The New Deal, that constellation of economic stimulus policies and social programs enacted to lift Americans out of the Great Depression, was about more than building post offices and bringing electricity to rural folk. Asking for the participation of millions of Americans effected a conceptual shift in how the nation thought of itself. Indeed, the New Deal promoted a sense that our past, present, and future were best understood by drawing together multiple voices and experiences. At the Living New Deal, we aim to serve as a resource for all things related to the New Deal, from mapping its artworks and infrastructure to publishing oral histories to reviewing recent scholarship. But we also advocate for a return to the civic-minded spirit of the era, recapturing something fostered by Franklin Roosevelt’s government that, it seems, was lost after WWII. To this end, both practically and philosophically, the Living New Deal takes its cues from eighty-year-old federal programs.Map of the Living New Deal

Practically, it would be impossible to chronicle the location of the thousands upon thousands of public works projects and artworks created between 1933 and 1941 under the aegis of the federal government during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as it employed millions of Americans to improve the quality of life in their hometowns. Consequently, we encourage submissions from the general public. For instance, we provide an easy-to-use submissions form through which participants can tip us off to New Deal sites and artworks that still need chronicling, relaying to us information about buildings and artwork where they lived that were completed by various New Deal programs and that testify to its continued impact. And we consider this to be a success: our map of New Deal works, the cornerstone of our project, is nearing 10,000 entries.

Philosophically, in our ambition to be a clearinghouse for New Deal news and discussion, we thrive on a range of voices and expertise, aiming to include as many insights, opinions, and experiences as we can. We connect with New Deal scholars and encourage collaborative writing; we post efforts by artists and filmmakers to chronicle the art of the era; we publicize the causes of various local history groups in they strive to preserve New Deal works amidst redevelopment. Although based out of Berkeley’s Department of Geography, we cast our net beyond the academy, catering to diverse interests, but also seeing what the New Deal’s legacy looks like for people whose relationship to the New Deal is often deeply personal—from family lore to the diverse ways in which the New Deal—its policies and its products—shaped everyday life in small towns and large cities across the U.S. For this, we rely on the first-hand experiences of people for whom, library construction programs, for example, continue to resonate in unique ways.

How to make this happen is something else entirely, and an effort that exists in a mutually reinforcing relationship with the work of the digital humanities. At the Living New Deal, we maintain close contact with volunteers across the country who chronicle any New Deal-related developments in their regions. Through our social media presence on Facebook and Twitter, and through networking at local and national history expositions, we foster relationships with various preservation organizations. And we make participation by the public as simple as possible (see links above). While these contributions are vetted by our staff, we also aim towards collaboration and conversation in real time. We are currently working on a project called “Fireside Films” (a play off of Roosevelt’s regular “Fireside Chats,” which used the radio to beam his thoughts and policies into Americans’ living rooms.) As we upload contemporaneous films chronicling the work of various New Deal programs, we will select one to air at a set time each week and, through Twitter, offer viewers around the country the opportunity to share their thoughts—with the Living New Deal and with each other.

Looking ahead to our “Fireside Films,” we might ask: what would a young environmentalist make of a film chronicling the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Tennessee? What about a Professor of Environmental Policy? A Nashvillian? Someone whose grandfather, working at that site, experienced the segregation that was also part of this program as it was enacted in the Jim Crow South? We can ask broader questions from these: what can these people share with us and with each other? How does historical memory suture divides? How does it create divides? Why? Thanks to both the public nature of the Living New Deal, and its contours as a digital humanities project, the answers to those questions also change in real time, becoming big enough to encompass as many voices as choose to participate in the conversation.