Rousing the Nation: Radical Culture in Depression America

By Laura Browder | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
THE SEARCH ABANDONED

The 1930s were marked by concern across the political spectrum with defining an American identity, whether it be the Communist Party's slogan "Communism Is Twentieth Century Americanism" or Ezra Pound book Jefferson and/or Mussolini? It was the last time in our country's history that the left focused to such a degree on reclaiming the nation's past and present, when it was possible to be both radical and patriotic. It was also the last time that the federal government not only tolerated widespread debate over the nature of Americanism but actually funded such debate. For although political debate certainly took place in conventional contexts such as presidential campaigns and on the editorial pages of newspapers, the decade of the thirties was a time when arguments about the nature of American identity, and revisionary views of American history, were presented in the form of song, dance, literature, theater, and film.

Much of this work was produced with government funding under the auspices of the Federal Arts Projects. The Living Newspapers of the Federal Theatre Project reached an audience that ultimately numbered thirty million. The Federal Writers Project produced approximately a thousand publications, among them the state guidebooks. Perhaps the best-remembered projects of the Federal Arts Project were 2,500 murals painted by a range of distinguished and soon-to-be-distinguished artists, including Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, Willem de Kooning, Reginald Marsh, Jackson Pollock, Rockwell Kent, Philip Guston, and Stuart Davis. Working for the Federal Dance Proj-

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