Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942
IntroductionWhenever anyone asks me what it was like, working with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and recording Florida folksongs back in the 1930s for the Library of Congress, I tell them we were as excited as a bunch of kids on a treasure hunt.As we sprint towards the finish line in this class, we will now turn our interests to the time of the Depression and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that was designed to put men and women back to work -- a time that has been described by some who lived through them as the “root-hog-or-die” days: either you claw, scratch, and bite your way to stay above the subsistence level or you die.
As you click your way through this unit you will hear some amazing stories and songs, but I would like you to concentrate as well on the way you are searching. In this unit, I want you to become aware of how YOU search through archival material.
In the previous two units, you constructed histories. In this unit I want you to focus on yourself as historian. In this unit I want you to focus on:
- how you select an area to investigate
- how your selection methods relate to others in the class
Other people have put this Florida Folklife archive together, but it is up to users -- you! -- to create meaning from the archive. How do you do that? How do you create meaning? Everybody no doubt sees the same bundle of data somewhat differently. What is the lens -- the presence of which you are probably unaware -- through which you see this new material?
- what implications that has for the writing of history.
Let's call this unit an exercise in meta-consciousness. The idea is to be aware of yourself as you engage in the construction of history.
In this, our final week of rooting in American Memory archives, then, we will have several related goals:
- to make visible your own particular search methods when encountering primary source materials that you have little or no knowledge about beforehand
- to understand how you construct and value certain material over others
- to develop a research question that would govern further work in the archive
- to reflect on the relation between the constructor of history and the construction of history.