Historical Echoes: Using Art and Artifacts to Understand the Impact of the Great Depression
The widespread distress caused by an economic downturn, such as the recent Great Recession, lingers long after economic indicators begin to recover, but it can also be the impetus for key structural reforms. As economists analyze data and write papers to document the impact of an economic downturn and advance their solutions, artists use visual, musical, and literary approaches to the same end. An example of this genre is the powerful art produced in the United States during the Great Depression.
For an introduction to some of the evocative work that grew out of the Great Depression, see the University of Michigan’s exhibit “Radical Responses to the Great Depression.” Their extensive image collection includes the original autograph score of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” a Depression-era song that has been recorded by more than twenty-six artists. Also included are the dust covers from literary works from the Depression era, such as The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son, and The Big Money.
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