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Interpreting the Evidence

Federal Writers' Project, Interview Questions, c. 1936-1943

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Federal Writers' Project, Interview Questions, c. 1936-1943 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
A list of questions asked of Spanish-speaking immigrants in 1936 by Federal Writers' Project New York City Unit interviewers compiling information on the lives and experiences of New York City populations from Latin America, the Caribbean, the Philippines and Iberia.Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project, created in 1935, provided work for the unemployed in white collar professions such as writing, research, history, art, geology and cartography. Spanish Book: Life Histories is a collection of forty interviews documenting the lives of a diversity of lower to middle class Spanish and Portuguese-speaking immigrants in New York City between 1936 and 1939. These oral histories offer insights into the experiences, cultures, jobs and everyday lives of those interviewed. The Spanish Book was never published.
Historical Context
The Great Depression started in 1929, leaving many Americans unemployed. Those fortunate enough to have jobs often worked for less than a living wage. President Roosevelt’s administration passed legislation known as the New Deal to help spur America’s economy by providing jobs for unemployed persons. The Works Progress Administration, created under the New Deal, assisted people in obtaining these newly created jobs. The WPA helped secure 9 million jobs and spent $12 billion on relief efforts during its tenure.

The majority of jobs created, about 75 percent, were construction jobs. Laborers, however, were not the only ones out of work. Librarians, teachers, lawyers, and other “white collar” workers also suffered during this time period. In order to provide a more appropriate work opportunity for these professionals, the federal government founded the Federal Writers’ Project. The program had employees writing state guide books, historical pamphlets, and recording people’s histories. Today, there are about 300,000 items in the Federal Writers’ Project archives in the Library of Congress.

Essential Question
Why do people migrate?
How does migration affect the migrant and the community into which they migrate?
Check for Understanding
Identify the main purpose of these questions and evaluate the significance of the information obtained from this interview.
Historical Challenges
What were the economic circumstances that led to the Great Depression? How long did it last? What did the government do to try to help those without jobs?
Research the process of becoming a citizen of the United States. Has it changed since the 1930s? If so, how?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Create an interview for an older member of your family or someone who has immigrated to America. Conduct the interview and write a biography containing the information you have found.
Art: Using the American Memory collection from the Library of Congress, find photos of conditions during the Great Depression in New York and make a collage.