This is the story of a country in which immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries huddled in cramped tenement apartments lit by hazardous kerosene lamps. And a country that, little more than a half-century later, renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith described as "The Affluent Society."
This is the chronicle of a nation that enslaved a race of people. And of a nation that fought a Civil War that freed its slaves, and outlawed segregation and discrimination.
This is history shaped by Revolutionary War and Vietnam, Thomas Jefferson and William Jefferson Clinton, Puritanism and Feminism, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jamestown and Disneyland, Harpers Ferry and Henry Ford, oil wells and Orson Welles.
This is a review of the extraordinary blend of people, ideas, inventions, and events that comprise The History of the United States. In this seven-part, 84-lecture series, three noted historians and lecturers—two of whom teach other popular Teaching Company courses—present the nation's past through their areas of special interest.
Three Outstanding Instructors in this Sweeping Series
This comprehensive presentation is provided by three award-winning professors:
- Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era, Professor of History at Gettysburg College, and former Dean of Templeton Honors College at Eastern University. He examines the beginnings of European settlement through the Great Compromise of 1850. His teaching awards include the Dean's Award for Distinguished Graduate Teaching from the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent book, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President , won the Lincoln Prize and the Book Prize of the Abraham Lincoln Institute of the Mid-Atlantic.
- Dr. Gary W. Gallagher is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia and a top Civil War expert. He presents the pre-Civil War period through Reconstruction. His teaching, which includes personal guided tours of major battlefields, has consistently won high praise from students, and he is a frequent lecturer and author. He also teaches the Great Course The American Civil War.
- Dr. Patrick N. Allitt, Professor of History at Emory University, discusses 19th-century industrialization through the early 21st century. In 2000 he was appointed to the National Endowment for the Humanities/Arthur Blank Professorship of Teaching in the Humanities, and recently received the Emory Center for Teaching and Curriculum's Excellence in Teaching Award. He also teaches The Great Courses Victorian Britain and American Religious History.
With their guidance you will follow, as they unfold over time, the factors that have enabled the United States to become the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful democratic republic in history. These factors include its:
- Sense of confidence, national destiny, and exceptionalism
- Religiosity and belief in virtue
- Abundance of natural resources and entrepreneurial talent
- Ability to accept a diverse array of immigrants
- Success in turning the theory of democracy into reality.
What You Will Learn: A Voyage of Discovery
In the opening lecture, Professor Guelzo describes the course as "a voyage of discovery. Not a voyage to another continent or another hemisphere or even a trip to another planet, but to something which may be even stranger, and that is the history of the United States."
You will explore a past America often very different from what you were taught about or have imagined.
You will understand historical fact versus fiction when it comes to figures as diverse as:
Jacques Cartier. As early as 1534, he was "surprised to sight Indians, along what he thought was an unexplored Atlantic coastline, waving furs on sticks as an invitation for the Europeans to come down to the beach and trade."
James Monroe and Robert Livingston . They made the Louisiana Purchase, the greatest real estate deal in history, without approval from then-President Thomas Jefferson (they had no time to tell him). Jefferson, in turn, had no constitutional authority to make the treaty of cession that finalized the purchase. He sent the document to the Senate with the comment, "The less we say about Constitutional difficulties the better."
Carrie Nation. The savvy temperance advocate hired a publicity manager to arrange media coverage before she invaded and smashed up a saloon. She even sold autographed copies of the axes she used.
Isaac Singer. The sewing machine magnate pioneered now universal business techniques such as installment plan payments and nationwide advertising.
You will learn:
- The most influential novel in U.S. history (hint: its female author once met Abraham Lincoln)
- Why the west side became the best place to live in many older U.S. cities (prevailing winds blew smoke and fumes away from you)
- What the book The Wizard of Oz was really about (the election of 1896).
Reading History "Forward"
An additional benefit of this course is that, as they present U.S. history, Professors Guelzo, Gallagher, and Allitt also provide a mini-course on teaching and learning history in general.
They convey a variety of highly useful lessons on how to think about history, place it in a proper perspective, and understand it accurately. These include an emphasis on the social and political context in which vital decisions were made and events took place, and an ability to take both the short-term and long-term views of issues.
In his lectures on the Civil War and Reconstruction, Professor Gallagher warns that the fact that we know how history turned out, that we "read history backward," often distorts our understanding. Repeatedly, he reminds you to "read forward, not backward" to try to understand how people of the times experienced events as they unfolded.
Successes too Often Taken for Granted
Professor Allitt reflects on the aspects of U.S. history that make it unique and noteworthy, and that indicate the degree the nation has lived up to its ideals. He notes that America may fall short of its own high standards, "but compared to the other nations of the world, America was far more impressive for its successes than for its failings."
Some of these successes, Professor Allitt adds, are so obvious that we often fail to recognize them. The United States has achieved an exceptional degree of political stability and internal civil peace for a very long time. "We're so familiar with it that it's easy to forget how rare it is," Professor Allitt notes.
This is one of the many vital and often overlooked aspects of U.S. history that this course will help you to appreciate. Throughout the nation's existence, even during the Civil War, democracy has always worked. Elections have always taken place, the losers have always accepted that they have lost and left office, and the military has never tried to overthrow the civilian government.
Perhaps this is a legacy of the most popular and revered American ever, George Washington.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, some of Washington's officers suggested that the Continental Army should take over the country and make him the first King of America. Washington flatly rejected the offer, resigned his commission, and rode off to his home in Mount Vernon.
The notion that anyone could refuse power in this manner shocked Britain's King George III. "If this is true," the king said, "then he is the greatest man of the age."