Very briefly, can you tell me what caused the Great Depression?

By Tuesday, April 13, 2010 0

… is probably my least favorite question as a teacher. Usually this comes up when studying the Weimar Republic and rise of Hitler, and students want a sound-byte answer. When I ask the question of the class, the American students will usually say ‘the Wall Street Crash’, but they don’t really understand the issue beyond that.  When this question came up (again) yesterday, I began a quick search and found a number of sites that address the issue, but ultimately, there is no consensus as to the actual cause.  Even a question like this is up to interpretation, and that interpretation tends to depend on one’s political orientation.  Rather than cause distress, however, this can be an effective strategy for showing how perspective is important, and a healthy debate can be constructed out of this issue.

Many students find this interesting and it is necessary for their understanding of world politics at the time.  Additionally, this is germane to all of us in today’s world as we face this issue in our own time, in our own lives.

Key issues to consider when discussing it with students include:

1.  The Wall Street Crash: cause or catalyst?

2.  The droughts and dust bowl – even though they did not become a real issue until 1930, their impact is important for the depression in the United States

3.  Rampant consumerism

4.  Overextension of credit

5.  Bank failures

6.  US protectionist policies

7.  Globalization of the economy

6.  The interrelatedness and interdependency of international financing and markets

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