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How WPA State Guides Fused the Essential and the Eccentric

New Jersey is a typical entry in the FWP’s American Guides series, published during the late 1930s and early ’40s. The series comprises shaggy biographies of all the then 48 states; pick one at random and you’ll find a smorgasbord of history, legends, jokes, industrial data, social analysis, epitaphs, old letters, old newspaper clippings, old diaries, ghost stories, dubious tales, and half-forgotten anecdotes. You’ll find handsome line illustrations alongside photographs of houses and monuments and people at work. You’ll find scattered, subtle reports on how people were sustaining themselves through the Depression and how New Deal policies were reshaping the country. You’ll find a little practical advice for travelers and a lot of information whose purpose is more obscure. You’ll find a guidebook that seems, itself, to have wandered off and gotten lost. Read more

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