The latest film by Ken Burns airs on WKAR-TV on November 18 and 19, at 8 p.m. and repeating at 10 p.m. each night.
The two-part, four-hour documentary series chronicles the environmental catastrophe that, throughout the 1930s, destroyed the farmlands of the Great Plains, turned prairies into deserts, and unleashed a pattern of massive, deadly dust storms that for many seemed to herald the end of the world. It was the worst human-made ecological disaster in American history.
Cheap Land, Lucrative Market
Until the arrival of European and American settlers in the late nineteenth century, the southern Plains of the United States were predominantly grasslands. The climate made it unsuitable for standard agriculture.
But in the 1900s, offers of cheap public land attracted farmers to the region, and a lucrative new wheat market opened up. Gasoline-powered farm machinery made production faster and easier than ever.
In 1930, with the Great Depression underway, wheat prices collapsed. Rather than cut back on production, desperate farmers harvested even more wheat in an effort to make up for their losses. Fields were left exposed and vulnerable to a drought, which hit in 1932.
A Story of Heroic Perseverance
THE DUST BOWL is also a story of heroic perseverance against enormous odds: families finding ways to survive and hold on to their land, New Deal programs that kept hungry families afloat, and a partnership between government agencies and farmers to develop new farming and conservation methods.
The Dust Bowl chronicles this critical moment in American history in all its complexities and profound human drama. It is part oral history, using compelling interviews of 26 survivors of those hard times—what will probably be the last recorded testimony of the generation that lived through the Dust Bowl.
Filled with seldom seen movie footage, previously unpublished photographs, the songs of Woody Guthrie, and the observations of two remarkable women who left behind eloquent written accounts, the film is also a historical accounting of what happened and why during the 1930s on the southern Plains.
For more about the film, visit The Dust Bowl at PBS.org. You'll find videos and a photo gallery, among other things of interest.