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Historian Discovers Positive Lessons, Community Values From Great Depression

Great Depression historian Robert McElvaine found that economic downturns can lead people away from conspicuous consumption to a more community-oriented way of life.

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    We close with another report in Paul Solman's series on making sense of the financial crisis. Tonight, the reflections of a historian with an unusual take on the crisis of the 1930s.

  • PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour Economics Correspondent:

    Great Depression historian Robert McElvaine. Given today's chaos, we asked him to reflect on the ethos of the '30s, uninterrupted.

  • ROBERT MCELVAINE, Great Depression Expert:

    I'm Robert McElvaine. I teach history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and the author of 10 books, five of them, I believe, on the Great Depression. So, unfortunately, I'm in high demand these days.

    The first book that I did, "Down and Out in the Great Depression," is a collection of letters that people wrote mostly to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. And there was this enormous outpouring; like 15 million people wrote letters to the president and first lady. And you see over and over again in there this idea that they can get by with less, we need to share with other people.