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Interpreting American History

The New Deal and the Great Depression

Aaron D. Purcell

Publication Year: 2014

In this second volume of the Interpreting American History series, experts on the 1930s address the changing historical interpretations of a critical period in American history. Following a decade of prosperity, the Great Depression brought unemployment, economic ruin, poverty, and a sense of hopelessness to millions of Americans. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs aimed to bring relief, recovery, and reform to the masses.

More than seventy-five years after Roosevelt took the oath as president, Americans are still debating what did and did not happen in the 1930s to help the nation recover from its worst economic depression. Proponents and detractors have cast the successes and failures of the New Deal in many lights. Historians have argued that the New Deal went too far, that it did not go far enough, that it created more problems than it solved, and even that its shaky foundations are the reason for the economic and social instability of the Great Recession of the early twenty-first century.

The contributors to this volume explore how historians have judged the nature, effects, and outcomes of the New Deal. Arranged in three sections, the essays discuss Roosevelt’s New Deal revolution, explore the groups on the fringes of the New Deal, and consider the legacies of 1930s reform. Chapters focus on specific areas of study, including politics, agriculture, the environment, labor, African Americans, the economy, social programs, the arts, mobilization for World War II, and memory. These fields represent today’s emerging interpretations of one of the most significant decades of the twentieth century.

Interpreting American History: The New Deal and the Great Depression introduces readers to this important period by examining the major historical debates that surround the 1930s, giving students a succinct and indispensable historiographic overview.

Published by: The Kent State University Press


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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Interpreting American History Series

Brian D. McKnight

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pp. ix-x

Of all the history courses taught on college campuses, historiography is one of the most challenging. The historiographic essays most often available are frequently too specialized for broad teaching and sometimes too rigorous for the average undergraduate student...

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pp. 1-3

“So what was the New Deal, and why should we care?” Twenty years ago, a high school student challenged me with this question on a Friday afternoon—a question I had every assurance I could answer. Instead of rattling off a fast response, I paused and decided...

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1. Historical Interpretations of the New Deal and the Great Depression

Aaron D. Purcell

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pp. 4-30

Before the ascendancy of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency in 1933, Americans lacked a host of reassurances; for many, employment, food, stability, prosperity, and hope had all become scarce. The Great Depression officially began with the collapse of...

Part I. Roosevelt's New Deal Revolution

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2. Politics of the 1930s and the New Deal

Michael A. Davis

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pp. 33-48

The 1930s marked a watershed in American politics. The Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash of October 1929 and ended with American entry into World War II in 1941, unleashed not only immense economic misery, but also great political...

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3. Agriculture and the New Deal

Todd Holmes

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pp. 49-64

When Franklin D. Roosevelt promised a New Deal for the nation during the 1932 Democratic Convention, few could have realized that within the next year his administration would embark on some of the most revolutionary government programs of the twentieth...

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4. The Environment and the New Deal

Douglas Sheflin

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pp. 65-80

While the New Deal has received tremendous attention from social, political, and economic historians, relatively little consideration has been given to how it and the interwar period more broadly fit into American environmental history. In 2001, historian Paul Sutter...

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5. The Economy and the New Deal

Jennifer Egolf

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pp. 81-95

On June 27, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the podium at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia to accept his party’s renomination for president. In this important address, he reviewed the causes for and his solutions to the Great Depression...

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6. Social Programs and the New Deal

Stuart Patterson

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pp. 96-110

During the 1930s, the federal government took on an unprecedented responsibility—and the requisite new powers—for guaranteeing a basic level of social and economic well-being for its citizens. The New Deal’s social programs changed since the 1930s, but...

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7. Art and the New Deal

Sharon Ann Musher

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pp. 111-128

The severity of the Great Depression is well known to scholars, students, and general audiences. By 1933 more than one-quarter of the population was unemployed or underemployed—a figure that was significantly worse in certain areas. Farm prices were...

Part II. The Fringes of the New Deal

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8. African Americans and the Politics of Race during the New Deal

Gloria-Yvonne Williams

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pp. 131-144

The New Deal marked a pivotal moment in the African American struggle for equality and justice. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal introduced an expanded notion of democracy that transformed American social policy and provided a medium for African Americans...

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9. Organized Labor, Reds, and Radicals of the 1930s

Gregory S. Taylor

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pp. 145-168

The Great Depression proved a tumultuous time for organized labor, radical political organizations, and radical political activists. Already at low ebb when the crisis began, their fortunes receded ever further during Herbert Hoover’s administration. Those fortunes...

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10. Overseas Intervention, the Rise of Fascism Abroad, and the Origins of World War II

Peter Luddington-Foronjy

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pp. 169-182

Historians have divided Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency into two distinct periods. The first encompasses the years from 1933 through 1938. Historians of Roosevelt’s presidency generally agree that during this period Roosevelt turned his back on foreign involvements...

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11. Memory and the New Deal

Michael W. Barberich

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pp. 183-198

Memory is significant for New Deal historiography in at least three ways. First, the New Deal was not entirely “new” but was presented to the American public as a new solution to the economic hardship of the Great Depression. Roosevelt relied upon...


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pp. 199-221


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pp. 222-224


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pp. 225-238

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781612778709
E-ISBN-10: 1612778704
Print-ISBN-13: 9781606352205

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 888316130
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Interpreting American History

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Subject Headings

  • New Deal, 1933-1939.
  • Depressions -- 1929 -- United States.
  • United States -- Economic conditions -- 1918-1945.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1933-1945.
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