After Migrant Mother: Reading the Farm Security Administration Photography Archive in the Digital Age

When viewed individually, such images captured the material and social realities of the late 1930s with beauty and power. However, when analyzed as a full corpus, and in the context of specific programs like FSA rural rehabilitation, the themes, categories, purposes, and politics of the images emerge in far greater detail. Seen fully in that broader context, even the tiniest detail--the radio, the screen door, the cupboard full of jars of preserved vegetables--take on deeper and more complex meanings.

Lecture Description

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother is ubiquitous in American visual culture. Yet FSA photographs took thousands of other photographs (174,999 of them), most of them digitized at the Library of Congress. What can scholars learn with instantaneous access to such archives, all keyword searchable within seconds? Digital sources and digital platforms offer scholars and students new tools with which to think about historical archives, ask questions, and formulate and document their arguments. Using her own born-digital project on FSA photography as an example, this talk will explore some of the innovations which illuminate new meanings of such extraordinary sources.


Digital history Photography

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