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, the Living New Deal was expanded to cover the whole country: all 50 states and outlying 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 a tremendous number of new sites to the database and map, mostly from published  documents, ramping up the total to over 2000 sites 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 a new project manager, Rachel Brahinsky, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley (funded by a bequest of Ann Baumann of New Mexico).  A concerted effort was made 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.  The search for research affiliates in all 50 states continues (please contact us if you are interested in becoming an associate).

“Communication by Mail”

“Communication by Mail”
“Communication by Mail” – bas relief – Clarks Summit PA

By late 2013, the number of documented sites in the database had risen to 5000 and by mid-2015 it had doubled to 10,000.  More and more people were finding the Living New Deal  on the web and through Facebook and Twitter, as well, pushing 1,000 unique visits per day in 2014, when we were named one of the top new websites of the year by Salon.com.  Web traffic shot up again after that and was around 500,000 visits in 2015.   Track  the expansion of our map at ‘Project Growth’!

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, Adam Kinsey departed, 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 as development advisor, and Lisa Thompson 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.  We also hired 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.  The latter two worked for the first half of 2015.

A major accomplishment was the creation of a pocket map and guide to New Deal San Francisco, which appeared in late 2014.  That effort was led by Susan Ives, designer Linda Herman and cartographer Garrett Bradford.  In 2015 we launched an even more ambitious project for a pocket map and guide to New Deal New York City, to appear in early 2017.  Meanwhile, volunteer Kevin Friedly of Indiana has developed an iPhone crowdsourcing app for the Living New Deal, which we hope to go public with in late 2016.

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