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Crashing Hopes: The Great Depression

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“American History 102: Civil War to the Present” is a website geared toward the students of the State University of Wisconsin, as well as all college students in general. Set up by Stanley K. Schultz, Professor of History, and William P. Tishler, the page concerning the Great Depression is the eighteenth of thirty lectures covering the second half of the history of America.

            As stated, Lecture 18 focuses solely on the Great Depression. Presented on a web page designed to look like a page from a notebook, Professor Schultz provides a somewhat detailed outline of various aspects concerning what led to the Great Depression. The information is broken down into five sections, with each covering a specific aspect of the topic.

            Professor Schultz begins the introduction with a quote given in 1929 by Yale University economist Irving Fisher, in which Fisher says that America was doing just fine and was “…marching along a permanently high plateau of prosperity.” Yet, just five days after he made this statement, the stock market crash occurred, plunging the entire country into severe economic despair. Schultz makes it clear that although the 1929 stock market crash was the starting point of the Great Depression, it was not the sole cause of it. Thus, the purpose of the lecture is to examine the roots of the crash and how the Great Depression affected America as a whole.

            In the first section, Professor Schultz lists five questions that the student should keep in mind while going through the remainder of the lecture. The second section focuses on the issue of American prosperity and optimism in the years before the crash. It was believed by all, from the president to the lowliest person, that the economic boom America was experiencing would last indefinitely. Various quotes from President Herbert Hoover, the 1929 New Year’s edition of the New York Times, and an article written by John Jacob Raskob in the Ladies’ Home Journal all validated the mood of the nation.

The third section provides an explanation concerning how the stock market was functioning in the five years prior to 1929, and also provides six reasons for why Americans invested within the market. The fourth section focuses on the actual crash, and the various events that occurred from October 24-29, 1929. It also states the vast amount of money lost in the stock market between October 29, 1929 and November 13, 1929, which was a total of $30 billion. Other amounts concerning the continually falling national income are given, as well as the change seen in the music of the period, which went from upbeat to depressing.

Finally, the last section of the lecture focuses on the Depression, discussing various aspects such as how President Hoover described the economic situation as being a depression rather than calling it a panic; how the economic depression affected all industrialized countries; how social problems of the period were worsened by the Depression; and finally how there were many stereotypical images perpetrated by the media during the period. There is also mention of what Americans did to escape their miseries, as well as where blame was placed for the Great Depression.

The lecture concludes by restating that the stock market was not the direct cause of the Great Depression, and then states how the Depression itself was responsible for a great many changes within American politics and society, issues that Professor Schultz would focus on in the next lecture.

At the bottom of the page are links to four different topics. The first link is unavailable, as the page no longer exists. The remaining three are still in working order, and provide further detailed information concerning the Great Depression. One of the three links in particular is quite interesting, as it provides first-hand accounts of life during the Depression from those who lived through it. All three links can be utilized by high school students and college students.

As previously stated, Lecture 18 is one of thirty lectures. The lecture site is part of a larger site — http://us.history.wisc.edu/hist102/index.html — which stems from a parody book written by the writers of “The Daily Show” entitled America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guidance Guide to Democracy Inaction. Professor Schultz, in 2006, wrote a teacher’s edition of the book in which all the satirical mistakes in the first book are corrected. Thus, the site, also created in 2006, is something of an online companion to the book. The home page contains a series of links that can be accessed to view various things, and there is also a link visitors to the page can use to provide feedback concerning the overall site.

In conclusion, the information provided on the pages – both written and pictorial – provide a wealth of information on the Great Depression, as well as other parts of American history. Not only is the information quite accurate, the grammatical structure of the writing is quite good, and the way in which the material is presented makes it easy for anyone to navigate through. Therefore, this site and its lecture on the Great Depression are a great source to be used by students and non-students alike.

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