History of the Project

"Welding" Relief

"Welding" Relief, Dundalk MD Post Office, 2013
“Welding” – Bas Relief – Dundalk MD
Photo Credit: Evan Kalish © All Rights Reserved

The Living New Deal has its roots in a book project by Dr. Gray Brechin on the WPA in California, but quickly outgrew the original intent as the vast extent of New Deal public works projects became clear.  In 2005, the project became a team effort to inventory, map, and interpret how the New Deal radically modernized California. After two years as a strictly volunteer operation, the California Living New Deal Project was officially launched in 2007 at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of Professor Richard Walker.  This was done in partnership with the California Historical Society (CHS), which helped provide visibility around the state, and the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (IRLE) at UC Berkeley, where the technical side of the project was developed.  Financial support came from grants by the Columbia Foundation and IRLE.

The first order of business was to construct an interactive website that could accommodate a range of data on New Deal public works – photographs, site information, historic documents, personal accounts, etc. – and allow users to access that data through Google maps.  An elegant website was constructed by Elizabeth Camacho and Heather Lynch at the IRLE.  An outreach director, Lisa Ericksen, was hired in 2008-09 to organize workshops to recruit volunteers from historical societies around the state.  Graduate research assistants, Lindsey Dillon and Shaina Potts, filtered and entered data and we passed our first landmark of 1000 New Deal sites across California by early 2010.  The partnerships with CHS and IRLE ended and the project moved to UC Berkeley’s Department of Geography.

Cranford NJ Mural 1

Cranford NJ Mural 1
Mural – Cranford NJ

In late 2010, we decided to go national; thenceforth, the Living New Deal would cover the entire country – 50 states and several territories.   This bold step required a rapid scaling up of the project, its web presence, project team and financing.  First, the website was completely reconstructed in 2011 by Ben Hass with a more elaborate design using Wordpress.  In 2012, Ben radically overhauled the database and made the map searchable to improve user access to our data. In 2013 he redesigned the home page and data storage.

At the same time, the project team grew in 2011 to include a communications expert, Susan Ives, a fundraising consultant, Adam Kinsey, oral historian and book review editor, Sam Redman, and president of the National New Deal Preservation Association, Harvey Smith.  Meanwhile, Research Assistants Shaina Potts and John Elrick were adding hundreds of new sites to the database and map, mostly from published  documents, ramping up the total to over 2000 by Summer 2012.  Thereafter, significant new donations and grants allowed the Living New Deal to greatly expand its organizational and research capacity.

Fall 2012 marked the arrival of our first Project Manager, Rachel Brahinsky, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley (funded by a bequest of Ann Baumann of New Mexico).  She made a concerted effort  to locate researchers around the country who could assist us in documenting New Deal sites, and this bore fruit with new regional associates in Maryland, Virginia, Wisconsin, Southern California and Mississippi.  By late 2013, the project had a dozen national associates around the country, and that number passed 30 in mid-2014 and hit 40 by early 2015.  In that year we create a second arm of the Living New Deal as a non-profit, incorporated in California, and received our official non-profit status from the IRS.

“Communication by Mail”

“Communication by Mail”, 2011
“Communication by Mail” – bas relief – Clarks Summit PA
Photo Credit: Evan Kalish © All Rights Reserved

By late 2013, the number of documented sites in the database had risen to 5000 and by the end of 2015 it had doubled to 10,000.  (You can track  the expansion of our map at ‘Project Growth’).  More people were finding the Living New Deal  on the web and through Facebook and Twitter.  Our website was named one of the top 10 sites of 2015 by Salon.com.  Web traffic was already rising smartly, but that recognition bumped us up to almost 500,000 Google visits for the year.

By end of 2013, the Living New Deal team had a number of new faces. Rachel Brahinsky moved on to the faculty of the University of San Francisco, Sam Redman joined the history faculty at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Ben Hass moved on to a full-time IT job. Alex Tarr of the Berkeley Geography Department took over as Project Manager, Susan Ives became our development advisor, and Lisa Thompson came on board as webmaster.   John Stehlin of UC Berkeley became our chief RA and was later joined by Glenna Anton of the Geography Department and the returning Shaina Potts.

When Alex Tarr moved to Rice University in Fall 2014, Gabriel Milner took the job of Project Manager. In 2015, we engaged Brent McKee of West Virginia to carry out research on New Deal history,  Evan Kalish of New York to standardize our site submissions and database, and Chris Carlsson of San Francisco to create a film archive. With the able sleuthing of McKee, Kalish and many Research Associates, the database continue to bulge, reaching 12,000 by the end of 2016 and 14,000 a year later.

McKee added a major new resource to the website in 2015-16: brief introductions to over 60 New Deal programs and 40 New Dealers.  Kalish wrote up detailed formats for project submissions, McKee added advice for researchers, and Milner/Potts created a page on New Deal oral histories. Carlsson & Milner produced a New Deal film and video page.  We continued to add new features to our website, such as New Deal Smiles (2016),  Working Together (2017) and New Deal Ancestry (2017).  All these required the design and coding talents of Lisa Thompson, our webmaster.

Meanwhile, Kevin Friedly of Indiana began to develop an iPhone crowdsourcing app for the Living New Deal.  A first version (1.0) was ready by the end of 2016 and Friedly and Thompson are at work on a publishable version (2.0) to appear in 2018.

A new outreach project launched in 2014: a series of hard-copy, printed maps showing the impact of the New Deal on major cities around the country. It began with the publication of a pocket map and guide to New Deal San Francisco late that year, an effort led by Susan Ives, designer Linda Herman and cartographer Garrett Bradford.  In late 2015 we launched a more ambitious project for a pocket map and guide to New Deal New York City, which appeared in Spring 2017. That map covers upwards of 1000 sites in the five boroughs and features 50 key buildings, parks and murals. It was launched with two major events at the Roosevelt House at Hunter College and the Museum of the City of New York in May and it received rave reviews from people and organizations around the city.

In 2017 Erin Reding became our Project Manager when Gabe Milner left for a teaching job in Los Angeles. Elena Ion came on board as Research Manager that year, too, as John Stehlin and Shaina Potts took academic positions elsewhere.

We have even more ambitious plans for a Living New Deal Center in the future, to serve as a national research institute, museum and educational center on the New Deal.  Watch this space for further updates on that project!

For a more detailed information, view our annual reports:

Living New Deal Progress Report, October 2011

Living New Deal Annual Report, 2012-13

Living New Deal Annual Report, 2015

Living New Deal Annual Report, 2016

Living New Deal Annual Report, 2017