The sound recordings in California Gold were gathered in less than two years, but the songs themselves cover a wide range of topics regarding American history.
Students can make an American history time line of songs. Students might search on Revolution, War of 1812, California gold rush, Civil War, World War I, and Prohibition. Students can also use the Subject Index to help them locate these and other related topics.
This collection provides students with an excellent opportunity to use visual, literary, and music sources to get a sense of what life was like for a particular group of people in California in the 1930s. Students can begin their research with the listing of Ethnic, Cultural, and Language Groups in California Gold. Selecting one of the group names will allow the students to explore the relevant sound recordings, photographs, drawings, and other materials collected by Cowell.
For example, in the listing for the Spanish group, students will find all manner of information about Spanish-Americans and their musical traditions. Compiling this information with further research, students can address these questions:
- What brought these people to this land?
- What were some of the cultural traditions that they maintained?
- How did the history of this group of people affect the history of the region?
Historical Analysis and Interpretation
Using the songs in the collection, students can compare and contrast points of view on different topics in American History.
For example, search on Civil War to find a listing of songs that were sung by the opposing sides. The Good Old Rebel is one represention of the southern point of view, while The Cumberland's Crew, is one representation of the northern point of view.
Or, students might analyze different points of view during the early 20th century concerning alcohol by searching on temperance, prohibition, and drinking songs.
After further research on their chosen topic, ask students to assume the role of members of the two opposing sides, and hold formal debates on the topic. You might also require students to be prepared to defend either point of view.
Historical Research Capabilities
Students can analyze a sound recording, asking questions such as:
- Who performed the song? When was it recorded?
- What is the point of view, background, and interest of the author? The performer?
- Does the song tell a story? What about? Where could you find more information about the subject matter?
For example, search on gold mines to find information regarding the California Gold Rush. Students can then choose one of the songs to analyze, such as The California Emigrant, (sung to the tune of "Oh Susannah"):
Like Argos of the ancient times,
I'll leave this modern Greece;
I'm bound to California mines,
To find the Golden fleece.
For who would work from morn to night
And live on hog and corn,
When one can pick up there at sight
Enough to buy a farm.
O California! that's the land for me,
I'm going to California the gold dust for to see.