The Great Depression and College Life

With all the world abuzz with talk of the dreaded “D” word, this post discusses sources for the study of college during hard times. Nearly every college or university has an archive with records dating back to the 1930s. With modern scanning technology, it becomes easy to upload to your own online storage site and then share the 1930s college experience with the world.

Since my institution hired me to teach the Great Depression (among other courses), I grabbed photocopies of all Board and President minutes and reports. Last month I uploaded the entire era (1929-1942) to here. Download the root folder as a zip file, then open with your photo manager.

Google Books is digitizing the world’s history of fiction and nonfiction (including newspapers). There is no reason why students and amateur historians can’t “do their part” (the early New Deal slogan).

Another great site for documents from that era, including a high school newspaper and college material: “The New Deal Project.”

It appears that allegations of liberal bias among the faculty ran rampant in that era too. They didn’t call it Political Correctness because that term didn’t come along, it seems, until the communist Mao wrote his Little Red Book.

This portal at the New Deal Project examines “Student Activism in the 1930s,” with many documents and images from that time period. Most students, however, conformed to the “Joe College” and “Betty Coed” norms of their parents—particularly since the latter (Mom and Dad) sacrificed so much to send their kids to school.

OTHER SOURCES: I also recommend the following free online magazine archives:


The Nation: change search option to 1865-2002.

American Jewish Committee: everything from their archives and publications from 1900 onward. With the Nazi rise to power (1933), the AJC dealt with anti-Semitism overseas and at home.

Gulag: Lest we forget the other “class genocide” of that era, here are some choice documents (and English translations) of Lenin and Stalin ordering the extermination of property-owning peasants.

FDR Cartoon Database

EH.Net: this fantastic site combines economics and history and is useful for determining the present-day value of past sums or for its ever-growing encyclopedia, book reviews, economic data, etc. Search the site for Great Depression and you will come up with interviews with leading economists in the 21st century, and much more! It is no understatement to state that the Depression is to economics what the Big Bang is to physics. Entire schools of thought grappled (and still do) with the causes, the effects, and the various elements of economic life. Our current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, for example, wrote some of his early academic essays on this topic.

Beacon readers will probably want to read what Robert Higgs has written on the Great Depression and the recovery which came after World War II.

Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the Independent book, Race & Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.
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