Editor's Note: One of our greatest hopes for this Web site is that it continues to grow in the months and years ahead. The legacy of FDR's New Deal is all around us, on the national landscape as well as right in our own backyards. We encourage students to discover and document the public works and private histories of these times, and to publish their stories on the New Deal Network. If you have an idea for a feature story or research project, tell us about it.
In the meantime, here are some suggestions for getting started researching New Deal-related people and places in your own community.
[Adapted from The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Supplemental Teaching Unit, courtesy of the National Archives.]
Many books chronicle the plight of individuals, both real and fictional, during the Depression and the New Deal. Do your homework and try to find out as much as you can about the issues and events that led to FDR's establishing the New Deal programs.
The Resources page contains lists of books about FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and New Deal history, as well a list of some New Deal-related Web sites.
Much of the documentation about the New Deal is located in the holdings of state archives or historical societies. Local historical societies might also have a wealth of information about projects in your own community.
- One place to begin might be with your own school librarian. Explain the subject of
your research and ask for help finding the names and addresses of archivists at both the
state and local level.
- Use an Internet search engine such as Yahoo or AltaVista to see if any of these groups maintain a Web site. Much of the information you're seeking may already be online in a format you can use for your own site.
- Write or send E-mail to let them know of your interest in their records. They will be able to tell you what records about New Deal programs they have. When writing, make your requests as specific as possible.
- If you visit the archive, plan ahead and write down exactly what type of supporting information you hope to work with that day. Often, your investigation will turn up unexpected "finds," but planning ahead will help the archivist gather and organize the information ahead of time.
- Handle with care any primary source documents (such as photos, letters, telegrams, etc.) you're allowed to work with. Part of your responsibility as a "historical scout" is to preserve history for future researchers.
Employment Programs: The WPA sponsored many projects for specific groups of unemployed (for example, artists and writers).
- Investigate one of these programs and report to the class about it.
(Consult the Library page to find information on a particular agency in the New Deal Network archives.)
- Who were the key players in establishing and running this agency?
- What problem was it created to solve and how did it attempt to do so?
- What famous works resulted from the efforts of this agency?
- Take a local perspective, if appropriate, and research how this agency may have had an impact on the local community.
For example, were there any Federal Theater productions staged at a local theater? Were any local actresses/actors (or writers, directors, set designers or stage hands) involved in the production?
Can you find posters, playbills, or photographs from any of these productions?
- What lasting effects did this agency have on contemporary America?
Family and Neighbors:
Family members or neighbors who lived through the Depression and New Deal era may be willing to share their memories of that time with you. These conversations might be developed into a writing assignment in cooperation with English classes.
- The Resources page contains some Web links to sites that offer tips and procedures for conducting oral history interviews.
- The Student Showcase page contains a link to South Kingstown High School's Oral History Project Web site. This site is a good example of a collection of life stories about a specific period in time.
Public Works Projects:
Almost without exception, remnants of New Deal projects exist in every community. Through public works projects, unemployed persons painted murals, landscaped parks, and built schools, libraries, and other public buildings.
- Talk to local historians or city officials to find out what kinds of projects were created by New Deal agencies in your community.
- Some public agencies maintain their own archive of historical information about the design and construction of their building. For example, volume one of your high school yearbook from 1937 may contain a section on the building of the school. Many maintain "before and after" photographs of the buildings that preceded them, providing evidence of how the New Deal may have benefited the community.
- If possible, talk with people who participated in these projects as workers or planners. Plan ahead and develop a list of questions before conducting any interviews.
(The Resources page contains some Web links to sites that offer tips and procedures for conducting oral history interviews.)
- If the subjects agree, record your interviews either on video or audiotape.
Later, transcribe the interview either by hand or using an online editor.
Some of the people interviewed may be willing to share their experiences with the class and participate in a question and answer session at the school.