Sunday, January 4, 2015

What could a WPA do today? Neglected historic films from World War II

Above: The description for this photo reads, "WPA assistants are aiding in translating, editing, and recopying a series of documents relating to the history of the Pacific Coast with introductions based on research at the Bancroft Library of the University of California...Photo shows the WPA assistants photographing some of the many valuable manuscripts and literary treasures of the Bancroft library as a method of preserving the originals." Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

Above: An inventory of church records, "Prepared by The Maryland Historical Records Survey Project, Division of Professional and Service Projects, Work Projects Administration." Image scan from personal collection.

Above: The description for this photograph, taken in Washington, D.C., 1936, reads, "Skilled Negro clerical workers in Recorder of Deeds office revising old records." The official policy of the WPA was that a worker "qualified by training, and experience...shall not be discriminated against on any grounds whatsoever" (Executive Order No. 7046, May 20, 1935). Obviously, this policy was difficult to implement during those highly racial times, but the effort was made and, in return, African-Americans like the ones you see in the photo above helped preserve America's history and records. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.

I was watching an episode of Brad Meltzer's Lost History the other day, and heard Vincent Houghton, curator at the National World War II Museum, state the following in regard to some lost D-Day films: "Unfortunately, within the National Archives, there are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of unlabeled film canisters from the second World War, and it's going to take some real time before we can go through all of them" (History Channel, H2, "D-Day Footage," Original Air Date: December 26, 2014).

Currently, there are about 22.5 million Americans who would like a full-time job but can't find one and, according to the latest A-10 unemployment demographic chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for young adults is still in the double-digits.

During the New Deal era, unemployed Americans were offered job opportunities in the WPA, surveying, collecting, organizing, and preserving our nation's history. Much of their work product is still treasured today, for example their work on the Historic American Buildings Survey, their work on the Index of American Design, and their oral histories/interviews with former slaves.

We could do the same type of thing for unemployed Americans today. For example, they could view, summarize, organize, label, and even transfer to digital format, these neglected World War II films at the National Archives. It would be a multiple-win situation: The Archives would get some needed help, unemployed Americans would get some money & skills, Americans all across the country could enjoy films that haven't been viewed in decades (if ever), and most importantly, we would be honoring the American soldiers who served in World War II, over 400,000 of whom died for our freedom.

The fact that our Congress has shown zero interest in connecting the dots of unemployment and these neglected historic films, but is instead focused on tax breaks for the rich, getting more money from super-wealthy donors, and ensuring that big financial institutions can continue to engage in taxpayer-backed gambling & fraud, shows just how corrupt our corporate-bought federal government has become. Over 400,000 Americans lost their lives for us, but we can't muster the enthusiasm to properly evaluate and organize the films showing their service and sacrifice?

Isn't that amazing?

Also see:

"Smithsonian, National Archives adjusting summer hours because of budget cuts," Washington Post, April 16, 2013.

"National Archives Cancels Tours Due To Budget Cuts," Associated Press, Talking Points Memo, March 15, 2013.  

"National Archives shuttered by government shutdown," Clayton News Daily, October 1, 2013.

"Super rich getting super richer," CNN, September 8, 2014.  

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