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Portrait of America: A Cultural History of the Federal Writers' Project Hardcover – October 13, 2003

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807828175 ISBN-10: 0807828173 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A provocative and thoughtful book." -- Washington Post Book World, November 23, 2003

Review

Without question this is the most thorough and analytical study ever written on the New Deal's Federal Writer's Project. Jerrold Hirsch's first-rate Portrait of America will change the way we think about the Great Depression years. A truly landmark study.--Douglas Brinkley, University of New Orleans

|A provocative and thoughtful book.--Washington Post Book World

|A fascinating study. . . . Hirsch is most concerned with tackling the difficulties in understanding and championing racial and cultural diversity in the U.S.--Journal of American Folklore

|A thoroughgoing study of the ideas and ideology motivating the leadership of the FWP. . . . Well-organized and gracefully written --Journal of Southern History

|Portrait of America is quite an accomplishment, and it will undoubtedly be one of the authoritative studies of the Federal Writers Project for a long time to come.--South Carolina Historical Magazine

|A welcome complement to existing works of administrative history and literary criticism.--American Historical Review

|Hirsch treats the Federal Writers' Project not as a peculiar product of the 1930s, but as an important part of America's cultural and intellectual history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By emphasizing the cultural and historical influences on which the FWP drew, Hirsch manages--as other scholars writing about the FWP have not--to specify just what it was that the guidebooks were celebrating about America, and he explains persuasively why their work should be seen as transcending the 1930s.--Richard H. Pells, University of Texas

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1 edition (October 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807828173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807828175
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,929,699 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By grasshopper4 on August 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Portrait of America" takes a bit different approach to the history of the FWP. Rather than focusing on the range of writers, topics, genres, and other features of the era, Hirsch provides us with a cultural history of the project. His main focus is on ways in which selected writers, administrators, and governmental officials were working with the tension between romantic nationalism and cultural pluralism that Hirsch regards as a central problem within New Deal ideology. Hirsch uses a wealth of new and largely under-used resources -- including unpublished archival records -- to provide fresh insights into the motivations and ideologies that are part of this era's politics of culture. The history is especially interesting when Hirsch looks at how the competing ideologies are given different spins during different eras. Hirsch's analysis is most valuable when he demonstrates how older questions about representing American culture, history and identities remain part of the contemporary discourse into our 21st Century. The book fills a needed gap for researchers interested in FWP writers' attention to American folklore, social history, and various vernacular forms of expressive culture. It also provides an excellent historical context for understanding an important part of the foundation of organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a variety of other national, state, and local agencies that are rooted in New Deal politics.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. M. B. Kitson on April 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
NB - this is not an administrative history of the FWP. For those seeking such a study, Jerre Mangione's anecdotal 'the Dream and the Deal' is a reasonable option.

What Hirsch does that historians before him have largely failed to, is place the FWP in the context of the intellectual / cultural currents of the 1930s. What emerges is a study which maps the cosmopolitan, pluralist ambitions of the national staff against the racial prejudices of (in particular) the FWP's field workers in the Jim Crow South. In this respect his interrogation of the language of the Guide series is particularly illuminating.

For those seeking a nostalgic reminiscence of federal funding of the arts (a la Penkower or Mangione) look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you're interested in using the FWP to understand the widely divergent strains of intellectual thought in 1930s America - read on!
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By Annie L. Wafer on April 15, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent, this item is exactly what I expected.
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3 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Pete Rabinowitz on September 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
I completely agree with the previous reviewer. The author has such a cursory knowledge of the subject matter its hard to believe this book got published. The FWP's history is easily available, why didn't the author do his research properly? These 'revisionist' writer's shouldn't be allowed to publish such rubbish. Save your money.
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3 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dave Gilchrist on September 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
I've never read such a poorly written and researched book in my entire life. The author is a complete revisionist. He has such a poor knowledge of History it boggles the mind!

Readers!- Save your money and search out better resources concerning the subject matter.
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