The New Deal and the Old Frontier: American identity, environmental design, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-42

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As a flagship program of the New Deal, the CCC was one of several federal agencies which turned to the natural and built environment to promote socio-cultural homogenization between the First and Second World War. This article investigates the CCC's role as an agent of national transformation and considers the links between the New Deal's treatment of the American landscape and its promotion of a new, more pluralistic national identity. While historians of the interwar United States are quick to note the social and environmental significance of the CCC, the cultural role of this program remains largely overlooked. Specifically, relevant scholarship has neglected to address the architectural output of this program and the way it related to the New Deal's broader socio-cultural initiatives. With camps in each of the forty-eight states and overseas territories, the CCC reconfigured much of the American landscape and deployed a regionally diverse blend of vernacular architecture, all while fostering a mythologized sense of cultural heritage from coast to coast. In order to better understand both the role and rationale behind this process, this article considers several examples of CCC-produced architecture and landscape design across the greater United States. It argues that these designs were key vehicles of the unifying message that drove the New Deal and its many so-called ‘alphabet agencies’ from the depths of economic depression to a state of preparedness as the country approached the precipice of global war. This article also considers the Corps' role in the New Deal's construction of popular historical consciousness and draws attention to the frequent transregional interactions between enrollees and local populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-73
Number of pages36
JournalEnvironment, Space, Place
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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