21H.126 America in Depression and War: Syllabus








This course examines the transforming effect of two cataclysmic events in the twentieth century. We will study the ways in which both the Great Depression and World War II led to a major reordering of American politics and society. By focusing on how the government and the country dealt with these national crises, we will explore a significant moment in the evolution of American political culture. In other words, we will examine how ordinary people experienced depression and war and how those experiences changed their outlook on politics and the world around them. Topics include unemployment and economic decline, the rise of organized labor, New Deal politics, women in the war effort, the Japanese internment, the development of atomic science, and America as a world superpower.

This class will consist of a combination of lectures and discussions. You will be required to do the reading in advance and come prepared to talk about what you have read. To help facilitate discussion, you will write a 1-page response to the readings in advance of class. Occasionally, you will gather primary documents from the library and/or the web. In addition to class assignments and discussion, you will each write two 5-page papers on the assigned readings. There will be a final exam at the end of the semester. Discussion and response papers (25%), two papers (25% each), final exam (25%). Instead of the second paper and final exam, you may also write a 15-page research paper (50%). You must have your topic by March 31.

Readings will come from the following books:

  • John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash, 1929
  • Robert McElvaine, Down and Out in the Great Depression
  • Alan Brinkley, Voices of Protest
  • Studs Terkel, The Good War
  • Lewis A. Erenberg & Susan E. Hirsch, eds., The War in American Culture
  • Richard Polenberg, The Era of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Introduction: From Breadlines to Atom Bombs
September 8

Part One: The Great Depression

    September 15: The End of Prosperity
    Galbraith, 1-42, 66-143, 168-194

    September 29: The Unemployed
    McElvaine, pp. 33-120

Part Two: New Deal

    October 6: Roosevelt's 100 Days
    Brinkley, pp. 3-142; Polenberg, 1-1,2; 2-3; 4

    October 20: Strikes and Struggles
    McElvaine, pp. 121-229; Polenberg, 2-1; 4

    October 27: New Deal Order
    Brinkley, pp. 143-268; Polenberg, 1-3,4,5; 2-2,4,5; 5

    Paper One Due

Part Three: World War II at Home

    November 3: From Isolationism to Pearl Harbor
    Brinkley in Erenberg & Hirsch; Terkel, pp. 19-37

    November 17: Mobilizing for Victory
    Duis, Gerstle, Hirsch, and Moore in Erenberg & Hirsch; Terkel, pp. 301-342; Polenberg, 8; 9-9

    November 24: Gender and Race in Wartime
    Roeder, May, May, May, & Escobar in Erenberg & Hirsch; Terkel, pp. 108-125; 135-165; Polenberg, 6-4; 9-1,2,3,6,7,8

    Paper Two Due

Part Four: World War II Abroad

    December 1: D-Day
    Erenberg in Erenberg & Hirsch; Terkel, pp. 38-58, 166-197, 254-293
    December 8: Hiroshima
    Dower in Erenberg & Hirsch; Terkel, pp. 59-66, 69-79, 85-97, 505-530, 545-55

    Final Exam TBA

    Syllabus for Download