Yale Gets NEH Grant to Create Website for Historic Photos

A Yale team headed by Professor Laura Wexler has received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to design an interactive website to display some 160,000 Depression-era images taken by U.S. government photographers.

The grant is the first made to Yale by the Office of Digital Humanities.

The start-up grant will specifically fund the Photogrammar Project, which will make the historic Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) photographs taken between 1935 and 1943 accessible to a new generation of scholars. The program was devised by Yale graduate students Lauren Tilton and Taylor Arnold and directed by Wexler.

Originally set up to document federal aid programs to farmers during the Great Depression, the FSA-OWI project is most famous for images of the hardscrabble lives of Southern sharecroppers and migrant farmers taken by such legendary photographers as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Gordon Parks.

“The Library of Congress has digitized these invaluable photographs, and that is a crucial first step for any digital Public Humanities project,” said Wexler.  But, she noted, “The Library of Congress website is a static online repository with few features to help the viewer navigate through its massive collections.  Our project creates new ways to search the database through an interactive map that will plot the 160,000 photographs over historical county and census data.   It will greatly enhance the ability of scholars, teachers and the public to support — or challenge — accepted ideas about the FSA-OWI archive and the period of U.S. history it recorded.”

Wexler, who has a joint appointment in American Studies and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies, is founder and director of the Photographic Memory Workshop, a cross-disciplinary working group of Yale faculty, staff and students that explores the intersection and interplay of photography and memory.

The project is funded by the Office of Digital Humanities, which seeks to capitalize on the creative potential of the new media to present cultural heritage materials — from original documents and film to artifacts and artwork — in compelling and innovative formats.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345