American Guide Series

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AMERICAN GUIDE SERIES

Published between 1935 and 1943, the American Guide series of more than one thousand books and pamphlets provided travel guides of the American states, as well as the territories of Alaska and Puerto Rico. The state volumes average five hundred pages in length, and include a brief history of the state, as well as descriptions of its geography, culture, industry, and agriculture. In addition to the state guides, the series also produced shorter guides and pamphlets for major cities, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Philadelphia; regional guides for such areas as the Oregon Trail and U.S. Route One, which ran from Fort Kent, Maine, to Key West, Florida; and local guides to such sites as Death Valley and Mount Hood.

Produced by the Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the American Guide series, like other WPA ventures, aimed to give meaningful skilled work to unemployed Americans. No comparable guide series existed, while the seemingly neutral content of the guides promised not to attract controversy. Generically, the guides represent a combination of encyclopedia and travel narrative; their prose is economical. Although the writing in most guides is not credited, the American Guide series employed the talents of more than 7,500 writers, including major figures. For instance, the Illinois guide featured the work of Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, Nelson Algren, and Jack Conroy.

The guides demonstrate Americans' growing fascination with the country's regional variations and its history. Each guide includes detailed directions for recommended tours of each state, thus encouraging domestic travel and tourism. The guides also represent the New Deal's concern with regional interdependence and national planning. The series asserted the vitality of the nation during its worst economic crisis. Finally, because of its size, the series stands as a testimony to the New Dealers' faith in large-scale projects.

See Also: FEDERAL ONE; FEDERAL WRITERS' PROJECT (FWP); WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION (WPA).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bold, Christine. The WPA Guides: Mapping America. 1999.

Mangione, Jerre. The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers' Project, 1934–1943. 1972. Schindler-Carter, Petra. Vintage Snapshots: The Fabrication of a Nation in the W.P.A. American Guide Series. 1999.

Trent A. Watts

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