Sep. 10th, 2012

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[personal profile] ellid
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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[personal profile] ellid
And we move on to the 1930s, a decade of Depression, fascism, and a whole lot of upheaval throughout the world....

Since Yesterday, by Frederick Lewis Allen - a sequel to Only Yesterday about the upheavals of the 1930s. Not as good, but still useful.

American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work, by Nick Taylor - excellent history of the Works Progress Administration, the government program that put literally millions of Americans back to work doing everything from delivering library books to painting murals in public buildings. Essential for anyone interested in how the Federal Arts Project worked, or why Americans saw FDR as their savior during time of unbelievable want...and remember, according to Marvel canon Steve did work for the FAP for a couple of years late in the decade, so he could have done anything from work on murals to teach at the community art center up in Harlem.

Berlin Diary, by William L. Shirer - Shirer was a foreign correspondence in Berlin and Vienna during the Nazi rise to power, and he knew many of the senior Nazis personally. His loathing for Hitler and his buddies is obvious, but you can't find a better first-hand account of what it was like to see a country invaded by its own government.

Hitlerland, by Andrew Nagorski, and In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson - two books about the experience of Americans encountering the early Nazi party. Nagorski covers the two decades between the end of the Great War and American's final break with Germany in December 1941, while Larson concentrates on an American ambassador and his daughter in 1932 and 1933. The cluelessness of a lot of sharp people who should have known better is terrifying.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck - if there was one literary novel that Steve would have read during this time, it's Steinbeck's masterpiece about the Joads and their hopeless emigration to California. Searing look at the poverty of the Dust Bowl and the plight of the dispossessed.

Pulps - science fiction, horror, romance, confessions, mysteries, adventures, Westerns, what passed for smut, Doc Savage, whole magazines about zeppelins…you name it, there was a pulp magazine devoted to it. Mainly for working class audiences, but some titles were read by the educated public as well.

Music - more blues, more authentic jazz, folk music thanks to Alan Lomax and the WPA, and the brilliant work of George Gershwin and other composers who began building the store of popular song that became the Great American Songbook. Classical music meant Aaron Copland, Gershwin, Ferde Grofe, and a huge number of composers trained by Nadia Boulanger in Paris, as well as the NBC Symphony under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. Best of all, records actually could fit more than three minutes on a side!

Theater - Orson Welles got his start directing a revolutionary all-black Macbeth starring Paul Robeson. Add in Broadway, Hallie Flanagan's Federal Theater Project, socially conscious plays like Waiting for Lefty, and the legendary "perform from the audience" opening night of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock, and it's doubtful that the New York theater scene was ever livelier or more controversial. One thing to keep in mind: the arts scene in general (theater, writing, music, fine arts) was permeated by radical/progressive/Communist/socialist thinking thanks to the rotten economy, the Third International, and the progressive ideals of New Dealers like Hallie Flanagan.

Art - social realism was the trend in America, but Picasso's masterpiece Guernica was a searing reminder of what was going on in Spain. Art Deco was triumphant in buildings like the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, and of course Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, Bernice Abbott, and even Jackson Pollack were active, and the FAP was decorating hospitals, schools, and public buildings across the country. And of course Maxfield Parrish was still painting naked girls on rocks :)

Movies - not only did movies talk, they were increasingly in full color, and ranged from musicals to screwball comedies to melodramas to gangster flicks to science fiction. Possibly the greatest year in movie history was 1939, when America welcomed Gone With The Wind AND The Wizard of Oz AND StagecoachM AND a bleepload of other superb films. On a more ominous note, Leni Riefenstal's magnificent but horrifying Nazi propaganda films Triumph of the Will and Olympiad came out, and scared the pants off of anyone with a brain...and yes, they're both on Youtube.

Culture in general - labor unrest was endemic, including sit-down strikes and plenty of violence directed at both unions and management. The Lindbergh kidnapping was all over the news, especially after accused kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann was captured in the Bronx. Prohibition was repealed and decent alcohol was available again. The Olympics were held in Berlin, and American were delighted when Jesse Owens beat the supposedly superior Aryan athletes of Nazi Germany (even if Owens himself couldn't be served in far too many places in his native land). Monopoly appeared, Father Coughlin and Henry Ford preached anti-Semitism, and the World's Fair attracted visitors to Flushing Meadows. Disaffected veterans marched on Washington to demand their promised bonuses (and were dispersed at bayonet point by, I kid you not, Douglas MacArthur), while college wags formed a group called the Veterans of Future Wars to demand their bonuses now…and despite the isolationism of the early years of the decade, by the late 30s it was becoming increasingly clear that war was coming to Europe courtesy of Hitler, and America would be drawn in. Edward VIII abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and the Allies were spared a national leader who thought Hitler was just a swell guy who only wanted peace (yes, really).


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