As the newest addition to the America in the Twentieth Century series, America in the Thirties (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2015) explores the complexity of America in what is considered its darkest era of the century.
The decade stood in stark contrast to the carefree, happy-go-lucky days of the Roaring Twenties when prosperity appeared endless. The Stock Market Crash in October 1929 and the economic collapse it unleashed threatened the very foundations of America’s economic, political, and social institutions. The ecological disaster produced by the Dust Bowl ravaging the Great Plains only added to the suffering and misery.
Yet the decade of the thirties was not just one mired in complete disorder. The 1930s were also a vibrant period of innovation, transformation, and in some cases, even optimism. Politics, beginning with Herbert Hoover and continuing with Franklin Roosevelt, underwent a fundamental transformation, ushering in an activist state and firmly establishing the idea that through prudent federal policies, it was possible not only to orchestrate an economic recovery but also to prevent future economic downturns.
Workers, African Americans, ethnic Americans, and women responded to the era’s challenges through their newfound political voice in Roosevelt’s New Deal and through the institutions and communities they created to alleviate their suffering. Culturally, the 1930s also proved to be a boon to America, ushering in the Golden Age of Hollywood as millions of Americans looked to movies as a momentary refuge from their daily plight. For all the hardship and despair of the 1930s, there was also a vitality that defined the decade.
About The Authors
John Olszowka is associate professor of history at Mercyhurst University.
Marnie M. Sullivan is associate professor of English at Mercyhurst University.
Brian R. Sheridan is a lecturer in the Communications Department at Mercyhurst University.
Dennis Hickey is associate professor in the History, Anthropology, and World Languages Department at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.
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