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The Library of Congress has an incredible digitized archive of Depression-era photographs, taken between 1935 and 1945 on behalf of the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information. But navigating this rich compendium of images depicting a broad range of economic and social life during the Great Depression wasn’t easy if you were trying to pin down a particular region or subject. Photogrammar, a new online platform launched by Yale University, maps and organizes the over 170,000 Library of Congress photographs from this period with a smart, user-friendly design.
“With the existing data set from the Library of Congress, there was no way to easily search for photos or to take a bird’s eye view. Essentially, the Photogrammar team is giving the public a way to rethink the data from amazing new angles,” Yale librarian David Gar told the Yale Daily News. The student paper notes that the project was largely at the instigation of American studies graduate student Lauren Tilton, working with statistics graduate student Taylor Arnold under the direction of Laura Wexler, who founded and directs Yale’s Photographic Memory Workshop. Through funding from the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, their ambitious initiative grew into an absorbing platform for discovering a difficult decade of American history.
While you can search by photographer name, categories, and dates, the map views are the most interesting. One divides 90,000 photographs up by county, another by photographer, so you can get a fuller picture of the economy and society of a place at a time. You can also appreciate just how expansive a lens some of the best photographers of that time were giving to the country. I couldn’t resist exploring the photographs plotted in my home state of Oklahoma, with the Dust Bowl, oil fields, agriculture camps, and migrants heading west, documented by photographers like Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, and Russell Lee. Below are just a few of the thousands of images on Photogrammar.
Access all 170,000 Great Depression photographs on Photogrammar.