In the Footsteps of the Federal Writers' Project: Revisiting the Workshop of the World

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Landscape Journal

Publication Date



The catalogue of the American Guide Series (AGS) of the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) remains a durable and unique resource for landscape professionals and scholars. Perhaps the most extensive chronicling of the American cultural landscape, these New Deal–era travel guides have the potential to guide and inform contemporary preservation and recovery initiatives. This study revisits the landscape documented in the FWP’s Philadelphia: A Guide to Our Nation’s Birthplace (1937), re-creating “City Tour 9: Through Industrial Philadelphia.” Though only vestiges of the industrial metropolis documented by the FWP in the 1930s remain today, retracing the tour helps us understand the legacy of industrial decline from an on-the-ground perspective. It also suggests a methodology for preservation field study using the framework and content of historic accounts such as the AGS to emphasize materiality, seriality, and a visceral understanding of urban places that can be gained only by spending time in the field. Applying this methodology to the contemporary area covered by City Tour 9, the study concludes with ideas to guide industrial landscape preservation in Philadelphia and other deindustrialized places.




Urban Studies and Planning