The Great Depression, telling the story with photographs

Joyce Valenza and Jeff MacFarland

Welcome historians!

You goal in this adventure is to investigate the images of a critical point in U.S. History, the Great Depression, to better understand it and to tell the stories of those who lived it. You will be using primary sources, especially photographs and oral histories, as your evidence. And you will create media--powerful stories and poems--to convey a personalized sense of the times to others.

We will be creating one class VoiceThread, a found poetry anthology
In your groups, you will prepare another VoiceThread analyzing the work of a particular FSA/OWI photographer or group of photographers


A. Photographer VoiceThread

1. You will be analyzing six photographs from one of the collections listed below, using these two tools, as well your own insights.

2. You will research the period, the place, and the photographer for additional information to inform your story. You may use our Doin' the Decades pathfinder to help with your research. Please also check the Resource Page.

3. In your groups, you will create a VoiceThread slide show narrated by your analysis of six images. We are looking for creativity and depth of analytical skills in your slides. You will need to discuss the artist's background, historic context of the images, and how the images inform your understanding of the period. Choose your images carefully for their visual impact.

Select your images from the American Memory Collection.
Please choose your photograph from among these specific collections.
Ben Shahn
Cotton Pickers
John Vachon
Dorothea Lange
Migrant Workers
Walker Evans
New York City Block
Arthur Rothstein
Tenant Farmers
Arthur Rothstein
FSA Migratory Labor Camp
Gordon Parks
Ella Watson US Government Charwoman
Various photographers
Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination

These larger collections offer historical context:

B. Found Poem
Introduction to the Writers' Project

Individually, you will choose an oral history from which you can create a found poem. Found poems are created by using lines and phrases from existing text and remixing them with your own language and rhetorical devices. Once you've selected an oral history, scan it for important themes, cadence in the speaker's language, colorful phrases, repeated words.

Remember all that you've already learned about how poems are created. Try to incorporate rhetorical devices. Consider using: alliteration, assonance, repetition,metaphor and simile, imagery, rhythm, colorful language, vernacular expressions, etc.

Use the stories and language recorded in American Life Histories, 1936-1940, as well as Voices from the Thirties: An Introduction to the WPA Life Histories Collection, as fodder for your poetry!

Here is a list of transcripts by state. Your poem will be collected in our anthology on the poem page of this wiki. These articles might give you some inspiration.

Here is another instructional guide for creating found poetry.
You may find some helpful tools for developing found poetry here. We will later collect your oral poem in a VoiceThread anthology.

Note: All oral histories, background information, and images must be documented on your slides (as a last slide in the Photographer project.)
NoodleBib and our MLA Style Sheet will guide you.

Site image:
Lange, Dorothea. Migrant Mother. Feb. 1936. Library of Congress: FSA/OWI. 17 Mar. 2010. Web. <>.