Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Burl Noggle


In the 1930s, the federal writers of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) plowed fertile new ground in American cultural scholarship. The writers were for the most part not professionals but white collar workers who had been dramatically rescued from unemployment by this government relief project. Like other New Deal relief agencies, the Writers' Project had been created more to make work than to do work. But by the end of the program, it had charted a nation and documented American life more comprehensively than any earlier effort had done. In Florida the federal writers produced a state guide, pioneered African-American studies, broke new ground in oral history, and revolutionized the study of folklore. Their records unearthed the variety and texture of cultural life, leaving an incomparable record of localized America. The Florida Federal Writers' Project demonstrates how the program operated on the state level. Its research beyond the state guide demonstrates the contributions these state programs made to American cultural studies. Florida was one of three Southern states which had an active African-American writers' unit. Zora Neale Hurston, the only trained African-American folklorist in the South, worked on the Florida project for a year and a half. This study explores her contribution to the project and documents her contributions to the state's folklore program. The work by the federal writers in Florida was but one part of the massive national inventory that had created in words a giant mirror of the American scene. Yet only a small portion of their work was published and held up for the nation to see.