AMS 370 • US Culture and the Great Depression
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
In a 1930 radio broadcast with President Herbert Hoover, Will Rogers said of the American people: "We'll hold the distinction of being the only nation in the history of the world that ever went to the poor house in an automobile." Indeed, the United States economic collapse in 1929 made obvious an American paradox: We can generate luxurious technologies and material comforts, but we seem unable to feed and clothe all the citizens of the United States.
This course examines cultural reactions to this paradox, which became undeniably obvious in the 1930s. American citizens during this decade experienced, witnessed, and documented the largest economic downturn of the twentieth century. To best understand these peoples' lives we will examine the ways filmmakers, documentarians, radio personalities, musicians, photographers, painters, and athletes attempted to represent, celebrate, and soothe an anxious population. Throughout the class, our analyses of these genres will also reveal the decades struggles with issues of gender, race, and class, and geography. With the assistance of the instructor, each student will generate a research paper and presentation based on any cultural aspect of the Great Depression, be it literary, historic, geographic, biographical, or otherwise. This course requires dedication and involves substantial reading, writing, and revision. By the courses end, successful students will be able to: 1. Discuss the varied representations of and cultural debates surrounding the Great Depression and why these constructions are important. 2. Critically examine primary documents for underlying assumptions about race, sex, gender, and culture during this particular period of U.S. history. 3. Hone college-level research and writing skills to consider concepts of popular culture and representation as it relates to economic/social/racial/sexual inequality. As an upper-division course, these skills will also help prepare students for a life of civic engagement and knowledgeable participation.
Possible Texts Woody Guthrie, Dust Bowl Ballads Frederick Lewis Allen, Since Yesterday: The Nineteen-Thirties in America Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices On Reserve: Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist? On Reserve: Dorothea Lange: American Photographs Course Reader. We will likely watch the films: Grapes of Wrath (1940); Meet John Doe (1941); and Riding the Rails: Teenagers on the Move during the Great Depression (1997)