This discussion is based on the primary source documents found in Chapters 10 and 11 of the Constructing the American Past textbook (linked in the left hand menu), which explore the Great Depression and Second World War. The 1930s and 1940s were a difficult time in America, and these documents provide insight into the experiences of everyday Americans and how they viewed theses crises. Chapter 10 provides first-hand accounts in the form of letters to political leaders (Documents 1 and 11) as well as images, interviews, and memoirs that reveal the differing experiences of the working class, women, and African Americans. Through careful reading of these documents you begin to gain insight into how Americans viewed and sought to survive the Depression. Similarly, Chapter 11 exposes the contradictions in the United States’ war efforts. The documents reflect the lofty idealism of America’s conceptualization of the Second World War as “Good War” fought to preserve freedom and democracy and the limitations of that freedom for minorities on the home front. Indeed, Documents 1 and 2 present a much different picture of America than Documents 5, 6, 8, 9 and 11. In both chapters, the documents help to reveal how one’s race, class, and gender impacts their daily life, particularly during a time of crisis. As you make your posts, it is important that you refer to specific documents from Chapter 10 and 11 of Constructing the American Past (citing document numbers and authors) to help support and explain your views. The most successful discussion posts engage with the perspectives provided by these historical authors as a foundation for critical analysis of the past.
Discussion Prompts (choose one of the following)
- What effects did the Great Depression have on people’s daily lives? Consider the differences in how it affected women and African Americans compared to others. What do the letters written to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt reveal about the Depression and how Americans viewed the crisis? Do you see evidence that it affected women or African Americans different from other groups of people? You must include specific examples from the documents as evidence to support your views.
- Documents 1, 2 and 4 in Chapter 11 of Constructing the American Past suggest that the Second World War was fought to preserve freedom and democracy around the world, however, many Americans lacked freedom and equality at home. How do you reconcile Roosevelt and Churchill’s rhetoric and the glossy images produced by Norman Rockwell that extol the Second World War as a “good war” to preserve the “Four Freedoms” with the lived reality of American minorities during the war? What arguments did Americans make to justify Japanese Internment? Do you consider the limitations of freedoms minorities experienced on the home front a necessary evil? You must include specific examples from the documents as evidence to support your views.
- What do the documents in Chapter 10 and 11 of Constructing the American Past reveal about the minority experience in America? What perspectives do these chapters and documents leave out? Are there similarities between what Americans faced during the Great Depression and Second World War and today? Be sure to include specific examples from the documents as evidence to support your views.