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Sheryl Kaskowitz
Unaffiliated independent scholar
Sidney Robertson and the Documentation of American Folk Music in the New Deal Era

Preparation of a book about Sidney Robertson (1903-1995), a folk-music collector in the 1930s for the Resettlement Administration of the U.S. government.

This book tells the story of Sidney Robertson’s folk-music collecting for the Resettlement Administration (RA), an experimental New Deal agency that resettled thousands of people hard hit by the Depression on newly created homesteads across the country. The RA’s Special Skills Division collected nearly 160 disc recordings, both to document the folk music of Depression-era America and to use the songs “as an integrating social force” on the RA’s homesteads. Nearly all of these discs were recorded by Sidney Robertson, a woman whose role in the history of public folklore is often overlooked. This book illuminates the lost history of the Special Skills Division and Sidney Robertson’s role in its folk-music collecting, uncovering a treasure trove of little-known recordings, filling in important information about the roots of the folk revival, and demonstrating New Deal leaders' belief in the power of folk music to effect change and to forge an "authentic" American identity.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
American Studies; Ethnomusicology; Folklore and Folklife

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2018 – 5/31/2019