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1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Big Listening Project

1. A Giant Listening Project

Episode Summary

During the height of the Great Depression, the U.S government hired out-of-work writers and laid-off reporters and sent them out to record the stories of all kinds of Americans. Called the Federal Writers’ Project, historians have called the program a giant “listening project.”


In this introductory episode, host Chris Haley, sets the stage, laying out 1930s America, the New Deal, and the cultural forces that both supported and opposed the Writers’ Project.  We are introduced to the agency’s national director Henry Alsberg and a handful of its writers across the country, including Zora Neale Hurston. We also dig into the key questions that are still debated in public forums today: What history gets told?  And who gets to tell it? 

Stetson Kennedy and Robert Cook Recording Cuban songs with Edith Kennedy_edited.jpg
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Scott Borchert, author

David Bradley, novelist

Dr. Douglas Brinkley, historian

Dr. Tameka Hobbs, historian

David Kipen, author

Dena Epstein, daughter of Hilda Polacheck

Studs Terkel, oral historian

Further Reading

Soul of a People by David A. Taylor

Republic of Detours by Scott Borchert

California in the 1930s by David Kipen

First Person America by Ann Banks

Henry Alsberg by Susan DeMasi

Long Past Slavery by Catherine A. Stewart

Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Hard Times by Studs Terkel


Hosted by: Chris Haley

Director: Andrea Kalin

Producers: Andrea Kalin, David A. Taylor and James Mirabello

Writer: David A. Taylor

Editors: Steve Klingbiel and Ethan Oser

Story Editing: Michael May

Additional voices provided by:

Karen Simon, Robert Mirabello, Gary Hogan and Vince Brown

Featuring music and archival material from:


Library of Congress

National Archives

New York Public Library

Swing Time (RKO, 1936)

Smithsonian Folkways

Produced with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities

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