It’s the Bee’s Knees: Examining Clashing Cultures in the Roaring Twenties 

roaring twenties
Russell Patterson: Where there’s smoke there’s fire, ca. 1925. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)B

By Ceci Brunning and Jenna Bunnell 

Originally, we were going to do our DBQ project on the emergence of flappers in the 1920s.  However, we decided that this topic was too specific, and thus decided to focus more broadly on the social tensions of the 1920s.  The 1920s were a decade full of controversial changes that some people embraced and others fought.  It was truly a war of cultures, and examining documents from the “Roaring Twenties” exposes how these cultures clashed and what it meant for the future of Americans.

We plan to use a variety of primary sources. These include video clips, which were relatively new in the 1920s.  We also plan to use photographs, samples of literature, and magazine articles.  We chose these types of sources because they are reflective of the popular culture. They include both positive and negative reactions to the shifting societal norms.

scopes trial
Newspaper headline highlighting the Scopes Monkey Trial
  • To what degree was the 1920s defined by a clash of cultures in America?
  • Why did societal norms shift so dramatically after World War I?
  • What societal tensions emerged during the 1920s as a result of societal norms shifting?
  • What groups promoted dramatic change in society? What groups fought to preserve the past?
  • How were tensions between these groups demonstrated?

We see this assignment as the equivalent of a large lab experiment for a historian. We want these students to learn how to examine primary sources and make and argument based on their observations.  The DBQ projects gives students a chance to do this on a larger scale, because it involves so many primary sources.  This is not to say that it is more work, but it is actually an advantage for students because they have more evidence to base their argument off of.  Additionally, it gives students a chance to do what historians do.

We are very excited about this project because the 1920s is a fun, radical, scandalous topic.  There are also a lot of resources out there that we can use to model our DBQ.  One setback is that there are almost too many sources that could work for our topic, so a challenge will be sifting through the sources and determining which ones we want to use.

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