Yale Launches an Archive of 170,000 Photographs Documenting the Great Depression

dorothea langeDur­ing the Great Depres­sion, The Farm Secu­ri­ty Administration—Office of War Infor­ma­tion (FSA-OWI) hired pho­tog­ra­phers to trav­el across Amer­i­ca to doc­u­ment the pover­ty that gripped the nation, hop­ing to build sup­port for New Deal pro­grams being cham­pi­oned by F.D.R.‘s admin­is­tra­tion.

Leg­endary pho­tog­ra­phers like Dorothea Lange, Walk­er Evans, and Arthur Roth­stein took part in what amount­ed to the largest pho­tog­ra­phy project ever spon­sored by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. All told, 170,000 pho­tographs were tak­en, then cat­a­logued back in Wash­ing­ton DC. The Library of Con­gress became their even­tu­al rest­ing place.

walker evans

We first men­tioned this his­toric project back in 2012, when the New York Pub­lic Library put a rel­a­tive­ly small sam­pling of these images online. But today we have big­ger news.

Yale Uni­ver­si­ty has launched Pho­togram­mar, a sophis­ti­cat­ed web-based plat­form for orga­niz­ing, search­ing, and visu­al­iz­ing these 170,000 his­toric pho­tographs.

arthur rothstein

The Pho­togram­mar plat­form gives you the abil­i­ty to search through the images by pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Do a search for Dorothea Lange’s pho­tographs, and you get over 3200 images, includ­ing the now icon­ic pho­to­graph at the bot­tom of this post.

Pho­togram­mar also offers a handy inter­ac­tive map that lets you gath­er geo­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about 90,000 pho­tographs in the col­lec­tion.

And then there’s a sec­tion called Pho­togram­mar Labs where inno­v­a­tive visu­al­iza­tion tech­niques and data exper­i­ments will grad­u­al­ly shed new light on the image archive.

Accord­ing to Yale, the Pho­togram­mar project was fund­ed by a grant from the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Human­i­ties (NEH). Direct­ed by Lau­ra Wexler, the project was under­tak­en by Yale’’s Pub­lic Human­i­ties Pro­gram and its Pho­to­graph­ic Mem­o­ry Work­shop. You can learn more about the gen­e­sis of the project and its tech­ni­cal chal­lenges here.

rothstein 3
Top image: A migrant agri­cul­tur­al work­er in Marysville migrant camp, try­ing to fig­ure out his year’s earn­ings. Tak­en in Cal­i­for­nia in 1935 by Dorothea Lange.

Sec­ond image: Allie Mae Bur­roughs, wife of cot­ton share­crop­per. Pho­to tak­en in Hale Coun­ty, Alaba­ma in 1935 by Walk­er Evans.

Third image: Wife and chil­dren of share­crop­per in Wash­ing­ton Coun­ty, Arkansas. By Arthur Roth­stein. 1935.

Fourth image: Wife of Negro share­crop­per, Lee Coun­ty, Mis­sis­sip­pi. Again tak­en by Arthur Roth­stein in 1935.

Bot­tom image: Des­ti­tute pea pick­ers in Cal­i­for­nia. Moth­er of sev­en chil­dren. Age thir­ty-two. Tak­en by Dorothea Lange in Nipo­mo, Cal­i­for­nia, 1936.

lange bottom

h/t @pbkauf

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Found: Lost Great Depres­sion Pho­tos Cap­tur­ing Hard Times on Farms, and in Town

Down­load for Free 2.6 Mil­lion Images from Books Pub­lished Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

The Get­ty Adds Anoth­er 77,000 Images to its Open Con­tent Archive

The Fin­land Wartime Pho­to Archive: 160,000 Images From World War II Now Online

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Comments (18)
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  • Rei Almeida says:

    Won­der­ful insight into the great dep­pres­sion BUT: “Wife of negro sharecropper”…seriously? Is that how peo­ple should be described in 2014? Even if the pic­ture dates back to 1935. We need­n’t use that ter­mi­no­li­gy.

    • Kev says:

      It’s an accu­rate and non-offen­sive descrip­tion. Depres­sion is spelled with one “P” .

    • MRadzikowo says:

      I think that might sim­ply be the orig­i­nal giv­en title of the pho­to­graph, from the pho­tog­ra­ph­er him­self, hence the dat­ed­ness of the descrip­tion. Offen­sive to mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties, yes, but nev­er­the­less an insep­a­ra­ble part of the his­tor­i­cal record that formed those sen­si­bil­i­ties.

    • Jeff Barker says:

      Negro sim­ply means black, It’s not a put down. These folks have been referred to as Negros, Blacks, and now African-Amer­i­cans. I do not refer to myself as an Eng­lish-Amer­i­can. I was born here as were most of them. We are all Amer­i­cans. A lit­tle hyper-sen­si­tive aren’t we? This term, I’m sure as some­one said below that it was how the pic­ture was described back in the 1930’s.

    • Frank Capolla says:

      The dis­tance between Negro and Nig­ger is vast.

    • dennyar says:

      Polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness strikes again. It would be dif­fer­ent if the word “nig­ger” was used, as that is an insult­ing word, how­ev­er when a black per­son calls anoth­er black per­son that word it is social­ly accept­able in the eyes of most black folks and progressives/liberals. I think peo­ple need to make up their minds and be con­sis­tent. Fur­ther more I would expect peo­ple who con­sid­er them­selves aca­d­e­m­ic elit­ist whether they out­ward­ly and open­ly refer to them­selves as such or not sure as hell act like it would under­stand that “negro” is Span­ish for black. Do the polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness police find it offen­sive to call a black man black? I can tell you from expe­ri­ence a black man will be more offend­ed if you don’t see him for who he is and every­thing that makes him unique as an indi­vid­ual. Yes, we are all human, but we have unique char­ac­ter­is­tics that make us all spe­cial and why should any per­son take any part of any oth­er human being’s unique traits away from that person(s)? Which leaves one to ques­tion if it is just some­thing so deeply root­ed in the left wing pro­gres­sive agen­da to exploit peo­ple ‑any peo­ple- for polit­i­cal gain.

  • open literature says:

    These are prob­a­bly orig­i­nal titles for the pho­tos that the pho­tog­ra­phers labeled the pho­tos as. It should be “ok” for NPR to report his­to­ry as it was recalled by the peo­ple who record­ed. Lets not mute the voice of his­to­ry to make it more palat­able for those who can’t under­stand the road that brought us here.

  • Sarah says:

    Illus­trates lack of fam­i­ly plan­ning and con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices avail­able to women and men, back in the day, this prob­lem of too many babies and pover­ty per­sists to this day. It is a per­ineal prob­lem of the cul­ture wars.
    Thanks to Yale for post­ing the doc­u­men­tary pho­tos.

    • dennyar says:

      How very lib­er­al­ly pro­gres­sive of you to have such a view. How about fam­i­ly plan­ning be the con­science deci­sion of tak­ing per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty!

  • thank you for this post­ing, how­ev­er it was orig­i­nal­ly described, because it became his­to­ry the moment it was cre­at­ed and cat­e­go­rized.

  • Addison DeWitt says:

    Oh for Christ’s sake: his­to­ry is his­to­ry. It’s not like any­one is treat­ing some­one indig­nant­ly today. Stop “white­wash­ing” the past. Just like those “offen­sive” ani­mat­ed car­toons: I watch them all the time, I’m not white, it’s not like any­one is tak­ing digs at today’s peo­ple of col­or. Get over it.

  • Addison DeWitt says:

    Exact­ly. I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber “col­ored” being used as the “polite” way to describe African-Amer­i­cans back in the 1960s. Fast-for­ward to the 1990s and I heard a guy in New York com­plain­ing about it being a slur.

  • Julia Lowe says:

    We must remem­ber to judge the past by todays stan­dards are a mis­car­riage of his­tor­i­cal thought and process­es. To be offend­ed is unfor­tu­nate but to
    change his­to­ry will bring the impor­tance of har­bin­gers of change to a grind­ing halt for future gen­er­a­tions.

  • pre says:

    If you’re dab­bling in thoughts of rewrit­ing his­to­ry, con­sid­er re-read­ing 1984.

  • Mehmet Arat says:

    We still have ten years to the cen­ten­ni­al of the great depres­sion. The world can now com­mu­ni­cate at light speed, but I won­der if we will be able to see and use the knowl­edge our plan­et has to reach 2029 safe­ly.

  • Holt says:

    Moses .…who many admire mar­ried an Ethiopi­an , a negro woman, and our god approved

  • robert says:

    one need only to read some of the sto­ries in the fed­er­al writ­ers projects slave narratives.it is what it is.

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