Aimee Zoeller helps turn Woody Guthrie’s music into college curriculum

May 18, 2022
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IUPUC lecturer Aimee Zoeller has been using the music of Woody Guthrie for years to teach social justice in her sociology courses, and in 2020 she reached out to the Woody Guthrie Center to inquire about curriculum resources they might have to help teach college level courses. While the Center didn’t have any specific materials, they were able to put her in touch with other professors who were also using Guthrie’s music to teach, and together, they formed the Woody Guthrie Teaching Collective, which consists of Zoeller and four other teacher-scholars including Court Carney, Michele Fazio, Mark Fernandez, and Gustavus Stadler.

The collective began meeting in August 2020 with the support of Deana McCloud, the founding and executive director of the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The purpose of the collective is to share teaching resources, ideas for assessment, create interdisciplinary curriculum, and contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning on Woody and Woody-related themes.

Aimee Zoeller at JP Morgan Library ExhibitIn 2021, McCloud asked the group to create a college-level curriculum that could be used in conjunction with an exhibit planned for the Morgan Library & Museum in the spring of 2022 titled “Woody Guthrie: People Are the Song.” The general purpose of the curriculum is to introduce students to Woody Guthrie, with a specific aim of considering current and historical social problems and phenomena from Guthrie’s perspectives, philosophies, and methodologies. The lessons begin with a short introduction and include discussion prompts and engaging activities that can be implemented across college disciplines, including but not limited to: English, history, sociology, economics, and political science.

It took about a year to create the curriculum using the themes presented in the Morgan Library & Museum exhibit as an organizational structure, but the goal was to make sure the curriculum could stand on it’s own after the exhibit ended. The exhibit is an extension of Nora Guthrie and Bob Santelli's 2021 book, Woody Guthrie: Songs and Art, Words and Wisdom. The curriculum will be useful for professors who make use of the Guthrie and Santelli text for years to come.

The curriculum is broken into five themes which explore Guthrie’s influence on American society, including a sense of place, politics, family and children, love, and his continued influence on music and art even after his death. The collective even created a Spotify playlist featuring music written by Guthrie and performed not only by him, but a number of artists whom he influenced.