Lesson 1.5: Occupational Folklife / Work Traditions

Occupational folklife consists of experience and activites that are usually learned on the job.


A towboat enters a lock on the Mississippi River near Keokuk.

Occupational folklife refers to the work-related stories, the customary practices, skills, and material objects that people use in their professions, as well as the special terms, sayings, jokes, legends, songs, and rituals associated with them.


Folklife Background

This lesson explores creative expressions and knowledge used in a variety of occupations. The video provides a fairly intimate portrait of the work done by the following:

Jack Libbey, a veteran Mississippi River towboat captain from Lansing
John Duccini, a Mississippi River commercial fisherman from Dubuque
Bruce Williams, a family farmer from Villisca
Karmen Mehmen, a family farmer from Plainfield

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Students will be able to:
1. Identify the characteristics of occupational folklife and occupational communities.
2. Compare and contrast various aspects of work culture.
3. Explore the relationship between human work and the environment.
4. Examine and analyze changes in work culture over time.

Cross References

Instructional Program:

Prairie Voices Lessons:
Sense of Place: Interdisciplinary Wilderness Unit, Making a Living, Badges of Pride, Agriculture: Farming and More, Iowa Farm Women (Page 1), Iowa Farm Women (Page 2), We’ve Gotcha Covered