As a work of public history, the Florida Federal Writers' Project state guide was caught in the middle of 1930s public debates about the authenticity and objectivity of history, and the role of local voices and regional realities in American culture and politics. This series of exchanges should provide some examples of how the FWP had to contend with the fallout of these tensions, both on a bureaucratic and a rhetorical level.

This correspondence, between Mary Branham (secretary for the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Florida), Carita Doggett Corse (Florida State Director of the FWP), and Henry Alsberg (National Director of the FWP), is instructive about some of the problems of language and representation that characterized the writing of Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State. The issue at hand concerns whether the Civil War should be referred to as such, or as the "War Between the States." When you consider these three letters as the effective beginning and end of the controversy (at least at the Florida level), I think some silences pop out. On what issues were the State project and the national project willing to compromise? What battles weren't worth it, why, and who paid the representational price? Draw your own conclusions about what priorities each party had in the issue.

These letters between Carita Doggett Corse, William Boone Douglass, and others might give you a better sense of how the Federal Writers' Project worked out its historical aims. They regard a monument in Jacksonville to Daniel Boone and its authenticity as a historic landmark. The exchange begins when Henry Alsberg writes Corse, asking her about the monument and offering the resources of a national editor who has made a special study of Daniel Boone. Corse, in response, sends Alsberg the file of the Florida project's correspondence on the issue, including her own requests for local material about Boone's history in Florida and her contact with the Boone Family Association ("American Pioneer Families Made our Nation: Their Descendants will Preserve It"). Alsberg's response, and the whole back-and-forth, gives us some clues as to the FWP's process of historical investigation and the dynamics involved.

This request from Horace Smith, secretary of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, to Carita Doggett Corse, the director of the Florida FWP unit, argues for the inclusion of the city of Ocala as one of the ten-odd centers for Florida FWP activity. Smith gives a list of Ocala attributes that qualify it as an authentically "historic" and remarkable locale. It helps to give a sense of some of the larger local interests at stake in the institutional organization of the FWP.


Juliet Gorman, May 2001


If you came here through a discussion of the framework of belief in the 1930s, you might want to explore some of the larger resonances of the conflicts over public history we see in the Federal Writers' Project. An obsession with authenticity is something that is at work in broader strokes during the period.

You should return (if that's were you came from) to the discussion of the history of the Federal Writers' Project...