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An appropriation-friendly, image-rich, experimental research library. Independent and open to the public.

Monday, May 07, 2007

WPA guides and Federal Writers' Project publications

As Gray Brechin made clear in his California Studies Association lecture weekend before last, the legacy of the New Deal still surrounds us, if we take the time to look. There are dams, post offices, schools, bridges and murals worthy of exploration throughout the entire U.S. and territories, and (though many people don't know it) a large body of books and publications that are still fascinating to read today. In an enlightened experiment, the Works Progress Administration (later Work Projects Administration), known to most as WPA, hired unemployed writers to produce a series of Guides to American states, territories, cities and regions. The Guides are remarkable descriptions of American history and landscape written with thought and care, and despite their age (almost 70 years old) still the best books to take on a road trip and read aloud during the empty stretches. Besides the Guides, WPA authors produced a curious array of works, including Almanacs for Bostonians, New Yorkers, Oregonians and San Franciscans.

Encouraged by Writers' Project scholar and authority Marc Selvaggio, we started collecting FWP and WPA publications sometime in the mid-1980s. Most of these are in the public domain, and we've scanned about 60 so far. Here's a partial list, and here are a few we especially like.

New York City Guide, 1939 and the companion volume New York Panorama

San Francisco, The Bay and Its Cities, 1940

Oregon, End of the Trail, 1940

New Orleans City Guide, 1938

Download them all if you can, and take them with you when you travel. Better yet, grab the texts, segment and geocode them, and turn them into a remarkably literate audio tour that chimes in when you approach a place described in one of the books.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are these scans public domain?

8:50 PM  
Blogger Prelinger Library said...

Yes they're public domain. We do clearance searches on all titles before putting them in for scanning.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are amazing! THANK YOU!

3:26 PM  

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