Skip to main content

Native American Spaces: Cartographic Resources at the Library of Congress

American Guide Series

Federal Writer's Project. American guide series. Poster for the guide book series featuring a laudatory quote from Louis Bromfield's review in the New York Herald Tribune. 1941. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

One often overlooked resource is the series of once-popular guide books known as the American Guide Series, compiled and written by the Federal Writers' Project of the U.S. Work Projects Administration in conjunction with the separate States. Providing employment during the Great Depression, the American Guide Series enabled needy writers and researchers to compile information from the field and gather information from hitherto untapped local resources. The series culminated in guides to each of the then forty-eight states, Puerto Rico, and Alaska, in addition to numerous city and regional guides. Since their initial publication period, ca. 1936-46, they have been updated and/or reissued over the years by private publishers.

The compilers were more often than not local citizens, who were thus familiar with the particular, the obscure, and the extinct. In essence the guides furnish researchers with a snapshot of a place taken during a particular era by those who knew it best. Many elusive places pertaining to Native Americans on the map can sometimes be referenced in the guides, particularly in those states that have or have had significant Indian populations, such as Minnesota, Iowa, Oklahoma, Montana, Kansas, and South Dakota.

The American Guide Series followed a standard format, and always included geographical and historical information about a state and its people, descriptions of important cities and towns, and a series of tours for those who wished to motor the highways and byways. Among the topics touched upon were a state's pre-history and Indians, archeology, folklore, religion, literature, music, and architecture, as well as its natural setting, transportation system, industry and commerce, education, sports and recreation, and newspapers. Thus, they can contain information about Native American tribes, villages and settlements, tribal agencies and reservations, cultural sites, White communities with Indian ties, prominent individuals, and sundry information involving other topics.

All of the titles part of the American Guide Series can be searched in the Library of Congress Online Catalog: