Culture • "The Real" • History

This section is about the attempt to identify a framework of belief during the 1930s.

The project of situating what intellectual, cultural and political orientations were particular to the period is a vast one, and certainly not original to me. There's so much that could be (and has been) said about any one of the ideas that I touch on that I've had to resolve myself to broad strokes, to being suggestive.

I've identified a web of concepts as key to the thinking of the time, aiming to provide you with some basic themes to bring to the rest of your reading. I'm talking here about the idea of culture, an obsession with authenticity, and beliefs about the nature and role of history. These themes are not unique in American cultural experience, but they do have their particular Thirties guises.

As I've tried to wrap my mind around the logic of a time that is foreign to me, I found myself returning again and again to the parallels there seemed to be between the values of the Thirties and what I recognize as a more postmodern, multicultural orientation. As I had time to reflect about the limits and expanses of these parallels, I've refined my ideas. My point is that this introduction to 1930s ideas about history, culture and authenticity functions in conflicting ways. In true hypertextual form, it has turned out to be partly a preface, meant to help you contextualize public historical and documentary projects like the Federal Writers' Project and the Farm Security Administration photography, and partly a set of conclusions or reflections, the proverbial "so what" section.

You can start with any of the three concepts:

- the popularization of culture...

- the theme of "the real"...

- or the nature and purpose of history in the Thirties...


Juliet Gorman, May 2001