The Great Depression

By: Ethan Stock
Image Source: Ethan Stock / Flickr

Great Depression in the News

“How does Obama’s economic policy compare to FDR’s?” – Star Exponent, January 5, 2011. The days following Obama’s inauguration in 2009 drew comparison to the infamous first 100 days of FDR’s presidency. FDR’s New Deal policies to save America’s economy during the Great Depression are infamous. Will history look at the Obama administration’s policies in the same light? . . . Read more >>>

“How a Different America Responded to the Great Depression” – Pew Research Center, December 14, 2010. As the Pew Research Center’s analysis of exit poll data concluded, “the outcome of this year’s election represented a repudiation of the political status quo…. Fully 74% said they were either angry or dissatisfied with the federal government, and 73% disapproved of the job Congress is doing.” This outlook is in interesting contrast with many of the public’s views during the Great Depression of the 1930s. . . . Read more >>>

“The men who ruled on FDR’s Supreme Court” – Boston Globe, December 15, 2010. Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman has a great deal to work with in this collective biography of justices Hugo Black, William Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson. The title comes from a description of the high court by Alexander Bickel, Frankfurter’s former clerk and a Yale Law School professor, as “nine scorpions in a bottle.” . . . Read more >>>

“Deepening crisis traps America’s have-nots” – Telegraph, January 9, 2011.  The US is drifting from a financial crisis to a deeper and more insidious social crisis. Self-congratulation by the US authorities that they have this time avoided a repeat of the 1930s is premature. … Read more >>>

“Did Bernanke save US from another Great Depression?” – AFP, September 6, 2009.  The causes of last year’s financial upheaval remain hotly debated, but many analysts say a swift and massive response by US authorities may have averted another Great Depression. Perhaps the most important player in the crisis was Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke… Read more>>>

Great Depression Web Sites

The Presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt This American Experience resource guide provides primary sources, audio interviews, television program transcripts, teacher’s guides, and more. Special features include an FDR video biography, and a chance to vote on the issues in 1936.

New Deal Network The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI), in collaboration with the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, Marist College, and IBM, launched the impressive New Deal Network (NDN). The site features 20,000 items including photographs, speeches, letters, documents, and exercises from the New Deal era.

The Hoover Dam (PBS) A companion to the American Experience video series, the site focuses on the Hoover Dam construction. There is a timeline of construction, Dam facts and environmental issues, maps of the Dam, stories of key characters and incidents and a teacher’s guide

The Great Depression

Breadline: 1929-1939(PBS) Part of PBS’s People’s Century television series, this site explores the massive unemployment in America during the Depression and offers interviews, a timeline, and a teacher’s guide

American Life Histories, 1936-1940 These life histories were written by the staff of the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA) from 1936-1940. The Library of Congress collection includes 2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states. Typically 2,000-15,000 words in length, the documents consist of drafts and revisions, varying in form from narrative to dialogue to report to case history. The histories describe the informant’s family education, income, occupation, political views, religion and morals, medical needs, diet and miscellaneous observations.

Surviving the Dust Bowl (PBS) Part of PBS’s American Experience television series, this site examines the region in the Southwest renamed the “Dust Bowl” because of a catastrophic eight-year drought. Included is a timeline, maps, eyewitness accounts, New Deal remedies, people and events from the era, and a teacher’s guide.

Voices from the Dust Bowl (Library of Congress) This LOC site documents the everyday life of residents in central California in 1940 and 1941. There are audio recordings, photographs, manuscript materials, publications, related sources, and more

Riding the Rails (PBS) Part of PBS’s American Experience television series, this site focuses on the plight of more than a quarter million teenagers living on the road in America. There is a timeline, maps, “tales from the rails”, Hobo songs, a teacher’s guide, recommended resources, and more

U.S. Thrilled as FDR Outlines Recovery, 1933/10/23

American in the 1930s This University of Virginia production features a museum for American studies, cultural maps, on-going hypertext projects, an electronic classroom, and special features.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum Educational Program website includes biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, a Roosevelt Timeline, Online Documents and Photographs, a Research Guide, and Puzzles and Activities

The Great Depression This introduction to the Great Depression from a college English department includes an overview of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, a photo essay, and an art gallery. Check out the Art Gallery for some intringuing glimpses into Depression-era America.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Resource Guide This Library of Congress resource guide links to digital materials related to Roosevelt such as photographs, manuscripts, and sound recordings, as well as external websites.

America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black and White Photographs This Library of Congress collection includes black and white photographs of rural and small-town America and scenes of the World War II mobilization effort.

The Flint Sit-Down Strike, 1936-1937 An audio gallery of the famous Flint auto strike featuring a slide show and timeline. From HistoricalVoices.org

Studs Terkel: Conversations Produced by the Chicago Historical Society, this site explores the life and work of Studs Terkel, an important American oral historian. Galleries focus on interviews that Mr. Terkel did for his books, including one on the Depression, and also contains a multimedia interview with him.

POTUS: Franklin Delano Roosevelt The Internet Public Library’s POTUS (Presidents of the United States) Web site provides background information, election results, and other information on each of the presidents.

Depression Papers of Herbert Hoover A collection of press statements, radio transcripts, letters, and other messages from Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression. These deal mainly with welfare, unemployment and disaster relief funds, and Red Cross donations. These primary sources are useful as an accompaniment to a study of the Great Depression.

The Eleanor Roosevelt Project Papers This website contains Eleanor Roosevelt’s speeches, articles, letters, and “My Day” columns.

Lesson Plans, Teacher Guides, Activities and more

Brother Can You Spare a Dime: The Effects of the New Deal & the Great Depression (Library of Congress) Part of a Library of Congress impressive collection of exhibits, this site brings the pain of the Great Depression era to life.

The Great Depression and the 1990’s (Lesson Plan) By using the American Memory’s American Life Histories, 1936-1940 documents, personal interviews, and the Library of Congress’s on-line legislative information (THOMAS), students will be able to gain a better understanding of why the government takes care of its people and how this type of welfare state started. Armed with this knowledge, they can then evaluate the current need of government programs, such as welfare, Medicare and Social Security, on the federal and state level.

A Tale of Two Leaders (Lesson Plan) In this lesson, students will compare the economic challenges that faced the United States in 1933 to those the nation is facing today. They then compare the actions and strategies of past presidents to strategies of leaders today.

A Tale of Two Economies (Lesson Plan) In this lesson, students use resources from The New York Times to compare the circumstances under which the Great Depression came about to the circumstances of the current economic crisis.

Documentary Photography and The Photographic Essay (Lesson Plan) Students will examine and interpret photographs taken by Rondal Partridge, a documentary photographer who worked with Dorothea Lange during the Depression Era. A study of the photographs will enable students to visualize the effects of the Depression on some of America’s young people. Reading the captions will provide background information and an opportunity to learn about historical perspective. This lesson plan is provided by the New Deal Network.

Seabiscuit: Civics  In this lesson, students consider the impact horse racing and gambling had on the United States economy during the Great Depression discover which states are using gambling revenues to deal with the current economic crisis.

Examining the Causes and Effects of the 1929 Stock Market Crash  In this lesson, students use New York Times articles covering the stock market collapse in 1929 to analyze the reported causes of this stock market collapse, reactions on many levels to the collapse, and speculated short-term and long-term effects of the collapse. This lesson plan is intended for grades 6-12.

Roosevelt’s New Deal (Lesson Plan) Written by teacher Brian Davis of Southern Columbia High School, this lesson plan instructs students on conducting online research and examining the New Deal.

Riding the Rails (PBS): Teacher’s Guide Students will learn about “teenage hobos” in this depression-era lesson plan. Emphasis is put on the causes of homelessness and what made these young men leave home. The lesson plan also outlines topics for discussion, as well as small group activities.

“Really worse than the Great Depression” — Former head of Goldman Sachs

Surviving the Dust Bowl (PBS): Teacher’s Guide In this PBS lesson plan, students begin studying “The Dust Bowl” and the way in which farmers reacted to it. The Teacher’s guide includes 8 activities and discussion topics. PBS recommends the purchase of the film Surviving the Dust Bowl in order to fully utilize this lesson plan.

Lesson Plans – Living Without Technology Presented by PBS, this lesson plan introduces a project that allows students to experience the difficulties of the Great Depression. Students are instructed to live 24 hours without many of today’s modern comforts .

Brother Can You Spare a Dime: The Effects of the New Deal & the Great Depression (LOC Lesson Plan) This lesson plan accompanies the Library of Congress “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” exhibit. The lesson plan makes good use of primary sources and photos.

Teacher Lesson Plan: Visions in the Dust For grades 6-8, this lesson plan uses photographic examination to teach students about the Dustbowl. This LOC lesson plan also uses PBS resources.

Lesson Plan – Worth a Thousand Words: Depression-Era Photographs Using the authentic photographs that were taken to introduce the New Deal, students will follow this MarcoPolo lesson plan and learn about the depression. Recommended for grades 9-12.

The New Deal Network: Classroom The impressive New Deal Network features 20,000 items including photographs, speeches, letters, documents, and exercises from the New Deal era. The Classroo section includes Lesson Plans, ‘Discovery Guides,’ Student Showcase, and Additional Resources.

  • TVA: Electricity for All These are three lessons by Stanlee Brimberg, a teacher at the Bank Street School for Children in New York. They involve analyzing political cartoons, role-playing, and research.
  • Dear Mrs. Roosevelt These are four lessons by Rachel Yarnell Thompson, an Adjunct Professor of Education at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. They involve, among other things, analyzing letters and interviewing people.

Lesson Plan – Constitutional Issues: Separation of Powers Presented by the NARA, this lesson plan examines FDR’s attempt to add a Justice to the Supreme Court.

Hard Times, Soft Sell In this PBS high school lesson plan, students use online content from the American Visions episode entitled Streamlines and Breadlines as a jumping-off point and then explore the social, political, and artistic climate of the 1930s’ Great Depression and identify themes that permeated the zeitgeist of that era. Using online, software, video, and multimedia resources, students will investigate diverse people’s experiences of the Depression, conduct surveys and interviews, and create and publish a variety of media highlighting Depression-era motifs and resources.

Streamline and Breadlines High School students will learn about the growth and development of cities in America from 1920 through 1940. Immigration, the migration of African-Americans from the South to the urban centers of the North, industrialization, and the Great Depression all affected cities during this period. This lesson will culminate in a student essay that compares two contrasting images from this time period. Students will view two sets of images from Thirteen/WNET’s American Visions Web site. Students will choose one image from each group and compare and contrast the images in an essay.

Hoovervilles during the Great Depression This Library of Congress photo gallery asks students” In what ways do you think life changed for people who lost their jobs, life savings, and homes, and ended up living in Hoovervilles? Do you think most Hooverville residents had a choice about how they lived? Can you think of anything similar to Hoovervilles in the United States today? If so, how are they different or similar to the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression?”

Educational Resources from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s site offers information on the Federal Reserve System and monetary policy with sections for students, teachers, and the general public. A highlight from the Student Activities section is “FedVille” which allows students to explore the subject of economics through a fun and interactive game. Teacher Resources provides course material and helpful link. For information on a variety of more specific topics, see the helpful Publications section. The San Francisco Fed has great educational resources—don’t miss the FedVille game for younger students!

Will the Millennial Generation Achieve the American Dream? After reading the New York Times article, students can respond to the following questions: Do you think this generation will be affected by the recession? Do you think achieving the classic “American Dream” is still possible for young people?

Milton Friedman Interview In this Q & A, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Chicago Milton Friedman discusses the Great Depression and other socio-economic topics.

Alan Brinkley Interview In this PBS feature Q & A, Columbia University Professor of History and author Alan Brinkley discusses the Great Depression. See also interviews of history professors David Kennedy and James Gregory.

“Irony? Students re-enact life during Great Depression” OCRegister, CA – Dec 11, 2008. “The school’s fourth annual reenactment of the Great Depression for US History classes began today and will continue Friday. Weeks before, the students had …”

Economics Resources for K-12 Teachers EcEdWeb provides thorough and detailed economics lesson plans for grades K-12 that correspond with national standards for public schools. There are about 30 lessons in total, organized by subject, standard, and grade level. Looking at the “concepts” page under either “K-5” or “6-12” is the easiest way to navigate these. And don’t miss the list of “Support Resources”—it includes sites for research, teacher guides, glossaries, and games. This is a great site for teachers!

Digital History Resource Guides The Digital Resource Guides provide links to American history web sites by period and provide historical overviews, readings (online textbook chapter, Reader’s Companion), primary source documents (documents, maps, cartoons), teaching resources (chronologies, maps, quizzes), audio-visual resources, and additional resources. The Guides are an excellent and comprehensive teaching resource.

Course Models: Great Depression Part of the California History-Social Science content standards and annotated course which includes: background information, focus questions, pupil activities and handouts, an assessment, and references to books, articles, web sites, literature, audio-video programs, and historic sites. Grade 11.

The New Deal: Multiple Choice Quiz, Fill-in-the-Blank, Flashcards, American History Glossary, American History Appendix The Student Resources section of The American Nation companion web site features introductions to chapters, interactive quizzes, flashcards, web links, an American History Glossary, and an American History Appendix.

Stock Market Crash of 1929  In this PBS lesson, students examine how people got rich in the 1920s, describe buying stocks on margin and identify who was affected by the 1929 stock market crash.

An Arm and a Leg  In this PBS lesson, students consider the loss of health care coverage among the unemployed and other ways that the recession affects the U.S. economy and families. They then examine and collect evidence of its effects on their own communities.

The Great Depression: A Great Disaster A student-produced ThinkQuest introduction to the Great Depression that focuses on its causes.

At Home and Abroad: Prosperity and Depression, 1917-1940 Practice Test High School level quiz on Jazz Age and Great Depression from Prentice Hall.

The Great Depression: A Great Disaster This assignment is designed for students seeking to improve their English reading,comprehension, and writing skills and provides multimedia presentations on the Great Depression.

Interpreting Primary Sources  Digital History provides brief excerpts from primary sources and statistics and questions to think about the Great Depression and the New Deal

At Home and Abroad: Prosperity and Depression, 1917-1940: Document Based Essay This Prentice Hall DBQ is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents and is based on the accompanying documents (1-6).

Dancing into History  In this PBS lesson, students conduct research on the Great Depression and produce a dance that communicates the events and human emotions of this era.

HistoryTeacher.net: AP United States History Quizzes  A New York teacher has produced a great general site for history teachers that offers AP-level United States history quizzes on many different periods and topics.

AP United States History DBQs: 1920-1970 These student-created DBQs are part of the excellent Historyteacher.net site

Tell Me Something Good In this lesson, students investigate what draws viewers to the movie theater in these difficult economic times and then write essays analyzing a film in that context.

Powerpoint Presentation on the Life and Times of Herbert Hoover  PowerPoint Presentation from Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum.