The shockwaves of the "discovery" of culture affected disciplines outside of anthropology, as well. During this period the American Studies movement was born (Nye 40, Stott 130). Debates over culture reached into the historical profession; the theme of the 1939 meeting of the American Historical Association was "The Cultural Approach to History" (Nye 41). As important as these academic transformations were, they do not necessarily tell us much about how these new ideas affected the lives of "average" Americans. Russel Nye proposes that in the 1930s, the term culture, "which only a decade before had been a part of the technical vocabulary of a small group of social scientists, quickly moved into the normal vocabulary; we speak now of "that culture," or "in his culture," and so on, without realizing the relative novelty of the idea the word contains" (40). Plainly speaking, Americans, armed with the idea that there was such a thing as a culture which a community shared in common, became fascinated with refining their understanding of what their culture was. There was a proliferation of public discussions during the period mostly concerned with defining the nature of American culture (Kammen Mystic Chords408). References to a thing called "the American way of life" originate in the 1930s (Susman Culture as History154). The currency of documentary expression derives, in part, from this obsession; Americans were interested in anything that could reflect back to them some insight about common cultural characteristics. Jerre Mangione suggests that even the Communist Party felt some of the pressures of such an intensely self-examinatory thrust; they came up with the slogan "Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism" (49).





Juliet Gorman, May 2001




If that mention of the historical profession sparked your interest, you can explore some of the ideas about history during the 1930s.