Stewart provides expertise on Federal Writers’ Project

Cornell College Professor of History Catherine Stewart was recently interviewed by the Columbia Journalism Review about the Federal Writers’ Project, which is the subject of Stewart’s book, “Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project.”

Katy Stewart Portrait
Professor of History Catherine Stewart

The interview was featured in an article published Dec. 22, 2020, “The enduring lessons of a New Deal writers project.”

Esquire also picked up the story, including Stewart’s expertise on the topic. 

According to Stewart, there has been a groundswell of support for a revival of this New Deal project that could provide government funding for writers and projects related to the nation’s history. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has said he plans to introduce a bill when the new Congress convenes in January for a new Federal Writers’ Project.

Stewart’s book tells the story of the Federal Writers’ Ex-Slave Project, which was a New Deal effort to interview the last generation of ex-slaves during the Great Depression. The start of the Project in 1936 coincided with the nation’s 75th anniversary of the Civil War. As a result, the Ex-Slave Project was fraught with conflict over which version of the past would be valorized as part of the nation’s official public memory. The interviews themselves became a forum for debating African American identity and citizenship in the 1930s, at a time when racial segregation and lynching still predominated.

Catherine Stewart is a professor of history at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where she teaches courses in late 19th and 20th-century U.S. social and cultural history, such as The Documentary Imagination during the Great Depression, Public Memory and Public History, Work and Leisure in Modern America, Reel History: The Cold War and American Film, and African American Autobiography and Film. She is currently working on her next book, which focuses on African American women and household labor during the Great Depression.