One of the most important stories that Americans tell about ourselves is the story of the “American Dream,” first coined amidst the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams. Beginning with Ben Franklin’s Autobiography and Horatio Alger’s “rags to riches” stories, Americans have told themselves that all individuals and groups can “make it” through hard work and determination. Since the late-19th century, millions of immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Latin America have come to the United States in pursuit of the Dream, and since the 1930s U.S. politicians have tried to use the power of the federal government to assist individuals’ efforts to achieve economic prosperity and civil rights. But what does “the American Dream” mean to Americans today? In what ways, and to what extent, has our understanding of the Dream changed? What new challenges do American Dreamers face in the 21st century? And how easy is it for all Americans to achieve their dreams?


For this project, students created podcasts that make arguments about what the American Dream means in the 21st century. In doing so, students took place in a storied American tradition: the collection of oral histories, i.e., recorded interviews with individuals deemed to have an important story to tell. American historians and journalists have been archiving individuals’ memories and experiences since the late 1930s and early 1940s, when members of the Federal Writers Project (a division of the New Deal Works Progress Administration) collected thousands of interviews of ordinary Americans living during the Depression, including formerly enslaved black Americans. During the 1970s and 1980s, the journalist Studs Terkel followed in the footsteps of the FWP by documenting the lives of Americans from all backgrounds in books like Working (1974), American Dreams (1983), and The Great Divide (1988).


Click on this link to access a folder containing all podcasts submitted as of Monday, April 8, 2019.