NEXT: The Farm Security Administration Photographs Collection
PREV: The Legacy
Table of Contents

WPA PUBLICATIONS IN THE LIBRARY COLLECTIONS

Because of its close connection to the federal arts projects of the 1930s-as participant, sponsor, and repository-the Library of Congress has the most comprehensive collection anywhere of publications produced by the WPA and related agencies. In addition to thousands of printed items, the collection includes as many mimeographed items that were cataloged and bound; they are listed in the Library's various catalogs and available through the general reading rooms. This collection of course includes the American Guide Series, the famous state guidebooks that critic Alfred Kazin called a "contemporary epic" and a symbol of the "reawakened American sense of its own history."

HISTORIC AMERICAN BUILDINGS SURVEY

Image: caption follows

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) was established in 1933 to aid unemployed architects and produce a detailed record of early American architecture. Here three architects measure the dimensions of the Kentucky School for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky, in March 1934. HABS/HAER Collections, Prints and Photographs Division.

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is the largest and most important architectural collection in the Library's Prints and Photographs Division. It began in 1933 as a work relief project under the Civil Works Administration. Its purposes, according to Leicester B. Holland, chief of the Fine Arts Division, were "to aid unemployed architects and draftsmen and at the same time to produce a detailed record of such early American architecture as was in immediate danger of destruction." Based in part on the precedent of the Pictorial Archives of Early American Architecture, a Library of Congress collection initiated by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 1930, HABS received a more permanent status in 1934 under a tripartite agreement signed by the National Park Service, the American Institute of Architects, and the Library of Congress. It continued after that date with funds from the Works Progress Administration, was discontinued during World War II, and then resumed in a new and expanded form in 1957. Today the collection contains over forty-three thousand photographs, and fifty thousand pages of historical and architectural information. Over seventeen thousand structures are documented, including buildings in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Various portions of the collection are available in microfilm, printed form, and microfiche.

A collection of architectural photographs, essays, correspondence, and working papers produced by the Art and Architecture Project of the Federal Writers' Project, came to the Library of Congress in 1940. Containing over ten thousand items, it includes architectural photographs from South Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and other states, drafts for a proposed "Outline of Architecture in the United States," and typescripts of biographies of "noted American architects."

Image: caption follows Image: caption follows
The front entrance of the Francis Scott Key House (now demolished) in Washington, D.C., was drawn for the Historic American Buildings Survey, first sketched in a field notebook and then on the finished sheet as a permanent measured drawing. HABS/HAER Collections, Prints and Photographs Division.

EX-SLAVE NARRATIVE COLLECTION

This collection of transcribed interviews with former slaves is one of the best known research collections in the Library of Congress. The interviewing was begun in 1934 in the Ohio River Valley by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and then extended to other areas between 1936 and 1938 by the Federal Writers' Project.

From the beginning the project was closely associated with the Library because John A. Lomax, the chief organizer and the first national WPA adviser on folklore, was also the honorary curator of the Library's Archive of American Folksong (established in 1927). Lomax and his interviewers canvassed no fewer than seventeen states. When the Library of Congress project was established in 1939, their transcripts and related research files came to the Library. Lomax's successor as folklore consultant to the writers' project, Benjamin A. Botkin, became chief editor in the writers' unit in the Library of Congress Project and saw to it that the narratives were edited, indexed, and added to the collections. By no means all of the ex-slave narratives came to the Library of Congress. Many from Virginia and Georgia, for example, are in repositories in those states.

The Library of Congress's edited collection of over two thousand narratives, which has been microfilmed and published in several editions, is in the Manuscript Division, along with auxiliary research materials. Many anthologies containing selections from this remarkable and early oral history effort have been published, the first by the Federal Writers' Project itself as Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery (1945), edited by Benjamin A. Botkin.

FOLKLORE AND SOCIAL-ETHNIC STUDIES

According to Benjamin A. Botkin, no fewer than nine branches of the WPA were involved in collecting American folklore. The WPA collection in the Library's Manuscript Division consists largely of research files, correspondence, and publications from the Federal Writer's Project, divided into three principal groups: traditional folklore (myths, legends, stories, rhymes, and so on), life histories (first and third person narratives about daily living), and social-ethnic studies. Ann Bank's book First-Person America (1980) is based on eighty of the life-history narratives among the 150,000 pages of transcripts in the life-history series.The writers' project started in 1936 primarily to gather material for the state guides, but after 1938 it placed greater emphasis on urban and ethnic studies. Correspondence, studies, field notes, and compilations such as "Bundle of Troubles and Other Tarheel Tales" and a lexicon of trade slang and jargon (with entries for everything from Aero-Manufacturing Workers' slang to Television Workers' jargon) are found in this collection.

The Archive of Folk Song supported the sound-recording activities of the WPA folklore projects by providing equipment and assuming custody of completed discs. More than half of these discs were produced in 1939 by a special recording project conducted in the southern states under the sponsorship of the WPA's Joint Committee on Folk Art, headed by Herbert Halpert of the Federal Theatre Project. The extensive California field studies conducted by Sidney Robertson, largely in ethnic and migrant communities from 1938 to 1940, are documented by photographs, field notes, and 237 discs.

Image: caption follows

A HABS photograph of the main street of Weaverville, California, March 10, 1934. HABS/HAER Collections, Prints and Photographs Division.

Image: caption follows

A photograph by Roger Sturtevant of a Russian chapel at Fort Ross, Sonoma County, California, taken for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1934. Such photographs have been used to restore and repair this and other buildings after fire damage or other destruction. HABS/HAER Collections, Prints and Photographs Division.


NEXT: The Farm Security Administration Photographs Collection
PREV: The Legacy
Table of Contents