Themes and Eras

Voices Across Time is organized by historical eras derived from the National History Standards and themes adapted from the National Social Studies Standards.  The themes are:

United/Divided: Politics, civil rights, diversity

This theme explores the great American paradox E Pluribus Unum: The many consequences of being a nation of diverse people with diverse backgrounds and opinions. Music has allowed even the most disenfranchised to speak up and be heard--that peaceful dissension that is at the heart of the democratic process. This theme will introduce songs of politics, suffrage, civil rights, and cultural pride and conflict.

War and Peace: Propaganda, patriotism, protest

During wartime, songs become weapons, rallying cries, and emotional support. As documents of patriotism, propaganda, and protest, they invite us to ask questions like: "What is peace?" "What is war?" "Why is the nation fighting?" "What am I fighting for?" "What is it like to be a soldier?" "How does it feel back home?"

Work: Labor, pride, conflict

Contrary to popular notions, the arts are not luxuries reserved for affluent times and people. Songs of work are perfect examples of music's role in helping people at all economic levels cope with hard labor, inhumane conditions, and unfair practices. Work songs like sea chanteys kept crews working together to a beat. Field hollers allowed communication between farm workers. Ballads memorialized heroes, decried working conditions, or expressed pride. Union songs recruited members to fight those conditions.

Home: Family, school, leisure

Everyday life has had a musical soundtrack from the days of singing away long winter evenings to today's world of Ipods ® and Muzak®. Songs can reveal much about relationships and values in the home and the drudgery of keeping them. Children learned lessons both moral and academic through songs. And everyone has used music to kick back and have a bit of fun! We put our ears to the doors that most textbooks keep closed to find out more about the human-ness of our ancestors.

Moving Along: Migration and transportation

Americans move! Everyone's ancestors undertook great voyages--either voluntarily or by force--to get here and we haven't stopped since. We listen to the songs of migration--from nation to nation, east to west, south to north (and back again!), farm to city, city to suburbs--to hear the reason for those moves. Then we listen to the songs of transportation and discover how technology--wagons, keelboats, steamboats, trains, automobiles, and planes--literally drives these movements over land and water.

Faith and Ideals: Religion, altruism, ethics, love of country

Nothing reveals what people believe quite as effectively as the songs they sing. Music is one of the primary ways people pass values from generation to generation. We look at songs of religious faith, devotion to country, ethical convictions, and altruistic ideas to try to understand the diverse beliefs and values that motivate Americans. What threads of shared beliefs can we find? In what ways are we different.


A helpful way to visualize this structure is through a grid combining eras and themes. This matrix populated by songs from each unit serves as a finding aid to help educators locate material that helps them meet their instructional objectives:



United/  Divided

War & Peace



Moving    Along

Faith & Ideals

Worlds   meeting
To 1763

Duke's Defeat of the Rebels

Once More Our God Vouchsafe to Shine

Le Courte Paille

Death of General Wolfe

Tobacco's But an Indian Weed

Welcome, Welcome Brother Debtor

Children in the Woods

New England's Annoyances

En Roulant Ma Boule

'Round the Corn(er) Sally

Friendly Invitation to a New Plantation

Psalm 100 (Bay Psalm Book)


God Save the King

Let Us Break Bread Together

New Nation

Rights of a Woman


Free America

The Liberty Song

He Who For a Post

Desponding Negro

Jefferson & Liberty

Ballad of the Tea Party

Yankee Doodle

The Rebels

World Turned Upside Down

The Rolling Stone

American Commerce & Freedom

Address to the Ladies

Johnny's Gone for a Soldier

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Hail Columbia

President's March

Wayfaring Stranger

United/   Divided

War & Peace



Moving     Along

Faith & Ideals

Expansion & Reform

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Darling Nelly Gray

Get Off the Track

The Hunters of Kentucky

Star-Spangled Banner

Trail of Tears Song

Greenland Whale Fishery

Song of the Shirt

Oh Dat Low Bridge

Hard Times Come Again No More

Paddling Song


Glendy Burk

Go Down Moses

Simple Gifts

Amazing Grace

Civil War & Reconstruction 1850-1877

John Brown’s Body


No More Auction Block for Me (Many Thousand Gone)

I’m a Good Old Rebel

Marching Through Georgia

Bonnie Blue Flag

We’re Coming, Father Abraham

Goober Peas

Just Before the Battle, Mother

Vacant Chair

Song of the Southern Volunteers

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

Deep River

Battle Hymn of the Republic

United/   Divided

War & Peace



Moving     Along

Faith & Ideals

Development of the Industrial U.S.

No Irish Need Apply

The New America

Going to the Polls

Stars and Stripes Forever

Break the News to Mother

John Henry

Drill Ye Terriers Drill

The Farmer is the Man

Mule Skinner Blues


Father's a Drunkard and Mother is Dead

The Bowery

Home on the Range

Crossing the Grand Sierras

I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen

Thousands Are Sailing to Amerikay

America the Beautiful

Onward Christian Soldiers

Sun Dance Song

The Emergence of Modern America

Alcoholic Blues

Woman's Doxology

What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue

El Corrido de Gregorio Cortez

The Argentines, the Portuguese, and the Greeks

Over There

I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier

Solidarity Forever

Boll Weevil Song

How You Gonna Keep Him Down on the Farm

Ain't We Got Fun

Hello Ma Baby

Henry's Made a Lady Out of Lizzie

Lindbergh (the Eagle of the USA)

He Lies in the American Land

We'll Understand It Better By and By

You're a Grand Old Flag

United/   Divided

War & Peace



Moving     Along

Faith & Ideals

The Great Depression and World War II

Happy Days Are Here Again

Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

Which Side Are You On?

Duration Blues

Der Fuhrer's Face

Gee But I Wanna Go Home

A Slip of the Lip

Hobo’s Lullaby

Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?

Rosie the Riveter

'Leven Cent Cotton, Forty Cent Meat

Whistle While You Work

Roll On Columbia

When the Lights Go On Again

Do, Re, Mi

Chattanooga Choo-Choo

God Bless America

You'll Never Walk Alone

I'm Marching Down Freedom Road

Postwar United States
1945 to early 1970s

We Shall Overcome


The Times They Are A-Changin'

Say It Loud I'm Black & Proud

Okie From Muskogee

Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag


Sixteen Tons

Get a Job


Little Boxes

At Seventeen

Wives and Lovers

In America (West Side Story)

I Get Around

This Land is Your Land

Get Together

If I Had a Hammer

United/   Divided

War & Peace



Moving     Along

Faith & Ideals

Contemporary America

I Am Woman

Gangsta's Paradise

Chocolate City

Born in the USA


In America

Workin’  9 to 5


Big Yellow Taxi

Living for the City

Small Town

Mountains 'O Things

Information Undertow


Traffic Jam


God Bless the USA

From a Distance


More topics under Teacher's Guide:

Unit walkthrough:

Timeline & Table of Contents

Background essay & planning  


Song pages


1. Worlds Meeting

2. New Nation

3. Expansion & Reform

4. Civil War & Reconstruction

5. Development of Industrial


6. Emergence of Modern U.S.

7. Great Depression & WW II

8. Post-War U.S.

9. Contemporary U.S.

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Copyright 2007-2008 Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh Library System