.html

A New Deal for the Arts
http://www.archives.gov/exhibit_hall/new_deal_for_the_arts/index.html

Literature

The Great Depression and Children's Books
http://www.carolhurst.com/subjects/ushistory/depression.html


Music

Bound for Glory: A tribute to Woody Guthrie
http://www.themomi.org/museum/Guthrie/index_800.html

Southern Mosaic
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/lohtml/lohome.html

Voices from the Dust Bowl
http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/afctshtml/tshome.html


Recipes

Great Depression Recipes
http://www.geocities.com/NapaValley/1918/great.html


Lessons

Dust Bowl Days
http://edsitement.neh.gov/view_lesson_plan.asp?ID=300

Migrant Workers Through the Lens of Dorothea Lange
http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/teaching_materials/curricula/curriculum.
cfm?curriculum_id=339&mode=full

Out of the Dust WebQuest
http://wneo.org/WebQuests/
TeacherWebQuests/dustbowl/dustbowl.htm

Then and Now Prices
http://www.michigan.gov/hal/
0,1607,7-160-15481_19268_20778-52530—,00.html

Visions in the Dust
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/
ndlpedu/lessons/99/dust/intro.html

 


Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator's Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
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