Rooting a DH Project in a 1930s WPA Project: The Annals of Cleveland

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Under the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiated several white-collar projects alongside its better-known construction projects. Among them were projects to compile abstracts and indexes of historical newspaper files in several cities to support historical research. The first of these was The Annals of Cleveland. Like the construction projects, the newspaper indexes were designed to maximise the labour involved (so as to provide employment to as many people from the relief rolls as possible), and therefore avoided automation; but they were still expected to produce worthwhile results. The index projects therefore attempted to apply the office skills of unemployed typists and clerks to the “improvement” of historical sources, with the needs of historians in mind. This unanticipated application of semi-skilled labour to scholarly needs is similar to the use of “machine labour” by digital humanities projects, which must define their tasks in such a way as to produce useful results without depending on subject expertise in the worker or the machine. My project explores the historiographical assumptions and technical principles behind the WPA projects, and extends them to produce a modern online edition of a volume of The Annals of Cleveland that fully develops the labour of the WPA workers for the use of modern historians.

  • Date created
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
    Conference/Workshop Poster
  • DOI
  • License
    Attribution 4.0 International