In the Great Depression and Americas section of the HL Americas curriculum students are expected to know political and economic causes of the Depression. However, the more that I read, the less I am certain about what this means. What are political causes? Does this mean policy? Where do economic policies fit in – are they politics or economics?
This is one of those subjects where the more I read, the more complex and challenging it becomes. Most texts start with the disclamer that this subject is highly debatable by historians and economists alike and then proceed to describe or narrate what happened without a clear explanation of how.
Then, there are topics such as the Wall Street Crash which are seen as both a cause and the beginning of the Depression. The same goes for most of Hoover’s policies.
As a historian with a solid understanding of economics I find this subject challenging. However, some of our students are completely confused and intimidated by the subject. Issues of supply and demand flummox otherwise bright students. I am not sure of how to meet these challenges other than to reassure students that they will begin to understand it – that it’s a different way of approaching historical problems and with time and effort it will become clear.
So, I tell the story trying to make linkages for them – explaining how interrelated all of the issues are – overproduction, speculation, credit, monetary policy, tariffs and lack of regulation.
How much economic theory is needed? Many of my normally engaged students are feeling insecure and lost as we go over American policies prior to the Depresson.