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Week Fourteen: Rural Electrification


Portland Oregon, 1934. OrHi 13630.
Oregon Historical Society


This week deals with the electrification of rural areas. The Lecture by Professor Wiltse focuses on the building of dams, especially the Fort Peck and Grand Coulee Dams, how electricity was spread in the rural Northwest, and the effects of that electrification.  

Maps & Cityscapes presents maps and images of the dams on the Columbia and Upper Missouri Rivers.  Tribal Perspectives includes interviews, images, and text that consider Indian relationships with rivers, and the results of having those rivers dammed.  

In People and the Humanities, we discuss images and effects of new electrical devices and appliances, the mail-order consumer boom, impressions of dams by Ivan Doig and Woody Guthrie, public art and the Bonneville Dam proposal. Research points you towards oral history projects and their use in the classroom, and, of course, our top reading and viewing picks.

Assignment suggestions for this week’s content include:

  • Some scholars believe that women’s lives became dramatically more simple with the arrival of electrical appliances and that as a result they had more free time to socialize.  Ruth Cowen (listed on our research page) argues that standards of housekeeping and cooking went up proportionally, meaning that women had different kinds of work to do now, but not less of it.  What are the unconsidered negative effects of devices and appliances that become standard in our lives?
  • What was the result of mail-order catalogues on local stores and on local cultures?  Does the internet or the arrival of cable/satellite TV have similar consequences today?
  • These days we hear a lot about globalization, both positive and negative.  What are the roots of globalization in the 1920s and 30s?