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At the Steinbeck Museum, Small is Beautiful

Dust Bowl Migrants Mel Thatcher and Lou Wagner Diaries, National Steinbeck Center
Dust Bowl Migrants Mel Thatcher and Lou Wagner Diaries, National Steinbeck Center

Dust Bowl Migrants Mel Thatcher and Lou Wagner Diaries, National Steinbeck Center

I found these two tiny leather bound Dust Bowl migrants diaries incredibly touching. I don’t know if these men were interviewed by Steinbeck when he wrote his 1936  journalistic account of the plight of migrants for the The San Francisco News (his fictional masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath came three years later). But reading the handwritten notes felt intensely intimate, and provided me with a greater sense of the desperation of their lives than all of the rest of the interactive displays in the museum.

“April 21  Worked again to day the price was raised to $.30 per hamper and made 14 hampers witch made us $4.20”

“April 22 – Today we had something different. Rain and it rained most all day. Couldn’t do any thing but stay in the tent and read”

“April 23 – The boss gave us a cabin to live in so we moved our stuff in. Lo worked all day and me only a half day. Got $2.00 for our trouble”

Finding a diary from another age is always moving, always feels like a priviledge.  Amanda Vickery’s fascinating TV series At Home With the Georgians. used private diaries and letters to great effect to bring the past to life.

Closer to home, my old prof from McGill, Historian Andree Levesque is collecting the letters and diaries of unknown Quebecers of all backgrounds to create a vast archive that let us know what life was like in Quebec. Check out this  incredibly ambitious project:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/life-video/video-why-this-quebec-historian-wants-your-memories/article7128129/