Thanks to the Oregonian (scroll down to the bottom), I was reminded of a growing web 2.o project that I had forgotten about. That's Flickr's Commons project where public photo archives from all over the world have been posting beautiful, high-quality pictures from their collections.
In particular, the OSU archives have just posted a collection covering the CCC's efforts in Oregon. I alluded to it in a previous post, but the CCC truly fascinates me. The idea that the government could raise and fund a volunteer corps to travel the country doing public works is amazing. They got no monuments or metals; they did get food rations and barracks (or tents), but my point is that they were truly inspirational heroes. Yes, I do know how that last statement sounds, but I'm not anti-heroism, I'm just for its honest distribution throughout our society.
The western nature of the CCC is pretty unmistakable in these pictures. The west has long served as a unique setting for American ideals of heroism, especially a certain brand of male-centered heroism that mixes a whole set of heartfelt extremes including rough individualism coupled with democratic ideals of community, and an intimate relationship with both virginal nature and acute technologies. This setting changes these from pictures of poor laborers in dirty shirt sleeves to chapters in a story of the American ideal.
I find comfort in this vision of American heroism. It becomes attainable while maintaining its appeal. It looses its uniform but keeps its purpose. I don't take too much stock in the heightened rhetoric of heroism we've been living in lately, that fighting-for-freedom-in-the-face-of-evil story line of the past seven-and-a-half years. This is the heroism of the American Republic, not the American Nation; it's the America that is all too-often forgot or, at-worst, ignored.
Even more convincing is just how familiar the acts of heroism are behind the black and white and blocked-hats. Homes and lives are saved from California wild-fires. Streams are harnessed and flood plains controlled. New roads are planned and constructed where none were before. Communication networks are strung, connecting the most isolated people and places.
Anyway, it's nice to have these images to remind us that the past actually happened and for the simple reason that they provide yet another wonderful way to get lost in the internets.