Required readings: 

Recommended readings if you are interested in learning more: 

"Next Time Try the Train" by Dorthea Lange, WPA.
“Next Time Try the Train” by Dorthea Lange, WPA.


Guided Reading and Watching Questions

1) What reoccurring tropes and themes do you notice in the music and literature from the Great Depression? How are metaphors of nature, the environment, and weather used? How are Southern themes recast sectionally to express Western suffering? Overall, what do you notice about how Americans respond to the Great Depression culturally?

2) How does the portrayal of mass migration during the Dust Bowl differ from other migrations (both forced and elective) we’ve studied in the West? How is it similar?

3) What role does fantasy and futurism play in family formation, racial identity, inheritance, and land ownership in the 1920s vs. 1930s? How didowning land (or the dream of it) legitimize households, masculinities, or racial identities?

4) Thinking critically beyond the basic fact that the market economy is global, was the Great Depression and Dust Bowl a national crisis or an international crisis?

5) Was the Great Depression transformative for women and minorities in the U.S. West or did it further entrench stereotypes? Was the Great Depression a moment of heightened white supremacy and masculinity or was whiteness and masculinity in crisis?

4)  Literature overview questions for Whose Names are Unknown : What is the significance of the book’s title?  How does the representation of California change throughout your book’s arch? Consider language, character development, narrative structure, motifs, etc. Be prepared to discuss the book at length on Thursday.

5) Which voices are absent this week in the historiography and primary source literature?

Great Depression Music, Movies, & Multimedia 

“The Plow That Broke the Plains” (the first documentary made about the Dust Bowl in 1937)

Jimmie Rodgers – “Blue Yodel #1”

Jimmie Rodgers – “In The Jailhouse Now”

Carter Family – “Keep On the Sunny Side”

Woody Gutherie – “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad”

Skip James – “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”

Gene Autry – “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”

Walt Disney’s first feature-length animation film Snow White was released at the height of the Great Depression (where lessons about mining, taking baths, and being happy laborers abound….)

Lena Horne – “Stormy Weather”

Judy Garland – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (Wizard of Oz)

Vivien Leigh – Gone With the Wind– “Never Be Hungry Again” Speech

John Ford – The Grapes of Wrath

Ken Burns on the Dust Bowl Legacy on Irrigation & Witnessing the Dust Bowl

 Music from the Great Depression (unreleased folkway recording song list on the right) 

This American Life 5:00 Minutes -40 Minutes: Interviews with Great Depression Survivors 

 Documenting California’s Contemporary Drought in Historical Perspective (Opinion Pieces) 


Weekly Assignment 

  1. Select one image from Photogrammar that you feel highlights or personifies a part of Whose Names are Unknown. Analyze the image in relation to our book this week.


Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).

7 responses to “History 457: Week 9: Hollywood & The Global Great Depression

  1. There are so many fabulous images that depict scenes similar to those portrayed in Whose Names are Unknown it was hard to choose just one. I’ve chosen this photograph from November of 1936 by Dorothea Lange titled “Oklahoma mother of five children, now picking cotton in California, near Fresno.” I chose it because it shows this woman alone, trying to survive with her children; displaced, hungry, and completely without resources. Her job of picking cotton was backbreaking, grueling, and
    not guaranteed to provide even the basic needs for her children. She is shown with her children, in the dirt with nothing to offer any kind of comfort. Her posture shows signs of defeat, but I like to think that, since she is still standing, she has the resolve and strength to carry on. She reminds me of the widow, Mrs. Starwood. Or maybe I am hoping that the woman in the photograph is as strong as Mrs. Starwood, and has some sort of support (maybe a group of friends or even a husband just off camera?) like Mrs. Starwood had, along with some of her grit and humor. Traveling together with the Dunne family, and taking her neighbor Frieda along brought a sense of community and mutual support for both families in the book. The intense responsibility this woman is carrying, with no anchor and no safe haven at the end of the day is so representative of the people we were given a glimpse of in Sanora Babb’s narrative. Like the title of the book, this woman’s name is unknown. Her story would be completely untold without this remarkable photograph and, even with the photo, we are unable to know about her and her children’s journey beyond this frozen moment in time.

  2. The photo I chose to write about is captioned, “Drought stricken framer and family near Muskogee, Oklahoma. Agricultural day laborer Muskogee, County.”. One of the reasons I chose this picture was because of the similar location between this family and the Dunne family. Much like the family depicted in the photo, the Dunne family are ultimately forced to leave their land due to the severity of the drought. The photo captures many of the same emotions that we saw when reading about the Dunne family. The family in the picture look beaten but also determined to escape and make a new life. No matter how difficult the struggle, this family and the Dunne family never lost faith in themselves.

  3. The photograph I chose depicts an abandoned tenant house in Wagoner County, Oklahoma. I chose this particular photograph because a little over the first half of Whose Names are Unknown shows the family living in a single room home that was in incredibly poor condition and was not a well built house. It is a striking image because I immediately imagined a family of five living in a home such as this during the sand storms and how it was to farm these lands. It also gave me a sense of foreshadowing because all but the grandpa in the novel abandoned the house and once the grandpa would pass away, their house in Oklahoma would eventually look like this abandoned house. It is a good depiction of what people were escaping when they headed west once losing everything on their desolate farms. The photograph made the reality of families such as that in the novel more real and added a visual to what it was like to live in Oklahoma during the depression and he sand storms.


    I came across a collection of photos that documented the squatter camps in California. They look like the first RV camps in the United States, but their historical significance is much richer than that. The photo I chose is of a camp in Calipatria, California. It is interesting to observe the photo close in and see the limited space squatters lived in. In the book, we find the Dunne family enter a squatter camp when they first arrive in California. The photo gives us a good idea to what their situation looks like and how little they really had. The tent is only a little bigger than the car and they do not have much stuff. The photo reveals a very minimalistic lifestyle.

    The photo also exposes a recurring theme in the book: dust. The squatter camp is not paved and is full of dust. If you look closely at the photo, you will notice that the car has dust all over it and the tent is quite dirty on the front. It is rather ironic that many squatters we traveled across the entire country to escape the dust but found only more dust in these camps.

    On a brighter note, on aspect that this photo reveals is the community that formed in these camps. It looks as if people would park and line up tents next to each other. The squatter camps offered a chance to meet other people in similar situations and discover ways to improve living conditions.

    In sum, the photos of the squatter camps allow us to peak inside the lives of many migrant workers and see the poor living conditions they faced. On the other hand, some of the photos and passages in the book expose the importance of squatter camps. They may have been a poor way to live, but they did offer government aid and a chance to meet other migrant workers.

  5. Of the several hundred photographs that I looked through I chose this photograph mostly in part because of the young girls and the chickens. In Babb’s book, the two young daughters of Milt and Julia Dunne, Myra and Lonnie, had, what one can say, a relationship with each chicken. They even gave each chicken a name. The chickens are the main reason I chose this picture. But aside from that, the picture also tells much more than just the girls’ relationship with chickens. In this photograph, I feel a sense of community. Although there are only a handful of people in the photographs, it seems that the two gentlemen are talking. Not sure if they are related or not, but in the book I felt a big presence of community. For a good part of the book, the story of the Dunnes takes place in Oklahoma. Hardships surround them. Food and money is scarce. Farming seasons don’t always yield a significant profit, if at all. But it seems as if the only thing that really kept them there in Oklahoma, and helping them through the hard times, are their friends and neighbors. Because of them they eased the hard times.

  6. Like many others in the class, I chose a photo of an abandoned farm home whose tenants most likely had to leave due to the severity of the drought. In Whose Names are Unknown, the Dunne family is driven from their home in a similar manner. Although the home in the book is described as being much smaller and dilapidated, I find it interesting that this image shows how even a more prosperous family (whose house is built from stone and is fairly large) could not manage the conditions brought on by the drought. The Depression did not just affect already poor families, but it uprooted even the most stable households. This image does not, however, depict the struggle that many people underwent to save their homes and to maintain their basic needs in the face of the depressed economy. The Dunne family is a testament to people’s resolve to survive, their reliance on each other in the face of hardship, and the hope that the west offered for a better life.

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