HIST 388B - Paper One  














Oral History as Primary Source – Studs Terkel’s Hard Times (Pantheon, 1970)

This collection was one of a number of oral history collections gathered by Chicago author and broadcaster Studs Terkel (1912-2008).  Published in 1970, it featured first-hand recollections of the Great Depression from a range of Americans of many races and classes, as well as interviews with young people who only knew of the Depression from their parents and grandparents.  In his preface to the volume, Terkel wrote:  “this is a memory book, rather than one of hard fact and precise statistic” (p. 3).  Hard Times is one of the more widely-read of Terkel’s works, and it can be accessed in its entirety as an e-book through the UW libraries.

Your assignment is to write a 2-3 page paper that analyzes ONE of the three interviews from the book that I have excerpted for you:

Again, choose ONE of these accounts on which to base your paper.   Please also be aware that some of these accounts include language that today is considered deeply offensive.

Before you start, you will want to consult two worksheets I have prepared for general consultation by students in my courses:

There are some specific questions I suggest you consider as your approach these particular sources:

  • How does the person’s economic circumstances (pre- and post-Depression), gender, class, race, etc. shape their recollections and experience?
  • What kinds of events do they choose to remember?  What might be left out?
  • What additional sources might complement and test the “truth” of these recollections?
  • What insights does this oral history provide into American life in the 1930s that could not be provided by another kind of source?
  • What does this oral history tell us about the changing role of the U.S. government and the political character of the Roosevelt Administration?