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A History of World Societies, Sixth Edition
Web Exercises
Chapter 31: The Age of Anxiety in the West

As Chapter 29 explained, World War I marked a "great break" in world history. The conflict severely reduced the power and resolve of the Western world. The German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian empires disappeared, Britain went from the world's leading creditor nation to a debtor, and fighting on the Western Front destroyed much of French industry. Chapter 30 traced the developments of powerful nationalist movements in Asia in response to World War I that challenged Western predominance in global affairs. This chapter explores the crisis in confidence that the war provoked within the West. The sheer destructiveness of the war challenged widespread beliefs in the superiority of Western culture and political traditions. Increasingly Westerners questioned long-held beliefs about government, class, industrialism, and capitalism. Western art reflected this anxiety. During the 1920s and 1930s Western societies struggled to deal with these frustrations and to recreate a sense of stability and security that the war had shattered. Chapter 32 will examine why and how these efforts failed. The following Internet exercises will explore the anxieties between World War I and World War II and how Westerners dealt with them.

Helpful Hints:
  • You may want to begin by printing this page. As you explore different sites, use the printout to refer back to the instructions and questions detailed in each activity.
  • On many web sites you can increase the size of the images by clicking on them. Whenever possible, use the larger images to examine fine details in photographs.
Activity One: Activity Two:
  • Go to Classical Music Archives: Stravinsky and listen to the passages from The Rite of Spring. Analyze how this work reflects the new expressiveness of the art world. World War I furthered these trends.
  • For more here, go to The First World War: War Art.  Choose artists from each of the menus on the page (give special attention to the German artists George Grosz and Otto Dix).  Describe the impact of the war on artistic expression. Did it lead to radical departures in the art world, or did it encourage contemporary trends in the art world? Now go to The Metropolitan Museum Special Exhibitions: Painters in Paris, 1895-1950. At the bottom of the page, click "Learn more about this exhibition" and read the text. Be sure to visit the hyperlinks at the bottom of this page.
  • Return to The Metropolitan Museum Special Exhibitions: Painters in Paris, 1895-1950. Click on "View images from this exhibition," and analyze these images. Identify paintings that, in your opinion, exemplify the various schools of modern art emerging in the early twentieth century - expressionism, cubism, abstraction, and surrealism. Try to find one painting that fits in each category, and justify your decision in a brief paragraph. Finally, analyze how these new forms of art challenged nineteenth-century values of progress and reason.
Activity Three:
  • The revolution in the art and music world failed to inspire rapt attention among much of the middle and working classes in the West. Developments in art remained the interest of a distinct minority. The general public instead fell in love with two new mediums of entertainment - movies and the radio. For a history of the early era of motion pictures, go to, and read the sections "The Birth of Film," "The Silent Era," and "The Beginning of the Studio System."
  • Explain the evolution of motion pictures during this time period. What kinds of motion pictures appealed to broad audiences? How did the industry that produced motion pictures evolve? Did producers of motion pictures view their craft as artistic expression or entertainment? McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), p. 1010, states that "the greatest appeal of motion pictures was that they offered ordinary people a temporary escape from the hard realities of international tensions, uncertainty, unemployment, and personal frustrations." For more information on postwar life, see Activity Four.
  • Go to Selected Film Clips of Rudolph Valentino, Buster Keaton: The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Gloria Swanson: PHOTOS. Read the texts, study the images, and watch the film clips where appropriate when visiting these sites. All three of these movie stars were incredibly popular box office draws during the 1920s. Describe the kinds of films they made. Why do you believe these genres had such a broad appeal? Were they realistic or fantastic? How did they allow people to escape the problems they faced in life?
  • Radio provided a similar release. For a history of radio, go to Years and read the text in this detailed timeline. Click on the hyperlinks that will allow you to listen to songs, speeches, and excerpts from radio programming from 1918 to 1939. Be sure to visit all links to Donna Halper's site and listen to the excerpts there. Analyze to what extent the growth of the radio industry paralleled the growth of the motion picture industry. For example, how did the industry that produced radio programs evolve in this time? Why did people tune in to the radio? Did it provide a release from everyday strains much as movies did? What other purposes did radio have besides entertainment?
Activity Four:
  • What were the stresses and strains to which Activity Three alludes? For insight, go to Aftermath: When the Boys Came Home, which explores Great Britain during the 1920s. Within this site, read A Land Fit for Heroes and The Lost Generation: Myth and Reality (be sure to click "continue" and read both pages here). Also view the Gallery. Analyze the problems society faced in postwar Britain. What were economic conditions like? What psychological problems appeared? What was life like for veterans of the war?
Activity Five:
  • The experiences of Great Britain were similar to those of the rest of Europe. Everywhere on the continent governments struggled to restore peace and prosperity. For an overview of this dilemma, see Brad DeLong's essay, Restoring the Pre-World War I Economy. According to this economic historian, what economic dislocations did the war cause? How did the leaders of France, Britain, the United States, and Germany try to remedy them? Why did their efforts fail?
Activity Six:
  • As DeLong's essay in Activity Five explains, the prosperity before the war in the West did not return during the 1920s except in the United States. After 1929, the Great Depression consumed all the economies of the West, including the economy of the United States. For the international dimension of the Great Depression, read the essay at The Great Depression. According to this site, how did the economic slump that began in 1929 in the United States affect Europe? What government policies in the West exacerbated the economic decline? Analyze how the Great Depression challenged traditional assumptions about the economy and government's role in creating economic growth. Summarize your answer to this last task in a brief essay (4-5 paragraphs).
Activity Seven:
  • The depth and duration of the Great Depression forced Western governments to respond with new and innovative strategies. In the United States, this approach was known as the New Deal. For an overview, go to New Deal and read this brief essay. Describe the New Deal and its strategy for meeting the challenges of the Great Depression. What role did government play in the New Deal? Who were most New Deal policies designed to help? What traditional attitudes toward government and its role in people's lives did the New Deal challenge?
  • To further analyze the impact of the New Deal on America, go to Work Progress Administration Projects in Georgia (read the essay at the beginning of this site, and then observe images that interest you), A New Deal for the Arts (read the essays and study the images at all the hyperlinks here), and Brief History of Social Security (click on "historical development"). These web sites examine two very popular programs in the New Deal - the Work Projects Administration (which included federal employment of artists) and Social Security. McKay, A History of World Societies (Sixth Edition), p. 1017, states that the New Deal "marked a profound shift from the traditional stress on family support and community responsibility." Describe how both programs represented this trend. What were the goals of each program? Who were they designed to help? Does the federal government of the United States still engage in efforts such as these? Why do you think the depression led to such programs? Why are they still popular? Summarize your answers in a brief essay.
Activity Eight:
  • The New Deal signaled a clear break from traditional nineteenth-century ideas on economic thought and the role of government. Democratic governments in the West demonstrated similar trends. Many academics and philosophers encouraged Governments to assume broader responsibilities during the 1930s. No scholar had more influence during this time period than John Maynard Keynes, a British economist; for his impact, go to The Keynesian Revolution. Analyze how Keynes challenged traditional assumptions about economic growth and the role of the government in the economy. Why, according to Keynes, was the Great Depression so enduring? What role did he believe that government should play in restoring economic growth? Overall, what role did he urge governments to play in the economy? What older assumptions did he challenge? For example, how did he view balanced budgets, government spending, and interest rates?