Great Depression: People and Perspectives

Great Depression: People and Perspectives

Great Depression: People and Perspectives

Great Depression: People and Perspectives

Synopsis

An insightful collection of essays focused on American men, women, and children from a range of economic classes and ethnic backgrounds during the Great Depression.

Excerpt

Social history is, simply put, the study of past societies. More specifically, social historians attempt to describe societies in their totality, and hence often eschew analysis of politics and ideas. Though many social historians argue that it is impossible to understand how societies functioned without some consideration of the ways that politics worked on a daily basis or what ideas could be found circulating at any given time, they tend to pay little attention to the formal arenas of electoral politics or intellectual currents. In the United States, social historians have been engaged in describing components of the population that had earlier often escaped formal analysis, notably women, members of ethnic or cultural minorities, or those who had fewer economic opportunities than the elite.

Social history became a vibrant discipline in the United States after it had already gained enormous influence in Western Europe. In France, social history in its modern form emerged with the rising prominence of a group of scholars associated with the journal Annales Ěconomies, Sociětěs, Civilisations (or Annales ESC, as it is known). In its pages and in a series of books from historians affiliated with the Ěcole des hautes ětudes en sciences sociales in Paris, brilliant historians such as Marc Bloch, Jacques Le Goff, and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie described seemingly every aspect of French society. Among the masterpieces of this historical reconstruction was Fernand Braudel’s monumental study, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, published first in Paris in 1946 and in a revised edition in English in 1972. In this work Braudel argued that the only way to understand a place in its totality was to describe its environment, its social and economic structures, and its political systems. In Britain the emphasis of social historians has been less on questions of environment, per se, than in a description of human communities in all their complexities. For example, social historians there have taken advantage of that nation’s remarkable local archives to reconstruct the history of the family and details of its rural past. Works such as Peter Laslett’s The World We Have Lost, first printed in 1966, and the multiauthored Agrarian History of England and Wales, which began to appear in print in 1967 . . .

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