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Learning Experience/Unit

The Grapes of Wrath: Scrapbooks and Artifacts


English Language Arts (2005), Social Studies, The Arts

Grade Levels

Commencement, 11th Grade, 12th Grade


Museum Exhibition Evaluation

Learning Context/ Introduction

Students use ethnographic research to enhance their reading and understanding of The Grapes of Wrath.

The ability to identify and locate specific cultural artifacts in a piece of literature helps students to understand the symbolic connotations of those elements. Specific objects and activities have stories of their own which support the larger, more global themes of a piece of literature. Ethnographic research helps students to see the connection between the social, cultural and literary contexts of literature.

As stated by the American Folklife Center, "Ethnographic collections of even the most informal sort come into being through a different process [than accumulations of personal papers]. The fieldworker takes a photograph of a musical instrument, makes a sound recording of it being played, and jots down notes on the recollections of a virtuoso player because the fieldworker has determined that photographs, sound recordings, and written text must be yoked together to fully represent the performance. Even if there is no intent to publish the documentation, there is, in every ethnographic collection, a conscious weaving together of different representational media to achieve a rounded statement. There is, in short, something that looks like authorship even though there may be no publication."


Students will show how cultural artifacts from The Grapes of Wrath support one of the book's many themes. The objectives for this project are:

  • To create museum exhibits of literary symbols
  • To show how cultural artifacts act as literary symbols
  • To use the ethnographic research process as a tool for literary analysis
  • Procedure

    The procedure for this learning experience consists of the following parts:
    Introduction to American Memory - Students gain familiarity with the American Memory collections.
    Part One: Ethnography - Students read and view examples of ethnographic research.
    Part Two: Photo Analysis - Students view and analyze photographs from the American Memory collections.
    Part Three: Oral History - Students conduct a mock interview with a character from The Grapes of Wrath
    Part Four: Material Artifacts and Textual Support - Students locate artifacts in the American Memory collections that relate to the character interviewed in Part Three.
    Part Five: Museum Exhibition - Students combine their findings from their interviews and artifacts into a museum exhibit.

    Introduction to American Memory

    Before beginning, it is important that students are comfortable using the American Memory collections.

    1. Arrange for use of a computer lab.

    2. On a large screen, demonstrate the various features of the American Memory collections, especially how to search by collection and keyword.

    3. A good place to start is the Search Tips page.

    4. Have students practice their search skills. The How Do I Find It? section of the Learning Page workshop and the Discovering American Memory section offer several different search activities.

    Part One


    1. In order to have students better understand ethnography, have them read background on Alan Lomax's ethnographic process: What is an Ethnographic Field Collection?

    2. Show sample pages from the Dorothea Lange Scrapbook.

    Part Two

    Photo Analysis

    1. Have students analyze selected Farm Service Administration photos from American Memory using the online Artifact Analysis Worksheet.

    2. Give students copies of the "Artifact Analysis Worksheet" on which to record their thoughts.

    3. Allow students to view additional photographs from the American Memory collection, America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935 - 1945. Students select three additional photographs from the collection, completing an Artifact Analysis Worksheet for each photograph.
  • Artifact Analysis Worksheet
  • Part Three

    Oral History

    1. Have each student select a character from The Grapes of Wrath to use as a focus for an interview.

    2. Read the model questions from the online Fieldwork Data Collection Survey. Students will then use a similar survey form (see below) when conducting their interviews with their chosen characters from the novel.

    3. Students need to imagine how their chosen characters would respond to each of the interview questions. Some of the answers will come from the book and others will be hypothetical based on the character's motivation.

    4. Remind students that authors generate characters through:
      • physical description;
      • thoughts;
      • actions;
      • dialogue;
      • reactions to other characters; and
      • other characters' reactions.

    5. Have students write an approximately 250-word transcript of the interview. The transcript should include references to physical objects and other elements of local color which can be seen as symbols for larger ideas in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Fieldwork Data Collection Survey
  • Interview with a Character Assignment
  • Part Four

    Material Artifacts and Textual Support

    1. Students search the American Memory collections for artifact illustrations from the following categories relating to their character from The Grapes of Wrath.   Students should have ten artifacts, from at least five categories.  Begin the search at America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935 - 1945.

    2. Have students write a museum-like caption for each artifact. Each caption should explain the fictional context and literary significance of the artifact.

    3. Finally, have students choose passages of text from The Grapes of Wrath to accompany each of the artifacts. Each of the text passages should be cited using appropriate MLA format.

    Part Five

    Museum Exhibition

    As a culminating activity, students create a museum exhibition that shows a meaningful juxtaposition of artifacts, interview, and text that supports a theme. The exhibit should focus on a particular theme or issue uncovered in the character interview.

    Possible formats for the exhibit include collage, PowerPoint, iMovie, multi-genre essay, journal, photo-essay, or scrapbook.

    Museum exhibitions should include the following elements, which shows how material artifacts act as literary symbols that support a specific theme from The Grapes of Wrath:

    1. Exhibit narrative of at least ten sentences summarizing the exhibit's contents and theme.
    2. Ten artifacts from the American Memory collections described in the The Grapes of Wrath.
    3. Museum-like caption for each artifact.
    4. Text reference for each artifact.
    5. Bibliographic entry for each artifact. (For information about citing online sources see Citing Electronic Sources.)
    6. Fieldwork Data Collection Survey from interview with character.
    7. Museum Exhibition Evaluation


    American Folklife Center Home Page, Library of Congress

    American Folklife Center: Finding Aids

    American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940

    By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936 - 1943

    Ethnographic Studies Internet Resource Page

    The Forgotten People

    The Great Depression and World War II, 1929 - 1945

    An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

    Quilts and Quiltmaking in America, 1978 - 1996

    Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip

    A Teacher's Guide to Folklife Resources

    What is an Ethnographic Field Collection?

    Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song Correspondence, 1940 - 1950

    Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940 - 1941

    Smithsonian Photography

    Smithsonian Textiles and Quilts


    Students can collect additional artifacts from the following areas listed below. These areas come from Folklife and Fieldwork: A Layman's Introduction to Field Techniques. Included are many cultural elements which can function as literary symbols. These elements include oral tradition and performance, material culture, family life, festivals, drama, rituals, and information about cities and towns.

    Oral Tradition and Performance

    1. Spoken Word: tall tales, legends, humorous stories, beliefs, superstitions, personal experience stories, proverbs, riddles, toasts and testimonies, mnemonic devices (rhymes), nursery and game rhymes, speech play, ritual insults, jokes, family histories, vocabulary and grammar, dialect and idiomatic speech, sermons.
    2. Song: ballads, children's songs, work songs, blues (urban and country), sea shanties, ethnic songs, play party and games, songs
    3. Dance: clogging, square dance, round dance, buck dance
    4. Game, Play, and Strategy: tag games, guessing games, seeking games, competitive games (dueling, daring, racing), game strategy (rules and techniques), acting, pretending

    Material Culture

    1. Artifacts: houses, outbuildings, barns, floor plans, roofing materials, masonry, wall and fence constructions, tools and implements
    2. The Cultural Landscape: wall and fence placement, farm planning, farming techniques, rural and urban use of land and space, physical and economic boundaries of regions and neighborhoods
    3. Foodways: food preparation, recipes, gardening, canning and curing processes, traditional meal preparation, religious or symbolic uses for food
    4. Crafts and Trades: boat building, blacksmithing, coal mining, tool making, papercutting, pottery, sailmaking, ropemaking, weaving, straw work, animal trapping
    5. Folk Art: graphic arts, furniture decoration, embroidery, beadwork, wood craving, jewelry making, yard and garden decoration
    6. Folk Medicine: home remedies and cures, midwifery

    Family Life

    1. Traditions
    2. Customs
    3. Religious observations
    4. Rites of passage (birth, baptism, marriage, death)

    Festivals, Drama, and Ritual

    1. Gesture, body movement, and use of space
    2. Seasonal and calendrical events
    3. Saints and nameday celebrations
    4. Feast days
    5. Market days

    Cities and Towns

    1. Transportation
    2. Communication
    3. General maps


    Three weeks


    Linda and David Lackey


    Reproduced from the Library of Congress web site for teachers. Original lesson plan created as part of the Library of Congress American Memory Fellows Program.

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