Michigan: A Guide to the Wolverine State.
New York: Oxford UP, 1941.
 



 

Chapter One: 

Wordage, Poundage, Yardage: Inventing and Operating the American Baedeker Machine

 





Wordage, Poundage, Yardage: Inventing and Operating the American Baedeker Machine


Designing a Landscape of Words: Genre Negotiations, Composition Policies, and Stylistic Features of the Guides


Patchwork Quilt of These United States: The Rhetoric of Cultural Enthusiasm in Contemporary Reviews of the American Guides


Un-American Guides and Pink Baedekers: The Red Scare of the Federal Writers' Project


A Fabricated Nation: The Politics of Democratic National Portraiture


Vintage Snapshots from Alabama to Wyoming: Reflections of a Cultural Nation in State Profiles



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

      

Chapter one, "'Wordage, Poundage, Yardage': Inventing and Operating the American Baedeker Machine," explores the contextual occasion of the American Guides and the mechanics of their making. It shows the variety of influences on the administrative decision to have the federal writers create a series of travel books. The writing of the travel guides afforded an opportunity to maintain employment of a large number of semi-skilled writers for an extended period of time. Travel guides seemed an ideologically "safe" and "neutral" mode of writing and thus apt for a government-sponsored endeavor like the Federal Writers' Project which feared accusations of propaganda. The American Guide also filled a void in American travel guidance. Only the 1909 Baedeker existed as a comprehensive travel guide to America, and it was thoroughly outdated and written from a European perspective. The emerging American tourist industry needed a set of travel guides as a stimulus, especially when World War II made European travel impossible. Most importantly, however, the American Guides were imbricated in the general atmosphere of a cultural renaissance which fostered a turning to the "American scene" and contributed to a reinterpretation of American culture and a strengthening of the national character, particularly around the time of America's entrance into the international war effort. Finally, the American Guides evolved into an educational tool for teaching the contents of American culture.

After establishing the invention of the American Guides, this chapter moves on to the human component of their making. I am particularly interested here in the individual experience of writing the guides. Existing studies of the Federal Writers' Project have created a one-sided view of its operation. Relying largely on personal remembrance (Jerre Mangione, The Dream and the Deal: The Federal Writers' Project, 1935-1943, 1972) or administrative correspondence (Monty Noam Penkower, The Federal Writers' Project: A Study in Government Patronage of the Arts, 1977 and William F. McDonald, Federal Relief Administration and the Arts: The Origins and Administrative History of the Arts Projects of the Works Progress Administration, 1969) these monographs erect an image of the FWP as an administrative chaos constantly careening towards dissolution, without mentioning the impact this fragile and perilous employment status had on the individual writers and their work performance. The FWP also tends to be reduced to the big city offices of New York and Chicago where the small band of later famous writers like Richard Wright, John Cheever, and Saul Bellow congregated. This chapter argues that the vast majority of the FWP experience was vastly different from the commonly held view of a bohemian confusion. Using memoirs of former federal writers, employment records of the Michigan Writers' Project, and the final reports by FWP state directors in 1943, I attempt to show that the making of the American Guide Series was deeply troubled by staff incompetence and personal anguish and anxiety of the workers, while at the same time it succeeded in fostering creativity and mental recovery. The FWP was largely an American Baedeker Machine, a factory-type organization that had to overcome countless internal and external hardships to produce the American Guide Series. By establishing this human narrative behind the textual record, I aim to provide a basis for a later interpretation of the American Guides as a democratic text of the American people.

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