An American Exodus: A New Kind of Book

In 1938, Dorothea Lange and her husband Paul Taylor began sorting through the stacks of photographs she had made documenting migrant farmworkers and homeless drought refugees. Their goal was to create a book that would reveal the human dimension of the crisis to the American people and, hopefully, prompt government relief. One of several books released in the late 1930s that made use of the Farm Security Administration photo archive, An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion was innovative in several ways. Rather than tell the story from their own perspective, Lange and Taylor used direct quotes from the migrants themselves, which Lange had painstakingly collected in the field. Released as war tensions were building in Europe and Asia, An American Exodus was largely overlooked at the time. In the years since its publication, the book has gained power, presenting an iconic image of the Dust Bowl era that has shaped the way we think of those difficult years.

In the situations which we describe are living participants who can speak. . . . So far as possible we have let them speak to you face to face. — Dorothea Lange and Paul S. Taylor, introduction to An American Exodus: A Record of Human Erosion