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Canadian Great Depression Essay Lesson

Ten Lessons For Teaching About The Great Depression

The anniversary of Black Tuesday is the perfect opportunity to teach your students about the causes and the effects of the Great Depression. Education World offers a dozen great Internet-based activities. Included: Ten activities for use across the curriculum and across the grades!

October 29 is the anniversary of "Black Tuesday" -- the day the stock market crashed in 1929, sending the United States and the world into a bleak era known as the Great Depression.
The immediate effects of the Great Depression, along with the efforts of the federal government to spur recovery and to prevent a repeat of that disaster, changed forever the U.S. political, economic, and social scene. You can help your students understand the causes and the effects of the Great Depression as well as the impact that event has on their lives today. Introduce them to the people who lived it with the following activities from Education World.

Establish a Framework

History -- It happened in the 1930s.
Invite students to view brief video clips from PBS's The Great Depression: Stories of a Generation's Struggle for Democracy. Then students can work individually or in small groups to create timelines of the major social and economic events related to the Great Depression.

Writing -- It's news to me!
Encourage students to explore headlines from N.Y. Times Web Special: The Crash of 1929. Then ask each student to write a news story that covers the events of the period. Students might find additional information at The Crash of 1929 or 1929 Stock Market Crash. Don't forget the headline!

Meet the People

Language arts -- Read all about it!
Invite students to read the personal accounts of life during the Great Depression at Great Depression 1930's: Firsthand Accounts. Then encourage them to conduct their own video or audiotape interviews of family members or friends who lived through the Great Depression.

Language arts -- You are there!
As a follow-up to the previous activity, have students read Christmas During the Great Depression, a first-person account of one child's Christmas during the Great Depression. Then ask each student to write about his or her most memorable holiday.

Writing/critical thinking -- Canada! Oh Canada!
Invite students to explore The Great Depression and read about the years of the Great Depression in Canada. Then ask them to compare the causes and effects of the Depression in Canada and the United States.

Explore the Culture

Arts -- Signs of the times.
Point out to students that a country's culture often reflects its political, economic, and social conditions. Invite them to explore the music of the Great Depression through songs such as

and the photographs and paintings at A New Deal for the Arts. Ask each student to choose a song and an artwork he or she thinks best depicts the era. Have students present their choices, along with a brief explanation for them, to the class.

Relate it to Today

Math -- What did it cost?
Have students explore Then and Now: Prices, complete the table, and answer the questions about costs and wages. Then ask students to use the Inflation Calculator (or the Inflation Calculator: Moneys Real Worth Over Time) to find out how much each item on the list would have cost in 1929 based on today's prices. Have them create a second table to show that information. As a follow-up to this activity, ask students to make a list of common household items and jobs that did not exist in 1929.

Social studies -- The 20th-century family.
Have students read The Great Depression Changed Family Values, Lifestyles. Then cover a bulletin board with butcher paper and ask students to create a mural depicting the history of the American family during the 20th century. Encourage students to illustrate how such aspects of family life as clothing, jobs, education, and social roles changed throughout the century.

Social studies -- It's the law!
Ask students to read about the New Deal Acts that resulted from the Great Depression. Then arrange students into pairs and have each pair investigate the causes and effects of one piece of legislation, both in the 1930s and today. As they research the legislation, encourage students to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of government intervention. Ask each pair to present their findings to the class in the form of an oral report or a debate.

Additional Resources

American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library
This site contains multimedia collections of documents, photographs, sound, movies, and text from the Library of Congress Americana collections. Search for resources on the Great Depression.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum: The Great Depression
A Gallery of words and pictures.

Why Was the Great Depression a Disaster Waiting to Happen?
This site contains a list of causes of the Great Depression from a history course at the University of San Diego.

America in the 1930s
This project, developed by the American Studies Program at the University of Virginia, allows visitors to view the 1930s through films, radio programs, literature, journalism, museums, exhibitions, architecture, art, and other forms of cultural expression. The site itself is best for students in high school and above; however, it contains excellent resources, such as audio of 1930s radio programs, that teachers can use with students of any age.

Teachable Moments in Your Classroom: The Great Depression
This 14-part curriculum guide chronicling the Great Depression includes 14 topical short films, copies of historical documents, and both short and in-depth questions. This material is appropriate for grades 4–12.

Hard Times: Coping With Life During the Great Depression
The purpose of the project is to interview individuals who remember life during the Great Depression (1929-1941) throughout the world. Students will use supplied interview questions, gather responses, and summarize data to reflect the life styles of people who lived during this time period. (Note: This project is no longer live online, but the resources here provide ideas for a classroom project that you might initiate.)

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 1999, 2017 Education World

Originally published 11/08/1999
Last updated 08/22/2017
The Great Depression was a period of unprecedented decline in economic activity. It is generally agreed to have occurred between 1929 and 1939. Although parts of the economy had begun to recover by 1936, high unemployment persisted until the Second World War.

Background To Great Depression:

  • The 1920s witnessed an economic boom in the US (typified by Ford Motor cars, which made a car within the grasp of ordinary workers for the first time). Industrial output expanded very rapidly. 
  • Sales were often promoted through buying on credit. However, by early 1929, the steam had gone out of the economy and output was beginning to fall.
  • The stock market had boomed to record levels. Price to earning ratios were above historical averages.
  • The US Agricultural sector had been in recession for many more years
  • The UK economy had been experiencing deflation and high unemployment for much of the 1920s. This was mainly due to the cost of the first world war and attempting to rejoin the Gold standard at a pre-world war 1 rate. This meant Sterling was overvalued causing lower exports and slower growth. The US tried to help the UK stay in the gold standard. That meant inflating the US economy, which contributed to the credit boom of the 1920s.

Causes of Great Depression

1. Stock Market Crash of October 1929

During September and October, a few firms posted disappointing results causing share prices to fall. On October 28th (Black Monday), the decline in prices turned into a crash has share prices fell 13%. Panic spread throughout the stock exchange as people sought to unload their shares. On Tuesday there was another collapse in prices known as 'Black Tuesday'. Although shares recovered a little in 1930, confidence had evaporated and problems spread to the rest of the financial system. Share prices would fall even more in 1932 as the depression deepened. By 1932, The stock market fell 89% from its September 1929 peak. It was at a level not seen since the nineteenth century.
  • Falling share prices caused a collapse in confidence and consumer wealth. Spending fell and the decline in confidence precipitated a desire for savers to withdraw money from their banks.
2. Bank Failures

In the first 10 months of 1930 alone, 744 US banks went bankrupt and savers lost their savings. In a desperate bid to raise money, they also tried to call in their loans before people had time to repay them. As banks went bankrupt, it only increased the demand for other savers to withdraw money from banks. Long queues of people wanting to withdraw their savings was a common sight. The authorities appeared unable to stop bank runs and the collapse in confidence in the banking system. Many agree, that it was this failure of the banking system which was the most powerful cause of economic depression.

50% fall in bank lending during the Great Depression. Period in grey - recessions.
  • Because of the banking crisis, Banks reduced lending, there was a fall in investment. People lost savings and so reduced consumer spending. The impact on economic confidence was disastrous.

Great Depression in US

Over 20% fall in US real GDP

Four consecutive years of negative growth 1929-32.

US unemployment rose from zero in 1929 to over 25% in 1932 - indicating the severity and seriousness of the decline in economic activity.

US Deflation

US price level. 1930-33 was a period of deflation (negative inflation) - fall in the price level.

Great Depression in the UK

The great depression in the UK was less severe because

There had been no boom in the 1920s (it was actually a period of low growth)

After leaving the Gold Standard in 1932, the UK economy recovered relatively well.

The UK also experienced a long period of deflation in the 1920s and 1930s. See: History of inflation

With falling output, prices began to fall. Deflation created additional problems.
  • It increased the difficulty of paying off debts taken out during the 1920s.
  • Falling prices encouraged people to hoard cash rather than spend (Keynes called this the paradox of thrift)
  • Increased real wage unemployment (workers reluctant to accept nominal wage cuts, caused real wages to rise creating additional unemployment)
Unemployment and Negative Multiplier Effect

As banks went bankrupt, consumer spending and investment fell dramatically. Output fell, unemployment rose causing a negative multiplier effect. In the 1930s, the unemployment received little relief beyond the soup kitchen. Therefore, the unemployed dramatically reduced their spending.

Global Downturn

America had lent substantial amounts to Europe and UK, to help rebuild after first world war. Therefore, there was a strong link between the US economy and the rest of the world. The US downturn soon spread to the rest of the world as America called in loans, Europe couldn't afford to pay back. This global recession was exacerbated by imposing new tariffs such as Smoot-Hawley which restricted trade further.

Different views of the Great Depression

Monetarists View

Monetarists highlight the importance of a fall in the money supply. They point out that between 1929 and 1932, the Federal Reserve allowed the money supply (Measured by M2) to fall by a third. In particular, Monetarists such as Friedman criticise the decisions of the Fed not to save banks going bankrupt. They say that because the money supply fell so much an ordinary recession turned into a major deflationary depression.

Austrian View

The Austrian school of Economists such as Hayek and Ludwig Von Mises place much of the blame on an unsustainable credit boom in the 1920s. In particular, they point to the decision to inflate the US economy to try and help the UK remain on the Gold standard at a rate which was too high. They argue after this unsustainable credit boom a recession became inevitable. The Austrian school doesn't accept the Friedman analysis that falling money supply was the main problem. They argue it was the loss of confidence in the banking system which caused the most damage.

Keynesian View

Keynes emphasised the importance of a fundamental disequilibrium in real output. He saw the Great Depression as evidence that the classical models of economics were flawed.
  • Classical economics assumed Real Output would automatically return to equilibrium (full employment levels), but the great depression showed this to be not true.
  • Keynes said the problem was lack of aggregate demand. Keynes argued passionately that governments should intervene in the economy to stimulate demand through public works scheme - higher spending and borrowing.
  • Keynes heavily criticised the UK government's decision to try balance the budget in 1930 through higher taxes and lower benefits. He said this only worsened the situation.
  • Keynes also pointed to the paradox of thrift.
Marxist View

The Marxist View saw the Great Depression as heralding the imminent collapse of global capitalism. With unemployment over 25%, Marxists held that this showed the inherent instability and failure of the capitalist model. Furthermore, they pointed to the Soviet Union as a country which was able to overcome the great depression through state-sponsored economic planning.

How important was Stock Market Crash of 1929?

The stock market crash of October 1929, was certainly a factor which precipitated events. It did cause a decline in wealth and severely affected confidence. However, changes in share prices were a reflection of the underlying boom and bust in the economy. Also, a collapse in share prices might not have caused the great depression if bank failures had been avoided. In October 1987, share prices fell by even more (22%) than black Monday. But, it didn't cause an economic recession.

Essays on the Great Depression by Ben S. Bernanke at Amazon.co.uk
Essays on the Great Depression by Ben S. Bernanke at Amazon.com

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