by Evie Hemphill, Open Culture: http://www.openculture.com/2014/01/watch-and-search-newly-digitized-conversations-with-148-people-who-witnessed-the-great-depression.html
This post was written by Evie Hemphill (@evhemphill), a writer and photographer for Washington University Libraries in St. Louis.
In March of 1992, many years after photographer Dorothea Lange’s 1936
image of a migrant mother in California (above) became one of the most
iconic images from the Great Depression, a camera crew sat down with two
daughters of the subject of Lange’s photo.
For about 40 minutes, Norma
Rydlewski and Katherine McIntosh shared their stories with Blackside,
Inc., a company founded by award-winning filmmaker Henry Hampton.
In the footage and transcript of that conversation, accessible for the first time along with many more such interviews
through Washington University Libraries, the family’s daily challenges
come to life.
The sisters describe not only their strong, beautiful
mother but everything from field work and playing with dirt clods as
children to early union meetings and the economical “saving grace” that
was World War II.
When The Great Depression, Blackside’s seven-part documentary
series, debuted on PBS in October of 1993, the program wove together
short segments from extensive interviews with 148 people who experienced
the Great Depression, including Rydlewski and McIntosh.
as the documentary is in its own right, the many additional hours of
oral history that Blackside recorded in the process of creating it are a
treasure trove of primary source material - all of it now viewable,
browsable, and searchable online through the efforts of WU Libraries’
Visual Media Research Lab and Digital Library Services (DLS).
The diverse range of individuals
whose reflections on the 1930s are now easily accessible include a
grandson of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, celebrated authors Maya
Angelou and Gore Vidal, longtime New York Times political
reporter Warren Moscow, actors Karen Morley and Ossie Davis, Morton
Newman, who worked on the Upton Sinclair campaign for governor in
California, and many more from all walks of life.
multiregional approach brings needed depth and color to an era that is
often remembered and depicted as a monolithic event dragging the nation
down for a decade, says Special Collections assistant Alison Carrick,
who managed the workflow of the digitization project.
“When we think about the Great Depression, images of the dust bowl
and breadlines immediately come to mind,” Carrick says.
“And that is
part of the history Blackside covered with this series, but they also
revealed complex and lively stories that are often overlooked - from union
struggles, to heated political campaigns, Works Progress Administration
projects, the New Deal, and more. What Blackside managed to do with
this series and these interviews was to bring that period of history
back to life in a vivid, engaging way.”
The intent behind The Great Depression Interviews project is to provide a seamless, powerful tool with much potential for interdisciplinary research.
“One of the best features of the site, thanks to DLS, is that it is
text/keyword searchable,” Carrick says. “This creates a way for users to
pinpoint a subject, name, or event and quickly look to see where it
occurs in each transcript. Our hope is that this feature will lead users
to other transcripts they might not have thought contained similar