Created and hosted by historian and Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Ted Widmer, "The Crack-Up" is a special podcast series about the events of 1919, a turbulent year that in many ways shaped the 20th century and the modern world.
Widmer is working with The New York Times on a series of long features on the legacy of 1919 and these podcasts are designed to complement the articles by interviewing each of the authors.
Why 1919 and why the title "The Crack-Up"?
"1919 is not a year that jumps out at most people," says Widmer. "It's not one of those big years like 1776, or 1861, or 1945. But if you look closely, a lot is happening. On the surface, the United States is extremely successful, and far less damaged than the great powers of Europe. But below the surface, the country is in turmoil in a lot of ways.
"There are deep disagreements over the role of the U.S. in the world. Large numbers of Americans find Wilson's rhetoric about 'democracy' inconsistent—especially African-Americans. Women are moving toward the vote, but are far from full equality. Cities are thriving, and Hollywood is booming, but conservative forces are also very strong, as we can see from Prohibition, and the heavy hand of government suppression on free speech. Around the world, populations are hoping to build democracies of their own, but the great powers are often ambivalent. So it's fascinating to look closely at all of these tensions in a world that loves the word 'democracy' but has a lot of trouble living up to it."
As for the title "The Crack-Up," it comes from an essay of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, where he wrote, The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
"I thought that was a lot like America in 1919," says Widmer. "On the one hand the country was racing forward and on the other there was a deep division between the fast pace of cities and the slower, more traditional rural America, just as we have today. In fact, there are many parallels between 1919 and 2019, which I look forward to exploring in this series over the course of the year."
Series to date:
The Early Days of Hollywood, with David Bordwell
Ireland's Quest for Self-Determination, with Christopher L. Pastore
Prohibition, Immigration, and the Klan, with Lisa McGirr
Teddy Roosevelt's Complicated Legacy, with Patty O'Toole
See also excerpts from Alex Woodson's video interview with Ted Widmer about the series and his Global Ethics Weekly podcast with Widmer about 1919.