What I have been doing today is looking for songs that illustrate common themes in my history courses. I try to bring some web resources into every lesson and I think my students would enjoy hearing the crackly old songs. And what a gold mine of stuff! Some examples:
- "Don't go down the mine, Dad" is a sentimental 1913 song about the dangers of working in a coal mine. It would work well in a lecture about labor and industrialization. I would ask students who they thought bought the record, and what it says about attitudes towards work that this song was popular.
- A search for "Civil War" brings up a rich vein of 60 recordings, from camp ballads such as "Break the news to mother" to historic epics such as "The Battle of Manassas." I would point out that the Civil War was a living memory to some f the people who bought these cylinders around 1900.
- This fine recording of "Roll Jordan roll" by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartette would work well in a unit about slave religion.
- A search for "prohibition" brings up an entire lesson of anti-prohibition songs (and not a single one in favor!) Sample: "It's the smart little feller who stocked up his cellar that's getting the beautiful girls."
- The cylinders seem to have mixed messages on the transportation revolution. The protagonist in "An interrupted courtship on the elevated railroad" can't get a date because of the racket and interruptions. But Ada Jones warns girls to "Keep away from the fellow who owns an automobile" who will "take you too far from your Pa and Ma."