First and foremost, tour guides are a realist form. As a part of that genre, they make vigorous truth claims of which we must be skeptical. Because they aren't fictional (in the traditional sense), the image of reality they present comes across as inherent or essential.
Christine Bold, in her book The WPA Guides: Mapping America, demonstrates that the FWP tour guides were often read as an uncontaminated or natural form. She quotes from an article about the FWP in the Raleigh News and Observer from November 1941. The author uses a conceit to communicate how the voice of America is revealed through the guidebooks: "In 1935, the United States of America sat itself down, took its pen in hand, and started to write a book" (Bold 19).
Tour guides mediate between us, the readers, and the landscape. In order to understand what cultural work they are able to achieve, we have to work off a more dynamic definition of landscape and of a society's relationship to landscape.
David Glassberg argues that "historical consciousness and place consciousness are inextricably intertwined; we attach histories to places, and the environmental value we attach to a place comes largely through the memories and historical associations we have with it" (Public History and Memory17). In the same sense that psychologists have established a sense of place as crucial to the development of individual identity, "cultural geographers and folklorists connect it to group communication and collective memory" (19).
Our ideas about our landscape are related to our ideas about who we are as a society and what our "common" heritage is. How we organize our public and private space reflects a lot about how we conceive of our societal hierarchy.
Tour guides, mediating as they do between readers/citizens and the landscape they connect intimately to collective identity and history, do important work in the world. They participate in the taxonomic process: they order and name space. They also tell us how to think and feel about how our space is organized. Accordingly, this seemingly apolitical genre actually has quite a lot to do with power and cultural ownership.
Juliet Gorman, May 2001