Shovel Ready: Archeology and Roosevelt’s New Deal for America

Little known in the story of the New Deal is how the federal government, in the midst of the Great Depression, supported archaeological projects across the country. Starting in 1933, archaeologists  sought laborers through agencies like the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Some workers joined field excavations while others, working under the supervision of archaeologists at museums and universities, organized and catalogued finds for future generations.

New Deal archaeology programs were active in many states, including California, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, New Jersey, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.

These essays look in detail at the impact of New Deal excavations, finding several important lessons in the history of New Deal archaeology. Notably, rather than viewing archaeology as a luxury only to be funded during heady times, the projects highlighted in this volume not only provided valuable additions to the archaeological record but also employed thousands of men in dire need of work.

Unskilled and semi-skilled laborers were required to fill out standardized forms and records. This standardization in record keeping and measurement benefitted the entire discipline of archaeological fieldwork. Finally, the connection between New Deal archaeology and some of the most prominent archaeologists of the twentieth century has been largely forgotten. Editor Bernard K. Means restores the rightful place of New Deal in the story of an emerging and evolving discipline in the United States that is yet another example of New Deal initiatives on behalf of public education in its broadest dimensions.

Posted by Sam Redman

is Project Manager for The Living New Deal. He is a trained cultural historian who teaches courses in U.S. History at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.

One comment on “Shovel Ready: Archeology and Roosevelt’s New Deal for America

  1. Mark Howe

    This is a good book. I was to have an article in it but never got it done in time. I am writing a book instead on the “Forest Service CCC in California” that hope to have done in a year or so.

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