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In response to popular demand (such as it is), I've compiled a list of source material on the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s as a guide for anyone who wants to write Captain America/Avengers fanfic. This is by no means definitive - yes, I'm a historian or play one at medieval studies congresses, but my specialty is pre-1600 quilts and textiles, not the first half of the 20th century. So please take this with a couple pounds of salt, use as much or as little as you like, and have fun.


Part I: The 1920s

Only Yesterday, by Frederick Lewis Allen - excellent history of the popular culture of the Harding/Coolidge years written in the early 1930s. If you need a quick and dirty guide to fads, fashions, and the mood of the country during the Roaring 20s, this is a great place to start.

Exile's Return, by Malcolm Cowley - Cowley was one of the Lost Generation of writers and artists who congregated in Paris during the 1920s. This memoir of his time there is a wonderful source if you're interested in the artists, writers, and intelligentsia of post-Great War America.

In Our Time, by Ernest Hemingway - this little book of short stories literally reshaped American literature; the prose is clean, sharp, and insightful, and the model for much of what came after. I'm not a Hemingway fan but this book is the real deal.

This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald - Fitzgerald is best known for The Great Gatsby, but this book's depiction of hopeless, decadent American youth caused a firestorm and made its author's reputation.

The Poisoner's Handbook, by Deborah Blum - terrific look at the origins and evolution of the New York City coroner's office as told through significant poisoning cases (many of them caused or exacerbated by wood alcohol). Lots and lots of period scandals that everyone would have known about and followed in the papers.

Pulp fiction - the real heyday of the pulps was the 1930s and 1940s, but magazines like Amazing Stories, Black Mask, and assorted romance, adventure, and confession titles were immensely popular. The highbrows read Hemingway but the working class read these.

The Stratemyer Syndicate - this venerable publishing house printed literally dozens of series of wholesome but exciting children's literature like Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, the Bobbsey Twins, Orissa Kane, and so on. The Syndicate was still going strong in the 1930s, too, with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, so it's all but certain that Steve would have read at least some of its output.

Art - there was still some realistic art, most notably illustration, but highbrow art ranged from Dadaism to Surrealism to German Expressionism. Art Deco, sleek and streamlined, began in the 20s but reached its height about ten years later. Popular illustrators included JC Leyendecker, John Held, Jr., and Maxfield Parrish, the last of whom created a series of promotional calendars for Edison-Mazda lamps.

Music - popular music was a weird combination of novelty songs like "I Used to Shower My Sweetie With Presents But It Ain't Going To Rain No More," jazz as interpreted by the likes of Paul Whiteman, and dance tunes like the Black Bottom and the Charleston. The blues and "old timey music" (aka country) were around, but the former wasn't respectable in white neighborhoods and the latter was pretty much confined to the South. Gramophones and radio brought classical music to the masses, but only in short bites since the records could only hold a few minutes per side.

Movies - these were all silent until The Jazz Singer in 1927, but there were some great ones; just think Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mabel Normand, and Fatty Arbuckle, and you'll get the idea. Even better, they had live organ accompaniment! Art films from Europe included masterpieces like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and Metropolis, but I highly doubt that Steve would have seen any of them until much, much later, if not until he was introduced to the glory of the Stark video-on-demand collection.

Culture in general - women had just gotten the vote in 1920, and were celebrating their freedom by going to college, smoking in public, wearing short skirts, and cutting their hair. The great cultural flowering of the Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom. Prohibition had banned legal booze but people were drinking in record numbers, often with disastrous results. The Ku Klux Klan was ascendant in many states, and lynching in the South was so common that the NAACP headquarters in New York flew a black flag whenever word came of another incident. Crossword puzzles were ridiculously popular, Charles Lindbergh was a national hero, and the daring ventured in to Chinatown to try that mysterious substance called "chicken chow mein."
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