Plagues of grasshoppers, thick clouds of red dust, acres of dead crops, and record numbers of foreclosures on family farms—the Dust Bowl of the 1930s brought environmental disasters of biblical proportions to the American Great Plains.
This past summer the U.S. suffered the worst drought in 50 years with one third of the nation declared a federal disaster area. Commentators often saw similarities to the 1930s Dust Bowl.
The Smithsonian Institution and the National Endowment for the Humanities offered a unique opportunity for students across the nation to learn from our past in order to shape a better future. The National Youth Summit on the Dust Bowl on October 17, 2012, invited students to talk about what we have learned from the Dust Bowl and to generate ideas for how each of us can be a responsible environmental steward.
The summit included segments from award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’ NEH-funded film The Dust Bowl and a panel discussion moderated by Huffington Post science editor Cara Santa Maria and featuring Ken Burns, Dust Bowl survivor Cal Crabill, U.S. Department of Agriculture ecologist Debra Peters, fifth-generation farmer Roy Bardole from Rippey, Iowa, and farmer and founder of Anson Mills, Glenn Roberts. Panelists took questions from students in ten cities around the nation, and offer their own perspectives on what history can teach people about their relationship with the environment. Participants were welcomed by NEH Chairman Jim Leach and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
The Dust Bowl  will be presented on PBS over two nights, November 18th and 19th.
The National Youth Summit is an ongoing collaboration between the National Museum of American History, the National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, and museums across the United States in the Smithsonian Affiliations network. More information on the Youth Summit is available at americanhistory.si.edu/nys/dustbowl .