Learning Outcomes This week students will:
- Explain how specific events that took place from World War I through the 1920s contributed to social changes for a specific group.
- Associate specific social and economic causes of the Great Depression to their corresponding New Deal reform.
- Identify how economic and social changes in the 1930s and 1940s affected specific groups of Americans.
- Analyze a primary source using the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
- Write a thesis statement.
- Create an annotated bibliography.
In the wake of the World War I, many Americans were ready for what President Warren Harding famously described as a “return to normalcy.” Instead, what followed was one of the most tumultuous periods in U.S. history. The 1920s upended existing gender norms, challenged the notion held by many that the American nation was a fundamentally white or Protestant one, established the city rather than the countryside as the bellwether of American culture, and witnessed the spread of inventions like radios and automobiles, which changed the daily lives of millions of Americans. The decade offered a number of paradoxes—the climax of the Ku Klux Klan’s popular support side-by-side with the emergence of the New Negro and the vibrant Harlem Renaissance; the rise in religious fundamentalism coinciding with popular support for scientific theories which challenged religious beliefs; an economic boom which masked the impoverished conditions of many Americans, particularly in rural communities; and an aura of frivolity which treated murderous criminals as national celebrities. Along with the popular image conveyed by flappers, speakeasies, and jazz concerts, there was also considerable anxiety about the future of American society.
The Stock Market Crash of 1929 turned that anxiety into dread and despair, as the ripples from the collapse on Wall Street knocked down the unsound foundations on which the prosperity of the 1920s had been partly based. Millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and savings, and were forced to rely on overburdened soup kitchens and the kindness of neighbors to get by. After the failure of the Hoover administration to provide a quick remedy to the country’s economic problems, voters chose to replace Herbert Hoover as president with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt introduced a series of programs known as the New Deal—a complex alphabet soup of agencies designed to address different aspects of the economy. Although the New Deal lacked ideological consistency (and historians debate the efficacy of individual programs of the New Deal overall), the president pleased many Americans by doing something to help them out. While many aspects of the New Deal were only intended as stopgap measures and were quickly abandoned, others survived to the present day, laying the foundation for the welfare state that later administrations expanded, fundamentally changing the role of the federal government in the lives of the American people.
Ultimately, however, economic prosperity at home arrived only in conjunction with tragedy abroad. War returned to Europe, Asia, and Africa in the 1930s as the Axis nations of Germany, Italy, and Japan embarked on aggressive expansion at the expense of their neighbors. An American generation that came to see the First World War as a murderous folly, in which the United States should never have become involved, spent much of the 1930s passing laws to prevent the United States from finding itself sucked into another overseas conflict. Under pressure from Roosevelt, who saw the Allied forces as the bastion of America’s own security, the United States gradually expanded its involvement, helping to keep first Britain, and then the Soviet Union as well, supplied with the material they needed to continue their fight against Nazi Germany. Most Americans, however, remained opposed to the United States entering the war fully until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the war to American soil. In response to this attack, the American people mobilized in the military and in the workforce to marshal the nation’s resources to win the war. In the process, new opportunities were created for groups like women and African Americans, though many at the time saw these opportunities as wartime anomalies, not as permanent changes. Meanwhile, the internment of Japanese Americans raised important issues about the endangerment of civil liberties during wartime.
This week, we will explore this transformative period in U.S. history by looking at the social and political changes of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and by examining the ways that this period affected Americans. We will also create a framework for the Final Project by writing a thesis statement, choosing events to be discussed in the Final Project, and creating an annotated bibliography.Do you have any helpful tips that you’ve picked up in this course or in a past course?