Required Reading & Listening This Week

  • *Radio Drama: Welles, Orson, War of the Worlds (1938) [Youtube below]

Lectures This Week and Key Terms 

At 1:30 PM on Tuesday, April 7 we will have a live lecture lab on Zoom with guest A. Brad Schwartz from the Princeton History Department who is an expert in the radio drama War of the Worlds (1938). He will share his research with us and we will all have a conversation about what you heard in the broadcast and what you see in the primary sources below.

  • War of the Worlds
  • The Great Train Robbery (1903) [I introduce it in the silent film lecture and analyze it in-depth in the upcoming Westerns lecture]
  • DW Griffith
  • The Biograph Company
  • Thomas Dixon
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Radio as friend
  • Alan Lomax / Field Recordings
  • Victor Records
  • The Carter Family
  • Jimmie Rodgers
  • Border Radio
  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  • Works Progress Administration
  • Federal Project Number One

War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

War of the Worlds New Jersey Correspondence Sent to Orson Welles 

Weekly Mini Assignment 

Assignment: This week we will have a graduate student joining us in our Lecture Lab who has written a book on “War of the Worlds.” First, we ask you to take notes while you listen to the radio broadcast and try to pay attention to the sound effects, narration style, and storytelling tactics used that make this seem “realistic.” He asked that you look at the correspondence from New Jersey (provided above in the gallery) and write a paragraph about the general themes you notice in the letters they sent in. How do you feel about what they said now that you yourself have also listened to it? You do not need to e-mail in your paragraph this week. We ask that you have it with you during our lecture lab with Brad Schwartz so you can participate and answer our questions about what you found and noticed in the sources.

Silent Film and Radio Lecture 

I normally screen clips from Call of the Wild and Birth of a Nation (discussed in this week’s lecture in class). Please play around and watch a few scenes for our precept discussion. As a reminder–the original would not have synchronized music. It would have been a live piano player or orchestra.

Birth of a Nation is a silent film epic so it is incredibly long. The second half of the film is where the bulk of the historically significant content takes place. Brief clips to skip to and check out include the Abraham Lincoln assassination at 1:25; the title cards at 1:31-1:32; the election rally at 1:45; Election Day at 1:53. The most famous scene is the legislation scene at 1:59. The “encounter” at 2:14 is the major turning point in the plot. The “trial” at 2:29.


Precept Agenda 

  1. Found Object Presentations
  2. Discuss and analyze silent film clips
  3. Discuss country if desired
  4. Discuss final project assignments



Like last week, I am curating additional digital sources below for you to enjoy and explore for deeper dives into this week’s class themes. I am also including the multimedia I reference in the lectures here to explore.


This is a Carter Family playlist with both audio recordings and film clips spanning their eighty-year history in American folk, gospel, and country music.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the queen of the gospel circuit, was one of the first musicians to integrate electric guitar into the genre. Notice her all-white audience. I really hope you watch “Didn’t It Rain” because it is WILD.


Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).