Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal by Jerrold Hirsch

By Jerrold Hirsch

How good can we recognize our nation? Whom will we comprise once we use the note "American"? those usually are not simply modern concerns yet ordinary questions american citizens have requested themselves all through their history--and questions that have been addressed whilst, in 1935, the Roosevelt management created the Federal Writers' venture (FWP) below the aegis of the Works development management. even supposing the fast context of the FWP was once paintings aid, nationwide FWP officers built courses that spoke to a lot greater and longer-standing debates over the character of yankee identification and tradition and the very definition of who was once an American.

Hirsch studies the founding of the FWP and the importance of its American Guide sequence, contemplating the alternatives made via directors who desired to rejoice variety as a good element of yankee cultural id. In his exploration of the FWP's different writings, Hirsch discusses the project's pioneering use of oral heritage in interviews with traditional southerners, ex-slaves, ethnic minorities, and commercial staff. He additionally examines congressional critics of the FWP imaginative and prescient; the occasional competition of neighborhood Federal Writers, specifically within the South; and the way the FWP's imaginative and prescient replaced based on the problem of global battle II. during this learn, Hirsch increases thought-provoking questions on the relationships among range and cohesion, executive and tradition, and, finally, tradition and democracy.

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Davis, executive secretary of the Joint Committee on National Recovery, an African American organization formed early in the New Deal to protect black interests in such matters as the National Recovery Act codes and the agricultural programs, wrote Alsberg of the “apprehensions” he had about the Writers’ Project. He was concerned about black employment on the  and the treatment of blacks in project publications. He recommended that Alsberg consult African American scholars such as Carter G. Woodson and Alfred Schomburg about black materials to be included in the planned national guide.

By comparing Lomax, a white southerner born in Goodman, Mississippi in 1876, with his colleagues on the , it is possible to begin to trace the difficult path from a conservative romantic nationalism to the liberal and radical variants on that idea that developed in the 1930s. In the early decades of the twentieth century, travel and social work provided an important educational experience for liberal intellectuals like Alsberg, Botkin, and Royse. Their own experience and contemporary social theory sug-    gested that cultural differences were to be explained in terms of historical experience and were not matters of superior and inferior groups that could be rated on some absolute scale.

30 Botkin hoped the  folklore and oral history projects he developed would enable people to speak for themselves and that the published results could create an encounter between reader and narrator in which the reader could see things from the perspective of the speaker. Lomax’s confident assumptions that he knew and understood African Americans often prevented this from happening in his work. His vision of a rich folk tradition menaced by modern developments had no place in it for the idea of America as a culture in the process of becoming.

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