Dave Powell

FYS 143-2: Protest Music & Social Change

“This Machine Kills Fascists!”

The famous inscription Woody Guthrie placed on his guitar in 1943 says something profound about how many artists and musicians view their work: while art entertains us, it can enlighten and liberate us as well. Unfortunately, the history of America often taught in schools focuses largely on names, dates, and other facts pieced together in an effort to tell a particular kind of story about America—one that does little to help us appreciate the struggle that runs like a swift current just beneath the surface of daily life. In this seminar we revisit some of that history, focusing on the way musicians—from 19th century slaves to 20th century bluesmen, from turn-of-the-century labor activists to Depression-era balladeers to Civil Rights marchers, and from war protesters of forty years ago to war protesters today—have attempted to right wrongs, educate sensibilities, and awaken the consciences of people in an effort to make America a place that lives up to its promise.

Course Information

This is the launch page for FYS 143-2, a seminar for first-year students at Gettysburg College that explores American blues and folk music traditions and the unique way folk artists have expressed political viewpoints through music. Check below for key information as it is added.

General Info

Course Syllabus


Click here to download the course syllabus in PDF format. Note that the syllabus is subject to change at any time, but that changes will only be made when ample notice has been provided to students.

Required Texts

These texts can all be purchased online at bargain prices, or, in the case of the Petrus and Wolff texts, can be found in the College Bookstore.

  • Hayes, Nick. Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads. New York: Abrams, 2016.
  • Petrus, Stephen & Ronald D. Cohen. Folk City: New York and the American Folk Music Revival. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Wolff, Daniel. Grown Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913. New York: HarperCollins, 2017

Additional Reading Assignments

In addition to the three required books, supplemental reading assignments will be made available in a password-protected space online. Click here to access those assignments (password required).

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