American Identity

Course No. 8540
Professor Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 8540
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Course Overview

What defines an American? Is it the love of liberty, the pursuit of justice, the urge to invent, the desire for wealth, the drive to explore, the quest for spiritual values? The paradox of the American identity is that although the United States is a melting pot of many different traditions, motives, and ideals, there are nevertheless distinctive qualities that define the American character

In this course, historian Patrick N. Allitt investigates the national character by introducing you to notable Americans from all eras of the nation's history, whose lives speak eloquently about the qualities that make one truly American.

Focusing on various character traits and attitudes that have indelibly shaped the national psyche, Dr. Allitt takes you on a journey from the very first settlers to the present, showing how certain characteristics have been passed down through time, and also how certain traits and beliefs have changed over time.

You will learn about the famous (like Thomas Jefferson), the infamous (like Al Capone), and the relatively unknown (like Emma Goldman). Each person covered in this course manifests certain characteristics that are quintessentially part of the American identity, or reveal some underlying aspect of the American identity.

A Deeper Understanding of Trends and Ideas

The figures in these lectures led fascinating lives. And while the course is enjoyable simply as a well-told series of biographies, it does much more, helping you gain a deeper understanding of the trends and ideas that shaped America and that continue to influence American society today. For example:

  • The 17th-century Puritan leader Cotton Mather is the spiritual ancestor of today's vogue for political correctness, which Professor Allitt sees as a secular transfiguration of the Puritan belief that you can think, do, and say the right things and gradually get rid of the wrong things.
  • The Civil War-era landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted combined public park construction and anti-slavery advocacy, spurred by the conviction that each contributed to fulfilling his ideal of a society where citizens are free, educated, genteel, and able to maintain contact with rural conditions.
  • The late 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie helped create a pattern of philanthropy in which business leaders who succeeded by ruthless methods sanitized their reputations by endowing universities and other institutions. "It wasn't a trend which was taking place elsewhere in the world," says Professor Allitt.
  • The 20th-century columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., was among the first Americans to take pride in the conservative label, which Americans had long resisted attaching to themselves. Buckley transformed the image and idiom of conservatism, with consequences that persist into the 21st century.

What You Will Learn

Each lecture in this course takes as its subject a single individual or pair of individuals. Each person is then treated in terms of a particular activity, which is reflected in the lecture's subtitle: for example, "Frederick Douglass—The Abolitionist" or "Samuel Gompers—The Trade Unionist." The four parts of the course follow a roughly chronological pattern:

Part I introduces a series of powerful figures from colonial America, who imparted their imaginativeness, forcefulness, and energy to the American tradition. Among them are the explorer and colonial founder John Smith; the religious liberty advocate, Quaker, and colonial founder William Penn; the great Puritan intellectual Cotton Mather; and the astonishing 18th-century polymath Benjamin Franklin. This part climaxes with the revolutionary generation and the men and women who had to make the difficult transition from being British subjects to being American citizens. Some among them, such as First Lady Abigail Adams, set the tone and style for a long line of successors.

Part II considers influential Americans of the early 19th century, many of whom were involved in the great controversy over whether the nation would maintain or overthrow the slave system, and who collectively energized the young republic's astonishing economic growth. Two writers from this group, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott, bear witness to the maturing of a distinctive American literary and philosophical culture.

Part III picks up the story after the convulsions of the Civil War, highlighting the men and women who turned America into a first-class industrial nation dedicated to sustained economic growth, and who enabled the republic to stretch, in reality rather than just aspiration, from ocean to ocean.

Part IV shows how America's diversity flowered in the mid-20th century, as new waves of immigrants were assimilated and began to play a role in every facet of national life. This was also a time when America developed a global reach, personified in such international heroes as aviator Charles Lindbergh, such war leaders as General Douglas MacArthur, and such international cultural stars as Duke Ellington and Leonard Bernstein.

The American Character Exemplified

There are countless examples of how these individuals embody distinctly American traits. Here are some of them:

  • Lack of Fatalism: Louisa May Alcott volunteered as a nurse in a Civil War hospital, where she contracted typhoid fever and was crippled for life from the mercury used to treat her. Nonetheless, she kept writing to support her family and pay off her father's debts. Her most beloved book, Little Women, emerged from this difficult period.
  • Energetic Approach to Problem-solving: Benjamin Franklin was inspired by a firewood shortage in Philadelphia to invent a more efficient source of heat: the Franklin stove. His clever marketing campaign for the invention displays another American characteristic: boundless self-confidence.
  • Faith in Economic Growth: Andrew Carnegie made a fortune in various industries before devoting himself full time to steel, seeing its limitless potential. It was then that he said, "Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket!"
  • Dedication to Education: When Horace Mann was named secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1837, he encountered a school system in decay. By the time he left the job 12 years later, he had laid the foundation for universal compulsory schooling that would be a model for all other states.
  • Devotion to Religious Liberty: The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which Thomas Jefferson drafted in 1786, was one of his proudest accomplishments, which he classed even above his two terms as president of the United States. The statute was the foundation for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • Belief in Equality: When Abigail Adams asked her husband, John Adams, to "remember the ladies" as he worked to establish the new American nation, she was speaking partly in jest. But her feminist heirs were serious. In the 20th century Betty Friedan sought to give women real equality and real democratic access, rather than the outward legal shell of these rights.

You May Even Recognize Yourself

This is a course that is descriptive of the American character, rather than prescriptive; Professor Allitt emphasizes that one need not have certain characteristics in order to be really American. Nonetheless, if you are an American, you will probably find that you share basic attitudes and beliefs with many of the individuals featured in these lectures. This is no accident. One of the lessons of the course is that habits of mind that you may take for grantedùoptimism, self-reliance, and belief in education, among others—are specifically American in outlook and have been developed through the success of these and other like-minded individuals throughout American history.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Being American
    This course profiles 48 notable Americans whose lives and accomplishments help define the national identity. In his introductory lecture, Professor Allitt highlights characteristics that are distinctly American, while noting that these traits are neither prescriptive nor unchanging. x
  • 2
    John Smith—The Colonial Promoter
    Famous for being saved from execution by Pocahontas (which may not have happened), John Smith was a talented soldier, explorer, mapmaker, colonizer, and writer whose career heralds what would become the American approach to Indian policy, meritocracy, and frontier settlement. x
  • 3
    William Penn—The Religious Liberty Advocate
    Religious freedom is so central to the American way of life that it's difficult to recall what a radical notion it once appeared to be. William Penn is one of the first great advocates for making America a land of religious liberty where everyone is free to worship in his or her own way. x
  • 4
    Cotton Mather—The Puritan
    A ferociously devout Puritan, Cotton Mather is famous for his role in the Salem Witch trials and for introducing smallpox inoculations to Boston. To some, he represents Puritanism at it worst; others praise his high moral standards and constant attempts to root out corruption and decadence. x
  • 5
    Benjamin Franklin—The Improver
    American history is full of people trying to improve things, none more so than Benjamin Franklin. Born in humble circumstances, his success as a printer, writer, scientist, and public servant made him admired worldwide, proving that upward social and economic mobility was an American reality. x
  • 6
    Francis Marion—The Guerrilla Soldier
    Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox," helped preserve the possibility of American independence in one of the most treacherous campaigns of the Revolutionary War. His style of irregular warfare inspired tactics used later against the Indians and during the Civil War. x
  • 7
    Thomas Jefferson—The Patriot
    A striking aspect of American nationalism is its self-critical character, in which Thomas Jefferson leads the way. He was not only proud of the U.S. and its revolutionary accomplishments but also anguished about its imperfections, especially the blight of slavery, which he knew well as a slaveholder himself. x
  • 8
    Abigail Adams—The First Lady
    A minister's daughter full of the Yankee virtues of prudence, thrift, hard work, and sobriety, Abigail Adams was wife to the second U.S. president, John Adams. Along with Martha Washington, she helped create the pattern that American first ladies have followed throughout much of the last 200 years. x
  • 9
    Mother Ann Lee—The Religious Founder
    Religious innovation is one of the most distinctive aspects of the American identity. We look at Ann Lee, the principal founder of the Shakers, whose demand for absolute celibacy meant that no one would ever be born to Shaker parents and that recruits would have to live a life of heroic self-discipline. x
  • 10
    Rittenhouse and Bartram—The Scientists
    American preeminence in science did not come until the 20th century, but there were notable American scientists in the nation's early years, among them astronomer David Rittenhouse and naturalist William Bartram. Relatively unknown today, they had worldwide reputations in the late 18th century. x
  • 11
    Eli Whitney—The Inventor
    A distinctive aspect of the American identity is the ability to make practical new devices and put them to profitable use. A famous example is Eli Whitney, whose greatest invention, the cotton gin, was almost too useful, and the bargain he tried to drive was almost too hard. x
  • 12
    Lewis and Clark—The Explorers
    The most illustrious explorers in American history, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a three-year expedition to explore the Missouri river and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. Their work laid the foundation for the nation's subsequent westward expansion. x
  • 13
    Charles Grandison Finney—The Revivalist
    Charles Grandison Finney helped create the revivalist evangelical style in America in the 19th century, which emphasized a brighter theological message than that of traditional Calvinism. He was also a central figure in Christian education and in the movement to abolish slavery. x
  • 14
    Horace Mann—The Educator
    No American characteristic is more striking to outsiders than the nation's commitment to education. Horace Mann created America's first statewide public school system in Massachusetts, which became a model for other states and led to today's system of universal education for all. x
  • 15
    Ralph Waldo Emerson—The Philosopher
    Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading figure among the Transcendentalists, an idealistic group of philosophical and social radicals in pre-Civil War New England. His lectures and essays made him the most famous American thinker of his era, at home and in Europe. x
  • 16
    Frederick Douglass—The Abolitionist
    The growing anti-slavery movement in the 1850s found an eloquent spokesman in Frederick Douglass, a former slave who had escaped from bondage. His moving autobiography and electrifying oratory energized abolitionists and helped precipitate the crisis of the union. x
  • 17
    Edmund Ruffin—The Champion of Slavery
    American history is full of dramatic contradictions, none more so than Edmund Ruffin. The father of scientific agriculture, he argued for a wide array of enlightened farming practices. At the same time, he was a passionate advocate of slavery and may have fired the first shot in the Civil War. x
  • 18
    Brigham Young—The Religious Autocrat
    In the 1840s, Brigham Young led the faithful of the new Mormon Church on a spectacular transcontinental journey to escape persecution in the U.S. Settling in what is now Utah, Young transformed desert land into irrigated farms and established a tightly regulated community that has flourished ever since. x
  • 19
    Frederick Law Olmsted—The Landscape Architect
    America's first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, was the maker of large urban parks in dozens of cities, including Central Park in New York. He combined this career with a commitment to the antislavery cause. During the Civil War he headed the Sanitary Commission, an important aid organization. x
  • 20
    William Tecumseh Sherman—The General
    William T. Sherman represents what became the typical American style of warfare, bringing overwhelming force against the enemy and battering it into submission. His destructive campaign against the South during the Civil War made him one of the most controversial people in American history. x
  • 21
    Louisa May Alcott—The Professional Writer
    Daughter of an unworldly New England Transcendentalist, Louisa May Alcott got her family out of debt by becoming a prolific novelist. Little Women, a fictional transfiguration of her own childhood, became a classic almost at once and has remained one since its publication in 1868. x
  • 22
    Andrew Carnegie—Conscience-Stricken Entrepreneur
    Born poor in Scotland, Andrew Carnegie found economic opportunity in the U.S. and became one of the richest men in the world. Not content with piling up wealth for its own sake, he became a leading philanthropist. His altruistic "gospel of wealth" influenced generations of Americans. x
  • 23
    “Buffalo Bill”—The Westerner
    Images of the Wild West have long held a treasured place in Americans' conception of their nation, and few people did more to nourish them than "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Famous for staging fictionalized versions of his exploits, he occasionally returned to the field to rack up more adventures. x
  • 24
    Black Elk—The Holy Man
    Black Elk belonged to the last generation of Sioux that lived a semi-nomadic life on the plains, dependent on buffalo hunting. At age 13 he was present at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He experienced a powerful vision as a child and devoted his life to offering spiritual guidance to his people. x
  • 25
    John Wesley Powell—The Desert Theorist
    John Wesley Powell was the first man to travel the length of the Grand Canyon in a boat. He learned the languages of the desert Indians and became a leading anthropologist. At the U.S. Geological Survey, he proposed a dramatic and novel solution to the chronic problem of water shortage in the West. x
  • 26
    William Mulholland—The Water Engineer
    William Mulholland used fair means and foul to engineer an ample water supply for Los Angeles, showing that cities could flourish in the desert southwest of the U.S. His reputation was ruined in 1928 when the St. Francis Dam, whose building he had supervised, burst and killed 500 people. x
  • 27
    Samuel Gompers—The Trade Unionist
    A founder of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers was a hero to millions of American workers. He embodied their demands that their dignity as independent citizens be preserved, that they be paid decent wages, work in safe conditions, and enjoy job security. x
  • 28
    Booker T. Washington—The "Race Leader"
    Booker T. Washington is one of America's greatest success stories. Born a slave, he rose to a position of wealth and influence as an educator and race leader. However he was criticized for failing to speak out against worsening segregation, lynching, and other violations of African-American rights. x
  • 29
    Emma Goldman—The Anarchist
    One of the best-known anarchists in American history, Emma Goldman was widely feared and hated during her lifetime. She has since become one of the nation's most popular women. Aside from her radical political views, she believed in free love, birth control, abortion, and women's rights. x
  • 30
    Abraham Cahan—The Immigrants' Advocate
    Immigrating to New York as a young man, Abraham Cahan founded the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward to help fellow immigrants adapt to American ways. He also became a widely admired novelist, notably for his semi-autobiographical novel, The Rise of David Levinsky. x
  • 31
    Isabella Stewart Gardner—The Collector
    Many of the great American art collections were established in the late 19th century. None carries a more distinctive stamp than that of Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston, who showed a lifelong capacity for intellectual growth and eccentric high style. x
  • 32
    Oliver Wendell Holmes—The Jurist
    Arguably the greatest of all Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes joined the court in 1902 at age 61. He served until 1932, aged 91, during which he wrote many influential opinions reflecting his "legal realism" philosophy: "The life of the law has not been logic. It has been experience." x
  • 33
    Henry Ford—The Mass Producer
    The first automobiles were toys for the rich, but Henry Ford's Model T, introduced in 1908, came steadily down in price and by 1915 was affordable to ordinary citizens. Ford pioneered in paying high wages to workers to ensure a stable workforce and to enable his men to buy the cars they were building. x
  • 34
    Harry Houdini—The Sensationalist
    Magician Harry Houdini developed the ability to escape from apparently impossible situations. Understanding the need to promote his acts, he adapted well to the demands of 20th-century publicity and demonstrated that show business could make a talented performer into a wealthy and influential man. x
  • 35
    Al Capone—The Crime Boss
    Prohibition did little to stem the market for alcoholic beverages, and Al Capone stepped in to meet the demand. Considering himself a "businessman," he organized a crime empire that dominated Chicago, corrupting officials at every level and in every department. x
  • 36
    Herbert Hoover—The Humanitarian
    A successful mining engineer, Herbert Hoover achieved an international reputation for his humanitarian work during and after World War I. He was one of the most widely admired men in America when he was elected president in 1928, but the Great Depression took him by surprise. x
  • 37
    Helen Keller—The Inspiration
    Helen Keller was struck blind and deaf by scarlet fever before her second birthday. Under the care of a gifted teacher, Anne Sullivan, she learned to read, write, and make sense of the world around her. She went on to a life of advocacy for the blind, women's suffrage, socialism, and other public causes. x
  • 38
    Duke Ellington—The Jazzman
    Before 1900, America had made few contributions to the world's musical heritage. This changed with jazz, particularly with the career of Duke Ellington. His rise to fame was aided not only by his superb musical skills but by the advent of radio and the phonograph, which helped spread his music. x
  • 39
    Charles Lindbergh—The Aviator
    Charles Lindbergh became world famous for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. His later life was beset with personal and political difficulties. Nonetheless, he remains an American icon whose heroic act linked personal willpower and technical mastery. x
  • 40
    Douglas MacArthur—The World-Power Warrior
    Douglas MacArthur was a larger-than-life army commander ideally suited to America's role as a superpower. After performing brilliantly in World Wars I and II and the Korean War, he was dismissed by President Truman for publicly challenging the tradition of civilian control over military decisions. x
  • 41
    Leonard Bernstein—The Musical Polymath
    Leonard Bernstein did more than anyone to break down the hierarchy of musical styles from classical to jazz to popular. He was equally at home conducting Beethoven at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, writing Broadway shows such as West Side Story, or broadcasting to children. x
  • 42
    Shirley Temple—The Child Prodigy
    Child actress Shirley Temple was the most popular attraction in Hollywood from 1935–38, cheering America during the Great Depression. As her career faded, she entered politics and served a succession of Republican presidents as an ambassador, State Department officer, and White House protocol chief. x
  • 43
    George Wallace—The Demagogue
    George Wallace built his political career on opposition to racial integration, winning several terms as governor of Alabama. His third-party run for president in 1968 made a strong showing. Trying again in 1972, he was wounded in an assassination attempt. Afterward, he recanted his racist views. x
  • 44
    William F. Buckley, Jr.—The Conservative
    William F. Buckley, Jr., founded National Review magazine in 1955, gathering anticommunists, classical liberals, and social traditionalists into an influential forum. Buckley's gifts as a polemicist and an entertaining talk show host helped turn conservative ideas into practical political realities. x
  • 45
    Roberto Clemente—The Athlete
    Puerto Rican athlete Roberto Clemente played his entire 17-year, major-league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He complemented his skills in baseball with humanitarian work. His death in 1972 while taking part in an earthquake-relief operation sealed his reputation as a selfless role model. x
  • 46
    Betty Friedan—The Feminist
    The galvanizing event in modern feminism was the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Friedan founded the National Organization of Women in 1966 and became a central figure in the successful campaign to abolish discriminatory legislation against women. x
  • 47
    Jesse Jackson—The Civil Rights Legatee
    Jesse Jackson inherited the mantle of leadership of the civil rights movement after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Mixing social protest with electoral politics, as King never did, Jackson became a controversial figure, especially after his runs for the presidency in the 1980s. x
  • 48
    Stability and Change
    Certain themes and ideas have persisted throughout American history, while others have changed beyond recognition. Professor Allitt discusses what we can conclude about the American identity from the fascinating case histories presented in this course. x

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Your professor

Patrick N. Allitt

About Your Professor

Patrick N. Allitt, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching...
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American Identity is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 50.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Intriguing Look at What it Means to be American It has taken me a long time to finally sit down and right this review. Overall, I enjoyed the course. It is an interesting outsider's perspective on the exploration of the American Soul, as borne out by the study of the lives of great men and women. Professor Allitt makes a concerted effort to populate the list with those who might not be instantly familiar to the average student, even if most of the names would be familiar to a purchaser of the great courses. I must applaud the professor for taking such great care in his portrayal of brief snapshots of entire eras, professions, and facets of human life within the lives. For many of the individuals, context building and background information take up a good third or half of the lecture in order for what they accomplished to have real value to the learner. My only damning complaint is that at times this course lost my interest. Allitt is a good lecturer and so is his material, but ultimately I would find myself starting to do other things as the course becomes background noise. In fairness this happens in other courses as well, but not to the extent it did with this course. Lastly, there were also times when I was baffled by choices on which individuals were chosen to represent certain movements and professions. Professor Allitt stated that he could easily do more courses to populate hundreds of lives, noting that he did little work with scientists in the twentieth century, and seemed to ignore entire movements and walks of life. This recognition, however, only makes me wonder all the more why there was an emphasis on individuals that would barely make it into some people's C list of importance. Those concerns, however, did not make the course unenjoyable or any less deserving of my earlier praise. This was a good course, I recommend it to anyone hoping to delve deeper into what it meant - and means - to be an American.
Date published: 2015-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific course I have enjoyed Prof. Allitt's other TTC courses, and this one ranks among his best. His subjects are well chosen, and his lectures are uniformly informative and entertaining. His lecture style is pleasant, his humor and wit delightful, and his perspective valuable. I highly recommend this course, both to those who know a lot about American history and to those who are meeting the selected individualsfor the very first time. I watched the DVD version of the course, but I think the audio version would work just fine. Again, highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The American Identity Through a Foreigners Lens Overall I'd rate this series of CD lectures 4+ stars. Professor Allitt gives a wonderful presentation on the American identity from a British perspective that is intelligent and engaging (easy to listen to, broadly ranging, well organized and emotionally balanced). I especially enjoyed his nice turn of phrases. What I didn't like so much was the Progressive bias which subtly permeated the course. This was most obvious in the first half of the lectures when most of the subjects seemed like they were Abolitionists from New England! This heavy focus on influential American idealists concerned with social improvement (abolition of course, as well as feminism and worker's rights) formed the basis of his lectures. Professor Allitt begins and ends the course by identifying the most fundamental qualities of the American identity as the ideals of "equality and democracy". This is revealing since these very same values could have been framed in a less progressive way as simply the respect for individuality. But the deeply American emphasis on individuality is NOT what the majority of Puritan inspired do-gooders (then and today) value most (they apparently value their ideas of what is best for others, and the greater good). Anyway, these are really just minor quibbles I had with the content of the series. The presentation was excellent, and the wide range of characters he chose made for some fascinating history. I loved the way the broader historical context was often included seamlessly in the personal stories of these characters lives and accomplishments. This added a lot to the overall course value - such as how during the discussion of Roberto Clemente the history of the Spanish American War and Puerto Rico's status within the American Empire brought up issues much more deep and fundamental than the evolving race relations of the 1950's. Overall I'd recommend this thought provoking course to anyone interested in the ongoing story of America.
Date published: 2014-11-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from An Identity Crisis Professor Allitt is my favorite lecturer from the TTC. He's a great speaker and well versed in the American history particularly on the American religious history. On top of that he has this original and unique cultural perspective as an 'outsider' on this British-derived American culture, which most domestic American professors don't have from their own culture within. This lecture series is a great collection of mini biographies of successful Americans (excluding the presidential figures) and it does provide a broad spectrum of Americans over a duration of several hundreds of years. However it lacks, unfortunately, a clear theme of culture identity. In addition, this course felt bit too long to me and it did get boring in the way. In a lassie fair market capitalist society, the number of losers far exceeds that of winners, though depending how you look at. Strictly my speaking, being successful or a victor is not an identity per se. Although in general winners get all the academic attention, their successes don't necessarily represent the culture which is defined by the collective social behaviors instead of by their products e.g., wealth. The republic came from poor to have become rich over hundreds of years while its culture never changed in principle. In other words, it's not whether you're successful but what you do and how you do define Americanism. In the American tradition, perhaps it's the idea or what you say and even what you think (worship) define Americanism. To truly represent and update the theme of American identity, I recommend Professor Allitt to include Miley Cyrus and the latest LGBT movement in his future lectures. Although American pop-culture may seem to be the opposite to the religious conservatism, both to my opinion are the manifestation of this culture identity. Defying authority, breaking rules, changing the world, and "be whoever you want to be" is the true American cultural spirit. Liberal or conservative, it's the same in philosophical or religious principle. It's the very spirit that the west had inherited all the way from their ancestor or founder 2000 years ago. For instance, being a gay was sin. Now being a gay is a choice of liberty, a god's given human right. Being gay is being courageous, virtuous and ought be glorified. I imagine few people have really thought this thru - what should we believe now, the biblical gay-bashing old god or the human right pro-gay new god? Leading the global humanity in ideas Americans are having an identity crisis or struggle perhaps?
Date published: 2014-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, informative, and fun I've enjoyed the other courses from Prof. Allitt (e.g., Victorian England, the British Empire, the Conservative Idea) and bought this one based on previous experience. I thoroughly enjoyed American Identity, learning a lot from it. Most TC customer will have heard of almost everyone of the 46 individuals profiled in detail (I had not heard of only three of the subjects). I learned a lot about people of whom I was aware but about whom I knew comparatively little. Even for the subjects who are very well known, such as Thomas Jefferson or Henry Ford or Benjamin Franklin, I greatly enjoyed Prof. Allitt's analysis and insight. Each lecture mainly focused on the named individual, with some brief mention of other people. Each lecture was very enjoyable. I find Prof. Allitt to b a very engaging speaker, whom I would love to hear in person some day. He not only knows the material but comes across as having fun with the course, and of having a great respect for the American Identity.
Date published: 2014-02-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Why is a British Professor teaching this course? Professor Allitt is quite knowledgeable, but as an American born in America, when he is speaking he is missing a lot of nuances of being American. It sounds like he is teaching this course to British students. He is rather detached from the subject matter. He does not seem to have learned his subject by osmosis, as an American would, but by reading a few books. I felt more knowledgeable about some of his lectures than he was. Why couldn't The Teaching Company find an American professor to teach this course, as well as Prof. Allitt's portion of the U.S. History, of which he cover a third. His third of that course doesn't match the content of the first two thirds of the book which covered historical events, whereas his third of the course covered social movements. REALLY TEACHING COMPANY??? You couldn't find an American qualified to teach this course? His lack of zetigeist of being an American leads his words, phrases and content grating on this American.
Date published: 2014-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course for long car trips This course is, in our opinion, one of the best for maintaining interest. The choice of characters is exceedingly diverse and the details we learn of their ...often interconnected...lives is fascinating. We get a picture of events and moods in the USA from the actions of the subjects...a much more realistic way to learn "history." It is especially interesting to see how characters have their 'moment in the sun' and then settle into virtual obscurity as the national interest shifts. The accent adds the feeling that we are being observed by an outsider...but one who doesn't pass modern judgement on the perspectives of previous centuries.
Date published: 2013-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very entertaining DVD review. TTC has two biography collections that I have seen: EUROPEAN HISTORY AND EUROPEAN LIVES: 1715 - 1914 (36 lessons) and Dr Allitt's THE AMERICAN IDENTITY (48). I really enjoyed both. But the differences between their approaches affect what remains with you at the end. EUROPEAN is really about social transformation first, people second. In what way did the French Revolution mold new societies out of the Old Order until the catastrophe of World War I? What did "modern" mean for Europe's most influential thinkers, politicians and artists? The focus is definitely elite individuals. And each life is 1/3 biography, 2/3 wider social trends embodied in that life. AMERICAN reverses this: people first, society second. 90% of each biography focuses on individuals and their quirks, with telling asides about how each life exemplified the serendipitous union of innate talent and social opportunity. "America" (the other 10%) is the sheer range of these opportunities. A virgin land, a fast-growing population, a practically non-existent government (by European standards), a collective willingness to reinvent oneself and forge whatever "past" is most expedient. This is an incredible spectacle. So AMERICAN's net effect is very entertaining. The only weakness (if I can call it that) is that these biographies can feel like mental popcorn after a while — momentarily amusing, easily forgotten. EUROPEAN spoon feeds you with wider issues. AMERICAN suggests them only. You have to read further afield to get more, if that is what you want. All in all. AMERICAN is a very good course. The guidebook is fine. PRESENTATION is also excellent. A few maps and pictures are provided on DVD, but audio-only versions should be sufficient. Indeed, this is a perfect course for long commutes. Strongly recommended.
Date published: 2013-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great, fun course! This presentation by the Learning Company is could probably be classified as an "entertainment" course, although there is much learning offered. The CD version is pure fun to listen to on a long drive. Each personality and biography is covered in a succinct 30 minute lecture - long enough to get the 'high points' of each person's life but short enough to tie everything up in a lively half-hour presentation. Professor Alitt's delivery is just right - the "proper" British accent provides a classical delivery to the material. This is a really good, easy to listen to, and fun course!
Date published: 2012-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This was an excellent introduction to prominent figures in United States history. Prof. Allitt did a nice job in his selection of the people described. There is a nice selection of famous people and not-so-famous (at least to me) people. Prof. Allitt provided an excellent course guide and bibliography. I enjoyed his sense of humor. I had to chuckle because as I was preparing to write this review, I glanced at a couple of the previous reviews. I was planning to write that as far as history-by-biography goes, this course tends to have more biography and less history. However, the previous reviewer wrote just the opposite. I guess that shows that everyone has their own opinion. In any case, we both agree that we learned a good bit from this course about U.S. History and those who made it. I would recommend this course for anyone interested in learning about U.S. History.
Date published: 2012-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Hoot and a Holler I can be nothing more than simple in my praise of Patrick N. Allitt and this series--these brief synopses of some of the most entertaining foundational characters of the American personality are pure delight. I have many of the Great Courses and this, among others, ranks at the top in ease of listening and just pure fun.
Date published: 2012-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The American Identity: Character Counts DVD review. ©2005. Guidebook 201 pages. I got the DVDs and enjoyed watching the presentation and the pictures. However, graphics are limited, so audio would work just fine for most people. The Guidebook is lengthy and reading the comprehensive outlines was worthwhile. This course appealed to me because I love reading non-fiction, particularly biographies. If you do too, then I highly recommend this course. One thing that strikes me about this course is that it is not singularly biographical. For the most part, each lecture is a indeed a standalone lesson. Sure, that’s the main idea, that we’re introduced to distinguished Americans in so many different walks of life, all of whom contributed greatly to our heritage. Equally significant is the roundabout attention paid to the general American public and changes in society at large: technological breakthroughs, geopolitics, fame, religion, business and economic growth, entertainment, etc. It’s not until you near the end that you really get a broader sense of the continuity of the American Identity. It’s never boring. In fact, some were at times laugh-out-loud funny. Although you probably know most of the cast of characters, there are some you’ve probably never heard of. And those that you do know, there’s bound to be new anecdotes and references you never knew about. Interestingly, some of the ones I expected to like the least were among the best. Shirley Temple--are you kidding? Actually, gripping stuff. In the end, this course was a good way to pass the time, learn a new thing or two, and come to appreciate our dynamic American identity as it developed over the ages.
Date published: 2012-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Everyone can benefit from this superb course An excellent, highly valuable course which explains vividly the characteristics that make the American persona and psyche. Dr Allitt, with his regional British accent, and using impeccable English, presents a very fair and well-balanced course, with mini-biographies of outstanding Americans in many diverse categories. producing a fascinating and engrossing series of lectures. Many of the subjects are well-known, others will be new to most viewers (including me). A wonderful, inspired mix. I feel that literally everyone can benefit from this course; there is much to learn, insights into what traits typifing an American, the mores, values and morales which drove the American nation, and Dr Allitt makes his material come to life. Talented lecturers such as he make learning a joy and a pleasure -- never a task ! Highly recommended: inho buying this course is a solid investment, worthy of multiple viewings,
Date published: 2012-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Splendid Capsule Biographies This is an excellent course. The adjective "American" in the course title refers colloquially to the United States of America. It also refers to the character of the American people. Professor Allitt offers us four dozen short biographies of historic persons who, collectively, represent the essential nature of what he feels it means to be an American. Each of these characters exhibited traits such as unusual individuality, innovation, persistence, and a flair for hard work that, the Professor suggests, seem to be unique to the American identity. To make his case, the Professor discusses individuals from all walks of life, scattered across several hundred years of American history. Some of these historic persons are quite famous, while others you probably will have never heard of. No matter, these lectures hold your attention, and for the most part are a genuine delight to listen to. I learned a lot from this course -- don't miss it.
Date published: 2012-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 48 Life Sketches 48 Life Sketches of individuals who helped shape the American (United States) identity. The lectures are insightful and mostly contain figures whom I had heard of, but did not know a great deal about. It good to focus on some of the people who are not the usual standard bearers in American history. Rather than say "this is what the American identity is" the professor lectures on a wide variaty of extraordinary people who represent different movements or values throughout American History. The overview of these 48 individuals does give the listener a broad view of the shaping of the American identity from the Colonial period to the end of the 1970s. I enjoyed it.
Date published: 2011-12-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from North and South American Identity DANGER: This course only considers the national identity of the United a question of identity how can this course fail to notice that America includes nations other than the United States? (Imagine a book titled "Europe" which only contained pictures of France.) Identity crisis?? This is the second course in which this mistake has played a major role in embarrassing the professor, the Teaching Company and those reviewers who have not realized this basic and thorough mistake...the first part of an elementary course on American identity would begin stating that America covers two continents; North and South America etc..that a university level course misses this is an embarrassment. One must consider if this very "mistake" is not essentially part of the United States Identity: this seems especially plausible if one looks at darker aspects of US identity; e.g. Manifast Destiny etc... Those who do not understand that this a mistake have clearly shown "identity" crisis of the United States. Learning should aim at clearing away falsehoods not intrenching them. The Teaching Company has fallen from an international level of quality in the presentation of this course.
Date published: 2011-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Will the Real American Please Stand Up? [Audio version] I listened at a relaxed pace to this delightful, reverent, and admiring course on the American identity. I learned a lot, and enjoyed every minute. I especially appreciated Dr. Allitt's impeccable grammar and avoidance of stale academic jargon and clichés. Dr. Allitt was fair and balanced: yes, the American character is generous, inventive, faithful, and freedom- loving, but it also has its warts, scars and hang-ups. The course has 48 self-contained lectures; each could stand alone. But Professor Allitt weaves in themes and traits that eventually unites them all. It is not a course that you will feel compelled to rush through, although I admit I was spellbound and eager for each lecture. Allitt's verve and intensity slumped a bit on lectures 34, 35, and 36; Houdini, Capone and H. Hoover just didn't come off as exciting and compelling as most of the other biographies. But I now have a greater respect for Hoover as a powerful humanitarian. Ironically, some of the biographies I thought would be less interesting to me totally held my attention, e.g., Leonard Bernstein and Isabella Gardner. All in all, a fabulous course by one of TTC's finest professors. Don't miss this one.
Date published: 2011-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Loved This Course I loved this course. It is a review of what being an American has meant through history through the lens of various Americans and their lives and thought. Some are obvious and well-known: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford Some are not so obvious, though still well-known: Al Capone, Helen Keller, Buffalo Bill Some are not well-known, but once you know them, seem obvious: Frederick Law Olmstead, Edmund Ruffin, Charles Grandison Finney The themes of American identity that they illustrate are: ***Lack of fatalism ***Energetic approach to problem-solving ***Faith in equality and democracy ***Belief in boundless possibilities of economic growth ***Dedication to making education and literacy available to all ***High expectations of progress ***Eagerness to live up to our ideals The persistence of these themes today is obvious. Whether we still believe in all of them may not be so clear. What is fascinating is seeing how our predecessors also questioned the relevance of and our adherence to these beliefs/themes and how they played out in each one's actions and ideas. The professor categorizes the people he discusses as on the practical side or the idealistic, although there is clearly a lot of overlap. On the practical side, they are further categorized into war, politics and pioneering which includes entrepreneurs, inventors and explorers. On the idealistic side we have artists, humanitarians, intellectuals and religious figures. Not everyone is in the category you are most likely to expect. Did you know that Herbert Hoover was a humanitarian? Learning more about specific Americans is always surprising, even when considering Americans who are already well-known. Learning more about American history is a fascinating and thought-provoking pastime in which I always learn something that changes my perspective on events of today. That's my measure of a good course. This course delivers on the knowledge. Delivering it through the lives of characters from our history also makes it entertaining.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What an eclectic mix When I first heard the British accent I was dubious about 'what could he know about us.' Well, he knows plenty and I appreciated his look at us from outside our society. Professor Allitt started right out with some cliches about his society and ours. Then he shows us, over and over, individuals that have formed our country and made it what it is. Aside from some obvious selections like John Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Booker T. Washington, he has selected many people we would not expect like Al Capone, Roberto Clemente, Duke Ellington and "Buffalo Bill", and then some people we probably never heard of like Francis Marion, Frederick Law Olmstead, Abraham Cahan and William Mulholland. Each person he selected contributed greatly to the eclectic mix that makes up the American identity. One thing I particularly liked was his ability to not just give us the biography and historical side of each story but also some aspect we might not have thought of. For example, I never thought of Eli Whitney's cotton gin as being responsible for the extension of slavery as the gin could clean short staple cotton nor did I realize that the Great Salt Lake with its mountains mirrored the Holy Land (Dead Sea plus mountains) as one of the reasons that Brigham Young settled in that area. I'm sure some people will complain about the omission of certain important people but I liked the ones he chose. He can always do a "part 2" and select another 48 significant people. And I would look forward to that.
Date published: 2011-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super Experience I looked forward to each and every lecture and yearned for more as the course concluded. I couldn't believe that I lived in the US all my life and did not know about many of the people covered in this course. The professor has an excellent presentation style and I especially liked the fact that he is British and could paint a picture of the American Identity. The material spurred me on to do lots of reading and research. The professor did not try to be "politically correct" when talking about many of the characters and this is a huge plus. I can't say enough good things about this course - if you are thinking of purchasing it, don't delay!
Date published: 2010-12-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sometimes Sloppy with the Facts Professor Allitt is arguably unsurpassed among TTC presenters, at least insofar as "listenability" is concerned. He presents his lectures rather as a storyteller, and that makes learning very enjoyable. That is true of this course, as well as his courses on The Conservative Tradition and also Victorian Britain, both of which I own and (think) I can recommend. My concern arises from Lecture 18 of American Identity, in which Allitt discusses Brigham Young. Some of what I heard made me conclude that the professor is either unsure of certain facts or careless in how he presents them. Now, some of his errors are perhaps worse than others but, nevertheless, a student ought to be able to rely on the correctness of what is being taught--and the inaccuracies in that lecture now cause me to have doubts about his other lectures also. Brigham Young was the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormon Church"). In that connection, Allitt necessarily addresses the first president, Joseph Smith, but makes some mistakes about him and the Church's doctrines. For example, Allitt alleges that Joseph Smith engaged in a "fraudulent" banking "scheme" by which he created a bank that issued paper money that proved to be worthless. Allitt then moves on without explaining that the bank failed just as hundreds of other banks failed in the United States at that very time (because of a severe downturn that affected the entire nation). Given the fact of the economic conditions then extant, Allitt had no basis to allege that Smith was "fraudulent." Indeed, Allitt offers no evidence in support of such a bold conclusion about Smith's intent. Allitt should simply have stated the fact that Smith established a bank that soon failed. Allitt also gives a rather incorrect view of Alfred Cumming's relationship with the Mormons in Utah. Cumming was appointed by the United States to replace Brigham Young as governor of the Utah Territrory, yet he and Young remained on cordial terms. (It may be that Allitt intended to use Cumming as some sort of composite figure representing how the United States generally felt about the Mormons at that time--but, if so, I think Alllitt should have been precise rather than figurative in his teaching.) Allitt also was sloppy in his description of the Mormon practice of vicarious baptisms for the dead. (This religious rite CANNOT automatically make Mormons of anyone who has died.) Finally, I want to emphasize that I have no reason (or desire) to claim that Allitt's mistakes were intentional. Not at all. But they were sloppy; and they do cause me to wonder about the accuracy of all of his other coursework. There are indeed some good aspects of this course but, given my concerns, I can give it a rating of only "Fair" (2 stars).
Date published: 2009-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biography as history The American experience is shown through the lives and experiences of nearly 50 individuals, most very famous, some obscure. Together, they create a fascinating tapestry of 400 years of American life. When I finishing listening to all 48 lectures, I wanted to make a list of another 48 people for Professor Allitt to discuss!
Date published: 2009-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional course! Professor Allitt presents several dozen brief biographies, arranged roughly chronologically and covering a remarkable spectrum of personalities, that cover the span of American history from colonial times to the present. Each of his lectures is highly informative and entertaining, and each conveys almost as much history as biography, because he always sets the stage by discussing the era during which his subjects lived. These are biographies, not hagiographies, and we learn some unflattering details, along with the virtues, of these famous (and sometimes not so famous) Americans. His style is pitch-perfect (full disclosure: I've always been a sucker for a British accent), his wry humor is endearing, and his insights are acute. I've "taken" many Teaching Company courses, This was clearly one of the very best!
Date published: 2009-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Outsiders Valuable View This course works well with Weinstein's 20th Century American Fiction in that both seek to explain what it means to be American - one through biographies, the other through literature. It also works well because it is an outsider's view. At the beginning of the course, Professor Allitt, born and raised in Englan explains the difference between the British and American identities. If something was broken the Brit would say "what a shame," while the American would say "let's fix it." This contrast appears in several areas including as an explanation why in the late nineteenth century America surpassed Britain in the industrial revolution despite Britains 30 or so year head start: America always sought to improve the means of production, while Britain adopted the Yogi Berra philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." In all, the course provides brilliant insight into the American psyche. Professor Allitt correctly anticipates that some criticism may arise about the choices he made. There are those we would definitely include - who could argue with Franklin, Jefferson or Lewis & Clark? But how do you choose to exclude some of the defining figures of the American experience. In sports, Allitt includes baseball's Roberto Clemente who fits well as a representative of the cultural diversity America experiences, the language barriers, the hope of a better life the country offers, etc. But what about Babe Ruth, who made baseball the national pastime after the Black Sox scandal? Or Joe Jackson and the Black Sox scandal demonstrating greed and the struggle between ownership and labor? Or Jackie Robinson for breaking the color barrier? Muhammad Ali whose personality was too big for his sport to contain? What about someone representing all the missionary and philanthropic work Americans do abroad? How about the American who chooses to leave and live elsewhere like James Baldwin or Henry James? The list is probably endless and, of course, Allitt's time limited. Nonetheless, it’s fun to argue these points and it is my hope that perhaps Allitt will bless us either with an expanded second edition or a sequel: The American Identity II (another facet of the American way).
Date published: 2009-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American history with a British accent At first it seems unusual to hear American history with a British accent but Dr. Allitt is well versed in his subject. (Check out his "American Identity" course) This was one of our first courses and we watched it as a video. We liked that he read from a variety of documents to get his point across and tied things together which made the information stick with us better. This was a foundation course for us and has been helpful in understanding places we have visited as we travel and the variations in religious viewpoints in our country. Highly recommended and one you will listen to again. Interesting subject no matter who you are.
Date published: 2009-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fun Course Very entertaining. Easy to listen to lecture style.
Date published: 2009-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Winner! Prof. Allitt is one of my favorite Teaching Company instructors, and this course did not disapoint. Each 30 minute lecture is devoted to an individual who manifests what the professor considers to be a characteristic unique to Americans. I throughly enjoyed these brief biographies, and highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2009-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Many Interesting Biographies I'm not so sure there is an American identity but that doesn't imply anything negative about this course based on the biographies of a wide range of Americans. This is a very enjoyable course and I am sure everyone will learn something from it since the range of persons examined should exceed the students' range of knowledge. Even for those individuals you may be familiar with, Prof Alitt delves into little known aspects of their lives and accomplishments. Prof Alitt is very clear and straight forward and his voice is very easy to listen to.
Date published: 2009-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from There is an American Identity! This was a phenomenal course that persuasively identified certain uniquely American beliefs and values while demonstrating hwo diverse and individual we Americans can be. Although there is no American Identity in terms of race, religion, gender, age, national origin, etc. This course makes clear that there are certain values we hold dear: individuality (although not at the total expense of community and family), pragmatism (albeit with a strong dose of idealism), love of freedom, equality, perserverance, creativy, industriousness and many more. Not all people discussed had all these values and beliefs but none had none of them and most had most. What this course shows is that no matter what superificial differences we have as Americans we do share several beliefs and values nad that more than anything else it what unites us. It's nice to listen to a course that focuses on what we have in common rather than separates and divides us. Yes Virginia, there is an American Identity and it is as diverse and as wonderful as we are.
Date published: 2009-01-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I only wish this course had been twice as long - no three times as long - it was so interesting. I've "taken" all of Dr. Allitt's courses. He is my idea of a great teacher - tells his story vividly with a dry sense of humor and makes you want to learn mo
Date published: 2008-10-17
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