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America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Professor Edward T. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross

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America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Course No. 8535
Professor Edward T. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
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4.5 out of 5
37 Reviews
86% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8535
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What Will You Learn?

  • Meet some of the important figures from America's progressive era, including Roosevelt and Carnegie.
  • Look at the cities, technology, and progression of thought that led to a modern culture defined through the Gilded Age.
  • See the explosion of the Suffrage movement and the battle to win the women's right to vote.

Course Overview

America stands at a dramatic crossroads:

  • Massive banks and corporations wield disturbing power.
  • The huge income gap between the 1% and the other 99% grows visibly wider.
  • Astounding new technologies are changing American lives.
  • Conflicts over U.S. military interventionism, the environment, and immigration dominate public debate.

Sound familiar? You might be surprised to know that these headlines were ripped, not from today’s newspaper, but from newspapers over 100 years ago. These and other issues that characterize the early 21st century were also the hallmarks of the transformative periods known as the Gilded Age (1865-1900) and the Progressive Era (1900-1920).

Welcome to one of the most colorful, tumultuous, raucous, and profoundly pivotal epochs in American history. Stretching from the end of the Civil War in 1865 to roughly 1920, this extraordinary time was not only an era of vast and sweeping change—it saw the birth of the United States as we and the world at large now know it.

Before the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, America was a developing nation, with a largely agrarian economy; sharp divisions between North, South, and West; and virtually no role in global affairs. Yet by 1900, within an astonishing 35 years, the U.S. had emerged as the world’s greatest industrial power.

During the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, the U.S. went from “leading by example” and maintaining an isolationist foreign policy to become a major participant in international events, showing itself as a nascent superpower in the Spanish-American War and World War I.

Numerous other events came together during these same periods to create the U.S. that we know now. In a time rife with staggering excess, social unrest, and strident calls for reform, these remarkable events characterized the Gilded Age and Progressive Era:

  • Industrialization directly gave rise to a huge American middle class.
  • New and voluminous waves of immigration added new material to the “melting pot” of U.S. society.
  • A mainly agrarian population became an urban one, witnessing the rise of huge cities.
  • The phenomenon of big business led to the formation of labor unions and the adoption of consumer protections.
  • Electricity, cars, and other technologies forever changed the landscape of American life.

To delve into the catalytic events of these times is to see, with crystal clarity, how the U.S. went from what we now might consider Third World status in the mid-19th century to become the major power it is today. Knowledge of these pivotal eras also provides insightful perspectives on conflicts that dominate our contemporary headlines—from fears surrounding immigration and income inequality to concern for the fate of the environment—and how they were meaningfully addressed in past times.

Now, in the 24 lectures of America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Professor Edward T. O’Donnell of the College of the Holy Cross leads you in a sprawling, multifaceted journey through this uproarious epoch. In taking the measure of six dramatically innovative decades, you’ll investigate the economic, political, and social upheavals that marked these years, as well as the details of daily life and the critical cultural thinking of the times. In the process, you’ll meet robber barons, industrialists, socialites, crusading reformers, inventors, conservationists, women’s suffragists, civil rights activists, and passionate progressives, who together forged a new United States. These engrossing lectures provide a stunning and illuminating portrait of a nation-changing era.

A Republic Transforms

In Professor O’Donnell’s description, “The Gilded Age’s amazing innovation and wealth created the conditions—and mobilized the masses—for the Progressive Era’s social reforms.” Across the span of the lectures, you’ll witness this historical progression through subject matter such as:

  • The Industrial Age and the Rise of Big Business: Follow America’s epic industrial ascent in the 19th century, the emergence of vast corporations and trusts, the making of industrial magnates such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and the transformation of the nation into a consumer society.
  • Revolutionary Technologies and Social Culture: Grasp how steel, electrical power, mass transportation, and recorded sound radically changed American life. Learn about the conspicuous excesses of the new super rich, the lifestyles of the exploding middle class, and the phenomena of American music, spectator sports, and stage entertainment.
  • The Dark Side of Progress: Take account of the devastating social problems that followed advances in industry and technology: extreme income inequality and poverty, graft and political corruption, severe exploitation of industrial workers, rampant labor violence, and the ills of urban crime, squalor, and disease.
  • The Crusade for Rights: Observe how the clash of progress and poverty spurred far-reaching efforts to secure legal rights for the disenfranchised. Study historic activism for workers’ rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and the rights of consumers, and uncover the early and often overlooked struggle for African–Americans’ civil rights.
  • The New American Woman: Track significant changes in the lives of American women, such as major increases in women in the workforce, new public roles for women, the dynamic presence of women in reform initiatives, and the remarkable story of the women’s suffrage movement.
  • The Many Faces of Reform: Study the astonishing spectrum of reform movements that defined the Progressive Era, encompassing:
  • the dramatic unfolding of labor organizing, labor/capital conflict, and reform;
  • urban reforms, from regulation of deplorable tenements to sanitation and social work;
  • historic political reforms, from the ballot initiative to the civil service system;
  • the “busting” of powerful trusts and banking conglomerates; and
  • the conservation of wilderness and the world’s first national parks.

A Fascinating Window on Momentous Times

In his teaching, Professor O’Donnell demonstrates an extraordinarily comprehensive and penetrating knowledge of the eras in question, together with a flair for bringing the human realities of the times alive through powerful storytelling. Among numerous impactful episodes, you’ll witness the monumental moment in 1880 when electric arc lighting first lit American streets, causing men to fall on their knees before what seemed to be “lightning brought down from the heavens.” You’ll relive the events of the heartrending Bread and Roses strike of 1912, the wealth-flaunting gaudiness of Mrs. Vanderbilt’s ball of 1883 (which cost six million dollars in today’s currency), and the storm of suffragist picketers who besieged the White House in 1917.

And you’ll encounter great personalities, whose vision and dynamism symbolized and transformed the temper of their times. In addition to luminaries such as Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, you’ll meet the likes of saloon-busting reformer Carrie Nation, African-American rights activist Ida B. Wells, muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, environmentalist John Muir, and Theodore Roosevelt, whose accomplishments in conservation and economic regulation made him one of the greatest reformers of the times.

In America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, you’ll contemplate profound shifts in American society that marked what is arguably the most significant period of change in our history. These compelling lectures vividly reveal the thinking, the struggles, the conquests, and the triumphs that made the United States the global force it is today.

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24 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    1865: "Bind Up the Nation's Wounds"
    Begin to investigate the key historical forces that characterized the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, and the competing ideals that defined these eras. As a starting point, take account of the U.S. in 1865, and the extraordinary social, political, and economic changes unleashed by the devastation of the Civil War. x
  • 2
    The Reconstruction Revolution
    The era of Reconstruction following the Civil War was a turbulent and divisive period in American life. Learn about governmental policies and legislation that were enacted to safeguard the welfare of former slaves and average citizens, and how these policies were then progressively dismantled, ultimately returning the South to white-dominated rule. x
  • 3
    Buffalo Bill Cody and the Myth of the West
    Examine the complex and fascinating story of the conquest of the American West. First, assess key myths surrounding the West and how it was settled. Explore the motives and realities of westward migration, the components of the western economy, and the conflicts with Native Americans that led to violence and tragedy. x
  • 4
    Smokestack Nation: The Industrial Titans
    Trace the process by which the U.S. rose from developing nation status in 1865 to become the world's greatest industrial power by 1900. Study the unfolding of the American industrial revolution; the advent of big business in the railroad, steel, and oil industries; and the concurrent explosion of consumerism and advertising. x
  • 5
    Andrew Carnegie: The Self-Made Ideal
    This lecture examines the notion of the "self-made man" as it pervaded Gilded Age America. Investigate why this idea took on unprecedented popularity in the 19th century, how it was strongly promoted by figures from Horatio Alger to Andrew Carnegie, and explore how the ideal became entwined with social Darwinism. x
  • 6
    Big Business: Democracy for Sale?
    In the late Gilded Age there was wide agreement that troubling trends threatened the young republic. Explore rising public anxiety over the power of big business and the era's economic inequality, governmental corruption, and violent conflict between labor and capital. Take account of how business leaders responded to critics and reformers. x
  • 7
    The New Immigrants: A New America
    Here, learn how widespread immigration during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era transformed U.S. society. Delve into the diverse factors underlying immigration, and the perceived threats and social problems posed by immigrants. Observe how society at large reacted to the influx, and grasp the ways in which immigrants fundamentally changed the nation. x
  • 8
    Big Cities: The Underbelly Revealed
    The huge growth of cities was a hallmark of the Gilded Age. Study the forces leading to massive urbanization, such as industrialization, migration and immigration, and revolutionary technologies. Then track the serious social problems that resulted, from crime and disease to political corruption, which spurred intense scrutiny from reformers. x
  • 9
    Popular Culture: Jazz, Modern Art, Movies
    Take a wide-ranging look at the transformation of American art and entertainment during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Chart the accomplishments of the Ashcan School of painting and realist fiction. Witness the birth of ragtime, blues, and jazz, and the rise of spectator sports, stage entertainment, and the new medium of film. x
  • 10
    New Technology: Cars, Electricity, Records
    Technological changes in late 19th-century America radically changed the country and the world. Track the evolution of electrical power, and the impact of both electric lighting and electrified machinery. Grasp the economic and social changes brought about by the automobile and the cultural effects of recorded music as big business. x
  • 11
    The 1892 Homestead Strike
    Travel into the world of American workers, and view the poignant social problems that accompanied industrialization. Learn how technological changes in industry affected living conditions for workers, and follow the rise of labor movements, violent strikes, and intense conflict between labor unions and management. x
  • 12
    Morals and Manners: Middle-Class Society
    Discover how the American middle class was a direct product of industrialization and the new employment categories it created. Investigate the key features of the new middle class lifestyle, encompassing suburban living, consumption, and leisure. Also identify defining middle-class values, from respectability and manners to personal hygiene and the "cult of domesticity." x
  • 13
    Mrs. Vanderbilt's Gala Ball
    Take the measure of the new breed of multimillionaire industrialists that emerged in the Gilded Age as a visible public presence. Contrast the earlier American mindset of republican simplicity with the new rich who displayed and flaunted their wealth through vast estates and European-style aristocratic living. x
  • 14
    Populist Revolt: The Grangers and Coxey
    Follow the dramatic rise of the Populist movement, which aimed to address broad economic suffering. In particular, study the phenomenon of the People's Party, a political party that demanded major governmental changes to curb injustice and oppression, lighting a fire that lived on in the reforms of the Progressive Era. x
  • 15
    Rough Riders and the Imperial Dream
    Delve into the complex process by which the U.S. reversed its longstanding policy of isolationism to become actively involved in global affairs. Investigate the core ideas that built a case for American internationalism, as they manifested in the events of the Spanish-American War and the building of the Panama Canal. x
  • 16
    No More Corsets: The New Woman
    The lives of American women changed in far-reaching ways during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Trace late-19th-century social trends that led to more public roles for women and emerging ideas of women's rights. Learn about the women's suffrage movement and its embattled crusade to gain voting rights for women. x
  • 17
    Trust-Busting in the Progressive Era
    Witness how the Progressive movement took shape in the late 19th century, fueled by alarm over the unbridled power of large corporations. Grasp the era's new definition of American economic freedom, and examine actions taken under presidents Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson to dismantle railroad, meatpacking, and oil trusts, and to reform banking and taxation. x
  • 18
    The 1911 Triangle Fire and Reform
    Learn about reformers' efforts to address the miserable living and working conditions of industrial workers, and new labor laws that followed the galvanizing events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the Bread and Roses Strike. Also study the movements to eradicate child labor and to federally regulate food and medicines. x
  • 19
    Theodore Roosevelt, Conservationist
    Trace the origins of the conservation movement in the 19th century, and its early initiatives to establish federal protection of wilderness in the face of staunch opposition from commercial interests. Grasp the astonishing conservation record of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose efforts created a wide spectrum of national parks, wildlife preserves, and national forests. x
  • 20
    Urban Reform: How the Other Half Lives
    Study how progressive reformers responded to the troubles of big cities through urban planning, new thinking about poverty, and the establishment of "settlement houses" and social work to aid the urban poor. Also learn about activism to address alcohol abuse and prostitution, as well as governmental actions to reform housing, urban sanitation, and public health. x
  • 21
    The 17th Amendment: Democracy Restored
    Sweeping progressive reforms changed the face of American politics. Observe how initiatives at the city level began the eventual transformation of urban political machines into players in political reform. Examine major political reforms at the state and federal levels, culminating in the civil service system, popularly elected senators, and voting rights for women. x
  • 22
    Early Civil Rights: Washington or Du Bois?
    Discover how African Americans fought racism and violence in the early 20th century. Study the system of white supremacy called Jim Crow, and its economic, social, and political oppression. Review significant civil rights activism and legal victories that laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. x
  • 23
    Over There: A World Safe for Democracy
    As the Progressive Era ends, follow the complex events that led the United States into World War I. Learn how an initial federal policy of neutrality changed to one of "preparedness" and then intervention, amid conflicting public sentiments and government pro-war propaganda. Also trace the after-effects of the war on U.S. foreign policy. x
  • 24
    Upheaval and the End of an Era
    Finally, take account of the period of national turmoil that followed World War I. Study the wave of labor strikes, anti-radical hysteria, and race riots of the early post-war years. Grasp the economic, political, and social factors that gave way to a climate of renewed isolationism and conservatism during the Roaring 20s. x

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Your professor

Edward T. O'Donnell

About Your Professor

Edward T. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
Dr. Edward T. O'Donnell is Associate Professor of History at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He earned his Ph.D. in American History from Columbia University. Since 2002 Professor O'Donnell has worked extensively with the federal U.S. Department of Education program Teaching American History. He has served as the lead historian for several grants and has led hundreds of workshops and seminars and delivered...
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America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 37.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great To start with I love the great courses. It's been a great way for me to get a deeper understanding of subjects that I either knew about already or subjects that I knew very little of but wanted to learn more. This course was very well done. Sure we all know about the American civil war in some way but what not many of us know is the time after the war up to the 1920's. This course starts right after the civil war and ends just before the 1930's. The course mainly talks about the late 1860's up to 1920 tho, with a little info on the early 1920's. You'll learn about the mega rich in this course and how they affected politics and the working class to make them even more money. Also it explores the myths of the Wild West. The professor was very knowledgable on this subject and also has another great course called "Turning Points in American History" which I haven't see yet but am willing to bet was also very interesting. He prosented this complex subject in a way that was very easy to understand. In fact most of the professors here do an excellent job of doing that. All in all if you were looking to know more about this time period or just thought it sounded interesting you won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2016-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course This was a very interesting and engaging course on the years between the Civil War and WWI. The professor was great, interesting, and used good use of pictures to make points about this era. Very informative and memorable.
Date published: 2016-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good But Incomplete While I found the course interesting, I was confused that certain issues that occurred during this period or influences were not mentioned or explored. For example, while mention is made of President Grant's scandals while in office and the influence on his attention to certain matters, no mention is made of the impeachment of President Johnson and any potential impact on policy. Secondly, the topic of carpetbaggers is not mentioned at all. Perhaps they were not a major influence, but, if not, should have been so noted. Thirdly, in one lecture the impression is left that Americans "invented" Division of Labor with no reference to Adam Smith or William Petty. Regarding William Taft, as i recall he placed 6 Justices on the Supreme Court during his one term as President, the most of any President. No mention is made of the impact these specific appointments had on the era or his rationale for their appointment. Regarding the colonial era, the Spanish American War, etc..., no mention is made of the Monroe Doctrine and any impact that policy made have had in this era. As this policy has influenced American Policy up to this day, I am curious about it's omission. In addition, while race relations in the south are appropriately covered in depth, little insights are provided as to race relations in the north and west. There are a few references but one is left wanting to know more. While there are other items I found of interest not referenced, this is representative of topics. I don't know if these were selectively omitted by the professor to support a point of view, not considered of importance to mention or simply not enough time to reference. However, it raises the question in my mind if other topics were excluded of which I do not have knowledge. With all this said, I did find the course of interest and how many of this issues with which the nation is now wrestling are very much the same we now face. For example, economic disparity & ethnic discrimination (for lack of a better description). The presentation was well organized with a good flow from lecture to lecture. I would recommend the course as it covers a period of time not routinely receiving focus or attention.
Date published: 2016-07-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A disappointment I have been highly pleased with a number of courses from Great Courses. This one is an exception. For space, I have limited my comments only to the early chapters. Mr. O'Donnel uses the first chapter on binding the nation's wound as a preface to the entire course. I think he spends maybe 5 minutes talking about the South. In the second, he asserts two aspects of rebuilding by the nation: feeding southerners and rebuilding railroads. The former did not occur-the south was rural and had to feed itself. He indicated there was TALK of rebuilding railroads as an economic tool but this talk ended in with the 1873 depression. I'm sorry but I do not consider TALK by politicians for 7 years after the war as counting for rebuilding. The only thing actually done was freedmen's schools established by the states and northern charities. Southerners rebuilt their land without help from Washington. O'Donnell cites Mark Twain's 1873 The Gilded Age as reflective of the corruption of the country during that period. He noted Grant's presidency as marred by several scandals and the purchase of senate positions. Yet, when southerners from Virginia to Texas claim corruption and misrule by the carpetbagger state governments, he dismisses such as "propaganda" without elaboration. He notes 600,000 whites joined 700,000 blacks in a republican "interracial democracy" but fails to mention this number was out of a southern population of 8.5 million, of which 2 million were disenfranchised whites in 1865, and which number only grew moderately due over time due to the difficulties of signing amnesty affidavits to vote, counterbalanced by the lack of civil rights of a 'traitor'. He fails to note what a remarkable achievement it was for the South, which just lost a war, could win a ten year war of reconstruction. Further, he admits the racial beliefs of the south became adopted in large part by the North. I do not recall where a similar outcome has ever occurred elsewhere in the world. He ignores how Reconstruction left a legacy of hate in the South for 100 years. He asserts he likes the modern view of the history of the West as including viewpoints of other groups such as the Indians but does not discuss their views - only how their defeat occurred. I believe there was a missed opportunity in the treatment of Mexicans and Spanish in the West. Southerners settled Texas and won their independence but respected the rights and sensibilities of their Spanish/Mexican neighbors. I understand that America was not so respectful in its subsequent acquisition of lands from Mexico. Is this true? What accounted for the change? Unfortunately, O'Donnell never even mentioned the Spanish and former Mexicans in his account of the settlement of the West #or Chinese#. The problem with omissions of facts, major contrary opinions or with personal bias is that you don't know what is being left out when you are not as familiar with a topic. And I like to learn lessons from history. That did not occur here. The professor does present well enough for listening. Overall, if you took American history in college, I do not recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent treatment of an era relevant to today As others have noted, my and my husband's only disappointment about this course was that it isn't long enough. We sighed in unison when the last lecture ended, and of course immediately started discussing which Great Courses series to watch next. Prof. O'Donnell presents a vast amount of material clearly and concisely. It was an era of great change and upheaval, and has an astonishing number of parallels in our current era. If only there were world enough and time to follow up on each and every one of the lectures with a year's reading/viewing! As we watched the course, I couldn't help but think about my forbears living through the events described. My great-grandparents, three of whom I knew, were born about the time of the civil war. My grandparents were born toward the end of the 19th century. My mother, who died in 2015, was born three years before women were finally ceded the right to vote. This is history very close in time to us, and shapes our own era as we struggle with many of the same issues.
Date published: 2016-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from America in the gilded age and progressive era This was my first Great Courses purchase and I love it. The professor explains things in an easy, logical way and does a good job of reminding the listener of the main points. The lectures are a good balance of political and cultural life. It's a great introduction to this period of history.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Standard US Political History Overview This course seemed like a reasonably good, standard, political overview of an exciting time in the national life of the US, it covers the lives of some famous US individuals in some depth, and I don't think you'll go wrong using it as a general and entertaining review. The instructor had an interesting presentation style, he selected an interesting era, and he covered a wide range of subjects without losing his focus or straying too far from the specific lecture topic. I don't think this was a significant improvement over other lectures and review articles, but it seemed like a good consolidated "big picture" overview for someone who wants a simple explanation or a foundation to build on. Yes, here is another excellent Teaching Company alternative to listening to the radio on your daily commute. We used the audio format, and I can't think we missed much by not using video. Well, this will probably cost some positive reader reviews, but .... such a standard overview, alas, often simplistically leaves out the diverse richness and intellectual stimulation of introducing the listener to deeper explanations of complex events and more critical, alternative interpretations. For example, except for the rather mandatory presentation of events leading up to WWI, the course pretty much ignored the significant effects of events in the rest of the world on the US (and it almost completely ignored events in parts of the Americas other than the US) -- it reminded me of the old New York cartoon showing the world fading out beyond the Hudson River. In addition, the course left the distinct impression that the average person's life in the late 19th Century was miserable until political or social reformers came along and single-handedly bettered everyone's lives, like a cowboy on a white horse riding in and cleaning out the bad guys. This leaves out important data, for example, indicating US life expectancy was steadily rising well before Roosevelt and the Progressive Era, and that quality and length of life (in the US and most other nations) correlates pretty well with GDP growth (although the line asymptotically levels off after a certain income level) -- which strongly implies progress was due as much to under-publicized advances in health and industrial efficiency as to the highly-publicized efforts of individual politicians or social heroes. Indeed, the course generally seems to leave out much discussion of important topics like public health improvements. This would be like a course on the Millennial Era, emphasizing the Clintons and the Bushes, but giving short shrift to more universally significant events like the Internet or the battle against AIDS -- this would be a major shortcoming, no matter how entertaining the Clintons and the Bushes may be. You bet, individual politicians and reformers played some part in distributing economic benefits, but let's keep things in perspective (as politically incorrect as this might seem on the surface). Oh, and the author (to the best of my recollection) pretty much leaves out many signifiant non-political events like visual art, literature, etc. At any rate, this is not a bad overview for someone with a general interest in US politics as the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries intersected, but don't expect more than a standard overview that should leave the door open to further investigation. I should add that one of our family enjoyed this more than the other, so our rating approximates an average. If you are interested in this era of the US, though, you should be interested in this series, but perhaps keep in mind the course seems a rather standard overview of a more nuanced, diverse, and complex era.
Date published: 2015-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent coverage of a pivotal period in America I enjoyed Prof O'Donnell's other courses and was eager to take this one; I was very pleased. He covers the post-Civil War era through the early 1920s with care and enthusiasm. I think he hit all of the main themes in politics, culture, and economics, at a good level of detail. If you like American history, take this course.
Date published: 2015-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid look a flawed age The rise of capitalistic industry in any civilization brings with it inequities that must eventually be resolved. Any course worth its salt that includes the British industrial revolution has a segment or three on why it stunk to be poor in the industrial cities of England. Sending little kids off to work in factories for 70 hours a week and beating them multiple times a day is repulsive to the modern mind. Hopefully to any modern capitalistic mind. This course covers the equivalent period in American history, so yes there are necessary lectures about the negatives of capitalism and why socialism and unions became such a big part of the picture. Personally I would have preferred a longer course that included more lectures on the positives of the age, but for a course of its length, it was reasonably balanced. The Professor is quite polished in his delivery and presentation. I did feel that some of the early lectures were trying to tackle too large a subject in too short a time, but in general this works pretty well as a topical course. There were lots of good pictures and illustrations as the graphical team at the Great Courses has definitely kicked up their game a notch in recent years. Some of the lecture would work well in a home schooling environment, others would vary depending on the political views of the parents and the age of the children. The name of the topic and a quick look at the guidebook will tell you what lectures are fine and which to preview.
Date published: 2015-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Course Insightful and Useful for Our Own Time Although this course covers the near past, its many insights and lessons are extremely relevant for today, as we face many of the same challenges as did the inhabitants of this era. The post-Civil War period through the First World War was a time of excitement, innovation, turbulence, injustice, and demands for inclusive justice. Tremendous changes in the very nature of "work" brought about by technological breakthroughs unsettled many, reducing the demand for skilled, well-compensated craftspersons while exposing more unskilled laborers to the long hours, dangerous working conditions, and low pay of industrial factory jobs. While the majority looked on in dismay, a small elite of wealthy financiers and capitalist owners of industrial enterprises profited immensely. Further, the "boom and bust" cycles of unregulated capitalism kept farmers and city workers unbalanced as they repeatedly experienced short periods of abundance more than counter-balanced by lengthy recessions, even depressions, that left tens of thousands unemployed in the cities and many thousands more on the farms newly landless. The response to these changed conditions ranged from pleas for the implementation of social justice through government intervention, to expressions of labor solidarity and collective action through strikes and demonstrations, to acts of violence ranging from isolated bomb-throwing anarchists to strike-breaking efforts by owners to the unleashing of state militia and federal troops on behalf of business and "order." In so many ways, Professor O'Donnell paints scenes that seem -- at the same time -- both oddly contemporary and, yet, distant. The extreme gap between the wealthy elite and the mass of Americans then is echoed by the contemporary rise of the 1%, yet the response of the majority of citizens is very different today than was the case in the 19th century. That century had both a larger, genuinely working class "labor force" than today's highly fragmented "work" environment and, as a consequence, solidarity within and between groups of "workers" was far greater then than now. But when studying the many fears and resentments exhibited towards immigrants in the 19th century, or in listening to the cheerleaders for "untrammeled capitalism" deriding "dangerous communitarian thinking," much seems to have come from today's headlines. One of the greatest uses of history is the lens it can afford us for gaining insights into our own times, including the policy options we face. Much that occurred during the years covered in this course truly merit celebration and praise, even as much that happened -- or was avoided -- deserves commendation. Surely the "price" paid for advancement was needlessly high in terms of the suffering of the poor and underpaid. Surely there is no "need" for a permanent underclass in order for society to prosper. And yet, how do we explain our contemporary odd ennui? Where is our hopeful vision of a "better future for all," and of what would this consist? All in all, this is a course rich with material, fruitful for thought, and relevant as heck for 21st century America. Thanks to Professor O'Donnell and the Teaching Company for another stimulating journey!
Date published: 2015-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course. Great Professor. Totally fascinating and thought provoking from beginning to end. The subject matter puts the periods that came after in total context and is particularly relevant to today's issues. I have taken several Great Courses and this ranks as one of the best. Would like to see more from this Professor.
Date published: 2015-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from History as melodrama - "these guys are villains," It doesn't take long to understand the teacher's political views; ok he is a liberal, fair enough, so are several other professors of teaching company history courses that I have purchased. My take is if you are going to present 24 lectures on a historical period, then you should be entitled to let it be known your personal take. So why is this guy so ineffective? I think it is because it is all about his views. The Americans are raciest imperialists capitalists #synonyms evidently# doing everything they can to keep the "people" down. This gets old quick, and at some point it the attitude overshadows completely the lecture material. This is unfortunate because the Gilded Age is a liberal’s dream cautionary tale on what all can go wrong when business is in control....and unregulated. It does strike me as odd, after about 30 courses into the Teaching Company - that my first review is on the ONLY course I would give a negative review. I promise if I ever wind up with another course that is a complete disappointment I will go the refund route and keep my mouth shut.
Date published: 2015-10-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I Can't Recommend This Course This course covers the period from roughly the end of the Civil War to 1930. The first half covers the Gilded Age, up to around 1900, when America was changing from a primarily agricultural society to an industrial one, with a corresponding shift from farms to cities. This part of the course would have benefited immensely from a more in-depth presentation of the economics behind this shift. There was a change from small enterprises to large companies. What drove that? Did improved distribution provide advantages to companies with economies of scale? Did more sophisticated capital markets provide better access to capital to expand? We will not find out from this course. Similarly, the Gilded Age is almost synonymous with titans of industry such as Carnegie and Rockefeller. They are included, but only briefly. Carnegie has to share a lecture with Horatio Alger. But men had extraordinary careers, that could have taken entire lectures, as they reshaped entire industries. The lecturer's bias is completely on the side of Progressive Era reformers and the big expansion of Federal power they engineered. But the lecturer never makes a good case for what the outrages were that required trust busting. How did Rockefeller come to control over 90% of the petroleum refining capacity in the country? In what way did the trusts harm ordinary Americans? You never hear a word about rent seeking behavior, or external costs in any of the lectures. The 30 minute lecture format imposes limits on the depth with which any topic can be explored. But an economic historian would have done a better job, even within that limit.
Date published: 2015-09-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Title Might Have Told Me What to Expect A great deal of interesting and useful information. However, at any chance the Professor gets, he tends to support any Progressive reforms without exploring alternatives. In many cases he is right, but I would have preferred a little more balance (eg. the Seventeenth Amendment is titled something that suggests it was the restoration of Democracy; it might also be viewed as the death of states rights. That being said, I think the information in the course outweighs the point of view.
Date published: 2015-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough Examination of the US Progressive Era The current political atmosphere in the US is an interesting backdrop for this course. Professor O'Donnell explained that history is the study of surprises. I used to think of history as boring and a review of old facts and figures (from my experience with history courses in high school) but Dr. O'Donnell's presentation shows that history is exciting and we are all made of things that have happened throughout history. I enjoyed the inclusion of how people from all walks of life influenced the political outcomes of the Progressive era. American history comes alive in this course. It's amusing to see Facebook posts from Tea Party folks that extol the corporate power seen in the gilded age. Women's rights are still a major focus of the political landscape today and it was interesting to see in this course how this issue figured in the politics of the time. Voting rights and racism are also central to today's events, and the course highlighted how these factors played out in the Progressive era. The professor inspired me to read more about this era and I also found some very good oral histories were extremely eye opening. I hope that Dr. O'Donnell will teach a course on the period following the Progressive era.
Date published: 2015-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Highly Informative This course on the Progressive Era and Guilded Age is very thorough in describing what those ages were, how they arose, and how they declined. The course is highly engaging and makes sense of a large number of Industrial, economic, and political changes at the time.
Date published: 2015-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A SUPERB COURSE! Having previously taken a university upper division course on the Gilded/Progressive periods, I would rate Professor O'Donnell's lectures on the same subject ten stars, not five. It is superb! The content is comprehensive, thoughtful, and includes discussions of popular culture, a subject too often ignored in survey history courses. In his discussion of specific subjects/issues, he provides background, discusses the subject/issue, followed by the effect or impact of the subject/issue. He covers the essential points and ideas of the important fifty-year period. He is a first class teacher. I also recommend his excellent 'Turning Points' series of lectures. I hope other courses with Professor O'Donnell on the 20th century will be forthcoming. I agree with another reviewer that Professor O'Donnell's course should have been 36 rather than 24 lectures, which raises an important issue often overlooked by critics of these classes. The university course I took consisted of 150 minutes per week over a period of 16 weeks, a total of 2400 required minutes for a three-unit class. The Great Courses lectures are usually 24 and 36 lectures of 30 minutes each, totaling 720 and 1080 minutes respectively. Think of it! The professors must reduce their lectures they teach at the university by one half to two thirds to fit into the format of 720 and 1080 minutes. The materials must be condensed into the bare bone essentials of the subject. The Great Courses were never designed to be comprehensive in the university sense, not were they meant to be. They are simply an 'Introduction' to a subject that one can enlarge upon by readings in the provided bibliographies. In my own case, Professor O'Donnell's course was a 'review' of the period, the detail of which I had forgotten; happily, I learned new things as well.
Date published: 2015-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative Look at 1865-1920 I recommend “America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era” for any student (or just fan) of American History. It is enjoyable (Professor O’Donnell could make a dung study entertaining) and very informative. For some reason the the last half of the nineteenth century gets a bit of a gloss over in most survey courses (my guess is because of the general lack of talent in the White House between Lincoln and Roosevelt). But to understand the vast changes in (and around) America from 1900-1920 one needs to see how we got there. My only complaint – it is too short – it should have been 36 lectures not 24. In some instances fascinating situations, developments and people are not given a more complete discussion, but there is still enough information there to make the course worthwhile. And presented in a way to encourage the viewer/listener to do further study on their own. As with his previous course “Turning Points in American History” O’Donnell presents his material in a very organized fashion with strong emphasis on key points. And yes, he is a bit of a cheerleader for Progressivism – but being the recent decedent of Irish immigrants I would expect that.
Date published: 2015-07-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Entertaining cheerleading As with his course on Turning Pts. in American History, Prof. O'Donnell is an engaging and entertaining lecturer. Making lectures entertaining is an art, and Prof. O'Connor is an artist. In terms of content, however, this course was deeply disappointing. It is more cheerleading than serious history. His analysis of the modern progressivism that arose in this era is as simplistic as it is propagandistic. He repeatedly implies that progressivism was about favoring the "common good" versus the ideological opposition that was only about laissez-faire and selfish individualism, thus reducing a fundamental clash of complex ideas to a simplistic hero versus villain morality play. Prof. O'Donnell fails to explain that progressivism was not a monolithic movement, but was far more complex, consisting of many different elements. It included good-government types who just wanted to clean up corruption in big-city machines. It included social reformers, who wanted to address abuses of industrialization such as child labor and unsafe working conditions. But progressivism also included left-wing elements, many of whom were outright socialists, such as the industrial labor unions and ideologues such as Herbert Croly, who did not want to reform the Founders' republic, but to destroy it and replace it with a centralized government of unlimited power. What Prof. O'Donnell utterly fails to do is give a thoughtful and objective analysis of just how antithetical the ideological progressivism of Croly was to the Founders' principles of limited government and individual freedom. While Crolyite progressives claimed to be dedicated only to achieving "Jeffersonian ends with Hamiltonian means," they were actually bent on eliminating the Founders' constitutional system, which they saw as an obstacle to their agenda, thus they developed the theory of the "living Constitution" as a method of constitutional interpretation. I don't mind that Prof. O'Donnell is a committed modern progressive, that's fine, but the ideological clash between the modern progressivism of Croly and Woodrow Wilson and the principles of the Founders is fascinating and deserves a serious analysis, which is altogether missing from this course. Consistent with his cheerleading for the major progressive figures of this period, Prof. O'Donnell whitewashes the biggest blunder of the Wilson presidency. While he notes that Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 promising to keep America out of World War I and then did the exact opposite after his re-election, Prof. O'Donnell justifies Wilson's cynical reversal with the usual excuses about the Zimmerman Telegram and German submarine warfare. Prof. O'Donnell completely ignores the bitter opposition to American entry into the war from other prominent progressives, such as Randolph Bourne and Wilson's own secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, who resigned earlier blasting Wilson's fake neutrality, and Senator George Norris, who obliterated Wilson's reasons for entering the war in his speech opposing American entry during the debate on the Senate on the war resolution. O'Donnell implies that the only opposition to the war came from Americans of Irish and German ancestry, for obvious reasons. To his credit, Prof. O'Donnell does mention the almost totalitarian effort of the progressive Wilson Administration to suppress the free speech rights of those opposed to the war. Again, Prof. O'Donnell is an entertaining lecturer, perfect for listening to while sitting in the traffic jam. But if you want a serious and objective treatment of this transformative period of American history, look elsewhere.
Date published: 2015-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course. Professor O'Donnell does it again. Just a great course and highly recommend it.
Date published: 2015-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Winner! I listened to this course during my commute to and from work each day over a few weeks and couldn't have been more pleased. I have a tendency to drift off in thought while doing many of the lecture series, so one of my necessary criteria for a full 5 stars is that it holds my attention throughout. This one certainly did. Taking you from the American Civil War up through the roaring 20's, this course details the rise and fall of a largely Libertarian economy that greatly benefitted a select few, but lowered the standard of living for countless more. It was a necessary step in the development of our nation, but it was a painful one, and one from which we learned countless lessons. While the Professor didn't really link the lessons of this era to modern day, it's difficult not to draw parallels with certain aspects of modern life. If you have any interest at all in shoring up your understanding of American History, I highly recommend this as a necessary analysis of a critical time period.
Date published: 2015-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Serious, In-depth History Course It's nice to see The Great Courses release a history course like this which focuses thoroughly and substantially on a relatively narrow slice of history in terms of time and place. It seems like most recent TGC history courses have been something like "Turning Points of Modern/Medieval History," "Survey of the Ancient World," "History of Western/Eastern Civilization," etc. While there is nothing wrong with these courses, if you are somebody like me who has already taken several history classes or has a history degree (I have a minor), these just seem too introductory or entry-level. This is not to say, however, that "America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era" is only for experts or history majors. Professor O'Donnell is an excellent speaker, and this course will appeal to anybody who is interested in this time-period, or American history in general. He is generally fair and insightful towards all members of society (working, middle, and upper classes), as well as to both business and political interests. For those considering whether to buy video or audio, there are enough visuals to justify the video version (and I personally enjoyed watching it); but there isn't anything too critical, and you would be fine with the audio version.
Date published: 2015-06-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Almost a valuable course. These lectures got off to a good start but didn’t take long to expose the political gospels of the Professor. This leaves an image that any Conservative actions of the period were monstrous to the point of cannibalism while Progressive words, deeds and actions are pure and saving of humanity. We get so much political propaganda just trying to access news of our world it would be a welcome relief to spend a few enlightening hours with none.
Date published: 2015-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brings History Alive This course is riveting! I actually wanted my commute to be longer so I could continue listening to the lessons. Prof. O'Donnell is a gifted speaker who uses comparisons/contrasts to our current age, easy-to-understand language, and exceptional examples to bring this exciting period of history alive. I also have purchased Prof. O'Donnell's "Turning Points in American History", and now I look forward to diving into this course as well. I have always enjoyed studying history, but Prof O'Donnell makes it particularly fun and interesting. Can you talk him into creating additional courses???
Date published: 2015-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Are We Still Living in the Gilded Age? As coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, the “Gilded Age” metaphor is the beautiful, gold surface that masks a sordid reality underneath. In the late-nineteenth-century, that image perfectly conveyed the thin veneer of an ideal America set against the underbelly of social, political, and cultural unrest. An examination of the striking contrasts of the Gilded Age is at the heart of twenty-four lectures devoted to an important period of transition in American history. As demonstrated in this series, the years 1865-1920 are a turning point that reflected what the lecturer calls a “major shift” in America’s role as a world power. Professor Edward T. O’Donnell defines the Gilded Age through its dualities and contradictions. The lecturer pinpoints the Spanish-American War as the critical moment when the United States became enmeshed with other nations on the world stage. On the surface, America sought to model a benign paternalism in taking care of less fortunate nations. But at its core, American imperialism was no less ruthless than the practices of the European nations. In a Great Courses podcast (Episode 29 on “The Torch”) featuring Professor O’Donnell, the professor asserts of Theodore Roosevelt that “I sometimes call this the age of Theodore Roosevelt…He’s everywhere, often sometimes in contradictory ways.” In his lifetime, Roosevelt was frequently associated with the word "bully," which reflects another Gilded Age paradox. On the surface, "bully" is an idiom for superb or wonderful, but the more important meaning denotes one who uses strength to intimidate those who are weaker. In his contradictions, Teddy Roosevelt was the poster boy of the Gilded Age. Roosevelt was held in such contempt by Mark Twain that when they once appeared together at a public gathering, Twain refused to speak to the president. Twain publicly denounced the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to Roosevelt in 1906 for his efforts in negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. There is no greater Gilded Age/Progressive Era contradiction than this award. Long before receiving that prestigious prize, Roosevelt was the spokesman for a new militarism and the drive for interventionism that came to dominate America’s transformative role as an international policeman. Roosevelt’s overt yearning for war helped to spark America’s new bellicose identity, as apparent in one of Roosevelt's famous public outcries, which was quoted by the lecturer: “I rather hope the fight will come soon. The clamor of the peace faction has convinced me that this country needs a war.” Through the yellow journalism of Hearst and Pulitzer, Roosevelt was aided in his efforts to lobby for the war against Spain. Along with the military victory in Cuba, there was the conquest of the Philippines--not out of concern for the Filipino people, but for American economic and geopolitical interests. The "gunboat diplomacy" against the nation of Columbia secured American hegemony in the Panama Canal region for the next hundred years. Once the commitment to interventionism and wars abroad was firmly in place, there was no turning back. The iconic moment is Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill in Cuba. At this instant in the Gilded Age, the seeds were sown for America's steady march to becoming a global powerhouse. The ramifications in Cuba would extend to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s. As the story of the Gilded Age blended into the Progressive Era, the baton was passed to Woodrow Wilson, who steered America into World War I. In There were no polls that provide us with raw data on how Americans genuinely felt when Congress formally declared war on April 6, 1917. But we know for certain that on November 7, 1916, the American people had elected Wilson to a second term in office on the platform of “He Kept Us Out of War.” Less than than five months later and through the sheer willpower and determination of Woodrow Wilson, America had entered the Great War. Professor O'Donnell describes that at the time of mobilization, President Wilson implemented an enormous propaganda campaign centered around George Creel’s Committee on Public Information, the inculcation of Americans through the speeches of the Four-Minute Men, and a prodigious outpouring of songs, slogans, and posters designed to promote the war. One of those posters, which is printed in the Course Guidebook, depicts an enormous gorilla carrying off a maiden in his clutches. The caption reads, “Destroy This Mad Brute.” The gorilla is wearing the headgear of the German army, and the poster's succinct message appears at the bottom: "Enlist." If there was any opposition to the war, it was silenced by Wilson’s 1917 Espionage Act and its corollary, the Sedition Act, which were designed to repress any dissent about the war effort in toto. As the professor indicates throughout these lectures, the America of 1865-1920 is a virtual mirror of our own age. In his lecture entitled “Rough Riders and the Imperial Dream,” Professor O’Donnell traces a precise chronology from San Juan Hill to Manilla Bay to World War I to World War II to Korea to Vietnam, to the two Persian Gulf Wars. In the year 2001, a posthumous Medal of Honor, the United States' highest military award, was bestowed on a famous American, whose iconic image graces Mount Rushmore: Theodore Roosevelt. It would be difficult to find a topic more relevant today for American citizens than an understanding of the historical period covered in this course. The Gilded Age is still alive and well in the twenty-first century. Course Grade: A
Date published: 2015-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor O’Donnell has done it again! Professor O’Donnell has done it again! America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era was a joy to watch from start to finish. I have found this period to be a fascinating one for several reasons. First, it was the period in which America reached its maturity as an industrialized republic. The Progressive Era saw the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, one of my all time favorite presidents and a man I would love to have dinner with. Ragtime, one of my favorite novels and Broadway musicals, is set during the Progressive Era. On a personal note, I had ancestors who came to American through Ellis Island looking for economic opportunity. Finishing the course, I realized with great clarity how similar the late 19th and Early 20th Century is much like out own. Huge national corporations held vast wealth and power, allowing them to influence government policy in their favor at the expense of the American populace. Environmental issues still are a major concern for many Americans, who see just how beautiful America is. Life changing technologies, electricity and automobiles in the 19th and computers in the 21st, revolutionized the lives of millions and changed the face of the world. One issue that has carried over to today has been the belief that the United States had an obligation to protect and promote republican democracy using military power. While noble as those aims might have seemed at first, they have lead to disastrous conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq as well as American involvement in the first two World Wars. Professor O’Donnell one again proves to be a master lecturer. His knowledge of the period is vast and provided me with a more thorough understanding of these two time periods. O’Donnell has many fascinating an insightful anecdotes from the period. Here is one I love: Theodore Roosevelt walked into a saloon when he was out West and ordered a cup of Maxwell House coffee. Upon finishing it, he declared that it “was good till the last drop.” That soon became the slogan for Maxwell House coffee. He is the American history teacher you wish you had. I cannot wait to see what else he will do.
Date published: 2015-05-19
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