Folklore Project Life Histories

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Who compiled and transcribed the approximately 2,900 documents in the collection of life histories?

More than 300 writers from 24 states

During which years was the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project active?

1936 to 1940

What type of stories do the documents in the collection of life histories include?

Tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, and grueling factory work

Which famous writers were hired by the Depression-era work project?

Ralph Ellison, Nelson Algren, May Swenson

What information do the life histories often describe about the informants?

Physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores

What is a common practice in the narrative texts regarding individuals and places named in the life histories?

Pseudonyms are often substituted for individuals and places named in the narrative texts

What is the larger collection titled that includes the Manuscript Division collection of life histories?

The U.S. Work Projects Administration Federal Writers' Project and Historical Records Survey

What was the role of the Federal Writers' Project within the U.S. Works Progress Administration (WPA)?

It was a New Deal jobs program that aimed to provide employment for writers during the Great Depression.

Which group worked on the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project?

Writers from 24 states under New Deal jobs program

What was the primary focus of the Federal Writers' Project?

Preserving local culture and folklore

When did the Federal Writers' Project lose federal funding?


What was the main reason for the closure of the Federal Writers' Project after 1939?

U.S. entry into World War II

Which division within the larger collection focused on traditional expressions and narratives?

Folklore Project

What was a significant outcome of the Federal Writers' Project?

A comprehensive portrait of various groups of people in America

What type of materials are included in the Federal Writers' Project holdings?

Correspondence, field reports, folklore, and administrative material

Study Notes

Federal Writers' Project and the American Guide

  • The Federal Writers' Project holdings cover the years 1889-1942 and include approximately 300,000 items such as correspondence, field reports, folklore, and administrative material.
  • Over half of the materials in this record group pertain to the American Guide, a critically acclaimed state guide.
  • Other areas of interest include rural and urban folklore, life histories during the Depression, social customs of various ethnic groups, narratives of ex-slaves, and Negro source material.
  • The collection also includes drafts and intended publications expressing concern about America's direction and the preservation of local culture.
  • The larger collection is organized into divisions such as The American Guide, Folklore Project, Social-ethnic Studies, and Slave Narratives.
  • The Writers' Project aimed to provide appropriate work for unemployed writers during the early years of the Depression.
  • The project was approved for federal funding in June 1935 as part of the New Deal's Federal One initiative.
  • The Writers' Project faced increasing criticism from reactionary Congressmen and lost federal funding in 1939 due to the need for a larger defense budget.
  • After 1939, the Project continued with state funding but closed completely after the U.S. entry into World War II.
  • The American Memory collection includes life histories and related documents assembled by the Folklore Project within the Federal Writers' effort.
  • The Folklore Project collected traditional statements, expressions, songs, stories, and narratives, focusing on frontier and pioneer life.
  • The collected lore and narratives were intended for use in anthologies to provide a comprehensive portrait of various groups of people in America.

Test your knowledge about the life histories collection compiled and transcribed by the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project during the 1930s.

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