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American Mind

Course No. 4880
Professor Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
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4.3 out of 5
70 Reviews
64% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4880
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  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 100 photographs and portraits. These photographs and portraits are of prominent American politicians and thinkers, ranging from Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln to John Dewey and Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Course Overview

Americans pride themselves on being doers rather than thinkers. Ideas are naturally suspect to such a people. But ideas are at the root of what it means to be American, and today's habits of thought practiced by citizens throughout the United States are the lineal descendants of a powerful body of ideas that traces back to the first European settlers and that was enriched by later generations of American thinkers.

Behind this nation's diverse views on religion, education, social equality, democracy, and other vital issues is a long-running intellectual debate about the right ordering of the human, natural, and divine worlds.

In their own times such great thinkers as Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William James, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others engaged in lively and often contentious debate that helped mold America's institutions and attitudes. Their approach was frequently honed by ideas from abroad—from Locke, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Gandhi, among others.

This immensely stimulating conversation that made the U.S. what it is today is the subject of The American Mind, a series of 36 lectures that offers you a broad survey of American intellectual history.

Politics, Religion, Education, Philosophy

In this course you will delve deeply into the philosophical underpinnings of the nation, forged by the Puritans and the leaders of the American Revolution. You will also explore many other aspects of the elaborate structure that became modern America, tracing ideas in politics, religion, education, philosophy, psychology, anthropology, literature, social theory, and science—proving that Americans have a much richer intellectual tradition than generally imagined.

Your teacher is the distinguished historian Allen C. Guelzo, an unprecedented two-time winner of both the Lincoln Prize and the Abraham Lincoln Institute Prize for his successive books on Abraham Lincoln, one of America's most underrated but influential intellectuals.

The Washington Post noted themes in Professor Guelzo's work that are especially relevant to this course: "In his book on Lincoln as a man of ideas, Guelzo argues that Americans have failed to recognize what an intellectually vibrant country this was in the first half of the 19th century."

America: A Hotbed of Ideas

As it was in Lincoln's day, so it has been throughout U.S. history: America is an enduring hotbed of ideas. For example:

  • The Transcendentalists: In 1834, Ralph Waldo Emerson moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where he began work on the brief book that would become his manifesto, Nature. With its publication, Kantian epistemology and romantic sensibility arrived in America with a bang. Emerson's later lecture entitled "The Transcendentalist"provided a name for this influential new movement.
  • Pragmatism: William James codified a characteristically American philosophy in his book Pragmatism: A New Name For Some Old Ways of Thinking. The term came from Kant, and the concept grew out of a short-lived philosophical club that James had attended in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the early 1870s. The club included Chauncey Wright, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and a bafflingly eccentric mathematician-turned-philosopher named Charles Sanders Peirce.
  • Conservatism: The origin of a distinctively American brand of conservatism is linked to the arrival of émigré European intellectuals after World War II. These thinkers found allies among former American communists, who had turned away from socialism; traditionalist Roman Catholics; and Southern agrarians.

An Entirely Different Map of the American Mind

Professor Guelzo's goal in this course is to lay out an entirely different map of the American mind from that taught in traditional presentations of American intellectual history. The usual approach underrates the Puritan contributions, marginalizes 18th-century theologian Jonathan Edwards, embellishes the influence of Benjamin Franklin, oversimplifies pragmatism, and slights the rich contributions of a wide range of 20th-century thinkers.

In these 36 lectures, Dr. Guelzo remedies these shortcomings by covering the large stretches of intellectual territory that are ignored in the traditional survey. You begin with the Puritans, exploring their participation in a larger, transatlantic realm of philosophical work. Next you study Jonathan Edwards as the creative fusion of two seemingly opposed trends: the spiritual revival of the Great Awakening and the passion for reason sparked by the Enlightenment.

After examining the intellectual currents underlying the American Revolution, you focus on the backlash against Enlightenment values that spawned American Romanticism. Then you study the surprising diversity of American pragmatism and discover that it cannot account for such 20th-century intellectual developments as the Old Left, the New Left, and Neo-Conservatism.

Throughout the course, Dr. Guelzo stresses the persistence of six fundamental themes that developed as the nation matured. These are at the center of our lives today and will doubtless be the principal preoccupations of American minds for a long time to come:

  • Intellect versus will: From the Puritans to Lincoln to the behaviorist B. F. Skinner, no question has shown up more often in American culture than the struggle between intellect and will—whether it is more important to think or to act.
  • The persistence of religion: Religious ideas have defied every prediction of their demise and have remained a living part of American intellectual life.
  • Religion versus the Enlightenment: From the colonial era until today, religion and the Enlightenment have formed the two souls of the American consciousness.
  • The power of liberal capitalism: American history has been marked by the struggle between liberty and power; a contest exemplified by the liberal capitalism of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln matched against the agrarian populism of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.
  • Pragmatism: In the post-Civil War decades, American thinking made a dramatic shift away from traditional philosophical and social thinking toward pragmatism and secularism.
  • The rise to world power: America's ascent to world power through two world wars has created entirely new dilemmas and responsibilities for the nation and its thinkers.

An Intellectual Feast

One of the fascinating aspects of this course is that you trace the origin and evolution of America's colleges, which have served as a battleground of ideas, sometimes in an almost literal sense. In 1732, a leader of the Great Awakening held a bonfire of doctrinally suspect books at Yale College, expressing the hope that "the Authors of those Books, those of them that are dead, are roasting in the Flames of Hell…."

Many of the adherents of the Great Awakening turned their backs on America's venerable Puritan colleges, Harvard and Yale, to found alternative institutions such as Princeton, Rhode Island College (which became Brown), Queen's College (which became Rutgers), and Dartmouth. Two others, the future University of Pennsylvania and Columbia College, also bore the imprint of the Awakening.

A century later, higher education's religious calling was all but forgotten as American colleges embraced the secular mission of providing human capital to industry in the aftermath of the Civil War. And in the 1950s and '60s, the pendulum swung back to a more communal orientation under the influence of the radical New Left.

You will also learn about books that left their stamp on American intellectual life, such as Jonathan Edwards's Freedom of the Will in the 1700s, Frances Wayland's Elements of Political Economy and William James's Principles of Psychology in the 1800s, W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk and Henry Adams's The Education of Henry Adams in the early 20th century, along with works by Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, B. F. Skinner, Reinhold Niebuhr, Leo Strauss, and others in more recent times.

Professor Guelzo has laid out an intellectual feast made up almost entirely of homegrown American ingredients, with a dash of inspiration from abroad. You will find an abundance of food for thought, and after the first helping, you will definitely be back for more.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Intellectual Geography of America
    Is there an American mind? The view of Americans as doers rather than thinkers has been reinforced by the way American intellectual history is traditionally taught. However, this approach is suspect because it ignores large parts of the national debate over ideas. x
  • 2
    The Technology of Puritan Thinking
    As colonizers, the Puritans brought with them a vibrant intellectual life, born partly of the Calvinist Reformation and partly of medieval scholasticism. But they also brought with them unresolved problems over the intellect and the will. x
  • 3
    The Enlightenment in America
    The Enlightenment made its first beachheads in America in the colonial colleges, beginning at Harvard and including the College of William and Mary, the Academy of Philadelphia, and Yale. The attraction of Enlightenment thinking was both intellectual and cultural. x
  • 4
    Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening
    Jonathan Edwards was influenced by the immaterialism of British philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, using that philosophical base to criticize compromisers among the ranks of New England Puritanism. Ultimately, immaterialism became linked to Edwards's role in the spiritual revival known as the Great Awakening. x
  • 5
    The Colonial Colleges
    The Great Awakening was a major force in establishing new colleges in colonial America, as angry Awakeners turned their backs on institutions such as Yale and Harvard and founded alternative colleges. But these colleges were quickly absorbed into the intellectual life of the Enlightenment. x
  • 6
    Republican Fundamentals
    As the American colonies prospered, the British government took steps to regulate that prosperity. The colonies resented this intrusion and found in the classical liberalism of English Whig political theorists a ready explanation for the legitimacy of their own governments. x
  • 7
    Nature’s God and the American Revolution
    Long in gestation, the ideas that made the American Revolution trace back to the Enlightenment resistance to authority, the colonists' religious radicalism, and the example of the English Whigs. All that was needed to set off revolt was the British government's attempt to override the colonies' own assemblies. x
  • 8
    Deism, Science, and Revolution
    If America was the darling of the Enlightenment, then the Enlightenment's favorite location in America was Philadelphia, thanks to its extraordinary collection of thinkers and institutions, and to its commitment to reconciling science and religion in the spirit of Scottish "common sense" philosophy. x
  • 9
    Hamilton and His Money
    Only when America's Whigs had a republic on their hands did they realize that there was no agreement on what shape a republic should take—whether it should follow the example of Jefferson and classical republicanism or the commercial liberal republicanism of Alexander Hamilton. x
  • 10
    Jefferson and His Debts
    Jefferson is revered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and a paragon of reason. However, his experience of debt drove him to romanticize the glories of independent farming and promote policies that broke the old revolutionary coalition into Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties. x
  • 11
    The Edwardseans—From Hopkins to Finney
    The Revolution was a disappointment to religious leaders who hoped to ride its victories to new levels of moral and cultural authority. But the disciples of Jonathan Edwards soon learned how to restart the energies of revival and reverse the fall of the republic into Enlightenment secularism. x
  • 12
    The Moral Philosophers
    Scottish "common sense" philosophy became a vehicle by which religious thinkers reintroduced religious morality into public life by cloaking it in "natural law." These moral philosophers would have enjoyed even greater influence had they not failed to solve the knottiest of American problems in public ethics: slavery. x
  • 13
    Whigs and Democrats
    Although Republican political theory deplored political parties, both Jefferson and Hamilton emerged as the heads of parties in the 1790s. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans dominated Hamilton's Federalists, but the Jeffersonians themselves split in the 1830s, spawning the Whigs, led by Henry Clay. x
  • 14
    American Romanticism
    The Enlightenment's glorification of reason eventually fostered a backlash in the form of Romanticism. The influence of religious revivalism and the distaste for democratic politics combined to breed an American Romanticism, with New England Transcendentalism as its most talented manifestation. x
  • 15
    Faith and Reason at Princeton
    The challenge offered to religion by Enlightenment reason was never as stark as it seemed. Many Enlightenment figures continued to experiment in religion, and many religious thinkers assimilated the principles of reason into more persuasive forms of belief, notably at the Princeton Theological Seminary. x
  • 16
    Romanticism in Mercersburg
    American Romanticism often manifested itself as a rebellion against past authority. However, some conservative forms of Romanticism embraced the past and glorified tradition and history as a different way of questioning the supremacy of reason. x
  • 17
    Slaveholders and Abolitionists
    The use of slave labor was the one blot on the record of American liberty, made all the more disgraceful by the way it defined slaves as chattel property. Most embarrassing of all, slavery was attacked not on the basis of Enlightenment reason but by radical religious Romantics. x
  • 18
    Lincoln and Liberal Democracy
    Lincoln's election as president finally delivered the nation's political initiative into the hands of an opponent of slavery. The ensuing Civil War allowed him both to destroy slavery and to install the Whig economic and political agenda as the reigning American ideology. x
  • 19
    The Failure of the Genteel Elite
    Despite its success at preserving the Union, the Civil War and the corruption that followed in its wake disillusioned many American thinkers with religious orthodoxy and democratic society. The postwar decades became the "Gilded Age," dominated by corporate models of organization and cynical social critics. x
  • 20
    Darwin in America
    Published in 1859, Darwin's Origin of Species had a delayed impact in America because of the Civil War. But in the postwar decades, Darwin's ideas undermined support of a public role for religion and spawned social philosophies that lauded unrestrained economic competition. x
  • 21
    Liberalism and the Social Gospel
    Evolution posed a moral problem to thinkers who embraced a Darwinian account of human origins but shrank from applying the logic of natural selection to human society. The result was a struggle to accommodate religion to Darwinism, which flowered into religious liberalism and the Social Gospel. x
  • 22
    The Agony of William James
    No family in America followed an intellectual path as tortured as that of William James, whose own life was a struggle to reconcile Darwin, materialism, and science with religion. It was only in pragmatism that James found room for hope and peace of mind. x
  • 23
    Josiah Royce—The Idealist Dissenter
    If pragmatism suited James as a replacement for absolutes, it left Josiah Royce unsatisfied. Royce represents both the last serious effort by an American philosopher to build a workable notion of idealism, as well as the last American philosopher to command an important public audience for philosophy. x
  • 24
    John Dewey and Social Pragmatism
    Influenced by the postwar battles of capital and labor, John Dewey translated James's pragmatism into an optimistic but morally relativistic social policy, in which social democracy rather than the assuagement of personal doubt was the ultimate objective. x
  • 25
    Socialism in America
    The postwar wave of corporate industrial organization was met by an opposing wave of working-class resistance, and that resistance was frequently attracted by the promise of socialism. Socialism as an ideology, however, had few takers in America. x
  • 26
    Populists, Progressives, and War
    In the 1880s, widespread grievances of farmers crystallized in the Populist Movement, while the most important reform ideology among the middle class was Progressivism, where the main concern was not about redistribution or revolution but about efficiency. x
  • 27
    Decade of the Disenchanted
    The idealism with which Woodrow Wilson led America into World War I and the disappointments that followed produced a deeply jaded rejection of all idealisms, moral and political. The great voices of the 1920s were its skeptics, cynics, and mockers. x
  • 28
    The Social Science Revolution
    The idea that human societies could be reduced to scientific analysis was another byproduct of the Enlightenment, which saw no reason why the discovery of physical law should not be matched by the discovery of social law. x
  • 29
    The New South versus the New Negro
    The post-Civil War South was torn between a romantic attachment to the "Lost Cause" myth and submission to the industrial system of the victorious North. Two backward-looking trends that emerged were the New Agrarians of the 1930s and the Jim Crow legislation imposed on American blacks. x
  • 30
    FDR and the Intellectuals
    The Great Depression traumatized the American psyche and, with the election of Franklin Roosevelt, brought about a dramatic realignment of American political life. The Depression also turned American intellectuals decisively against industrial capitalism and even drove many to embrace Communism. x
  • 31
    Science under the Cloud
    The development of the atomic bomb was both a tremendous public achievement for American scientists and the origin of a serious moral dilemma—all the more so since the culture of American science was built around the conviction that moral dilemmas were unscientific. x
  • 32
    Ironic Judgments
    Considered the greatest American theologian of his day, Reinhold Niebuhr exposed the facile underpinnings of liberal optimism. His skepticism came mixed with an urgency to separate ethics from perfectionism so that it could function in the real-world struggle against totalitarianism. x
  • 33
    Mass Culture and Mass Consumption
    The rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe in the 1930s propelled a wave of intellectual immigration to America. But many émigrés were shocked by the grip of commercial culture on American thinking. The American response in the 1950s was to glorify mass culture and turn it into an art form, pop art. x
  • 34
    Integration and Separation
    The persistence of segregation left black intellectuals looking for radical solutions. It was a mainstream religious figure, Martin Luther King, Jr., who guided the black struggle for civil rights back onto the path of integration into American society and culture. x
  • 35
    The Rebellion of the Privileged
    World War II was a triumph over fascism, but not necessarily in favor of liberal democracy. The Vietnam War radicalized both American intellectuals and a new generation of college students into a New Left—a movement that eventually wilted in the face of government hostility and public indifference. x
  • 36
    The Neo-Conservatives
    Erected by émigré intellectuals after World War II, American conservatism was a composite movement, combining elements of religious dissent and secular liberalism. It also offered a viable intellectual alternative for Americans who remained fundamentally loyal to the liberalism of the Founders. x

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Your professor

Allen C. Guelzo

About Your Professor

Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Gettysburg College
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. Among garnering other honors, he has received the Medal of Honor from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He is a member of the National Council on the Humanities. Professor Guelzo is...
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Reviews

American Mind is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 70.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling Detail I enjoy all of the courses I have purchased from The Great Courses. This one stands out for the extraordinary insights that Professor Guelzo offers about the origin of some of the polarizing viewpoints that we see in contemporary American society. While this is not a course in sociology, economics or politics, Professor Guelzo offers many fascinating perspectives on the key ideas that have come to define the "American" Narrative and the belief systems that influence contemporary social, economic and government policy. Far from being an esoteric journey through American Philosophy, his course touches on the essential debates of our past as we reconciled scientific, enlightenment thinking with religious faith throughout our history. And he helps make sense of how these ideas have had very real economic, social and political consequences as people have grappled with the extraordinary events of the last two centuries of American history. I was listening to this course during the 2016 election cycle. What an interesting backdrop to the rhetoric of a modern political campaign. How might our civic discourse be different if more people understood how we came to believe what we do and why we still struggle to reconcile our competing conservative and liberal, religious and secular narratives. I would recommend this course to anyone with an interest in the origins of the belief systems which influence the most important decisions in public life today.
Date published: 2016-09-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Broad and insightful survey of American thought This course deals with the intellectual history of the United States, more or less from the first colonies to present day. As BGZRedux stated in his review from 2012, I also found the Professor’s attitude to be highly ironic, even sardonic when discussing some of the topics. One of first statements in introducing the course is how much is there really to consider when thinking about American intellectual history? One is much more accustomed to looking to Europe for that… Contrary to BGZRedux, however, I did not find this irritating or detrimental – in fact I found it quite entertaining and think it could be easily counter balanced if one is aware of this bias. I have to admit that I struggled through some of the lectures. I have heard many courses in the TGC on intellectual history and I always had a harder time staying attentive in relation to narrative or analytical history courses, so this course follows this rule. It was always important for me to understand the evolution of thought primarily in order to see how this affected and interacted with other aspects of history. In this course too, the intellectual paradigm shifts interact significantly with political history, military history, economics and science. Some of the contexts are explained, but this is not the main theme of the course. It is therefore a good idea to have a firm grasp of general US history prior to hearing the course. I found some of the lectures to give profound new insight and be outstandingly interesting; among them was the lecture on Mass Art, the development of the Social Sciences, the effect of the brain drain from Europe preceding WWII, and Herbert Marcuse and the new left. As in all of his courses that I have heard in the TGC, I found Professor Guelzo to be a talented, entertaining, provocative and insightful presenter. As I have said, I struggled through some of the lectures, but I think this has much more to do with my own capacity for the subject than to any fault of Professor Guelzo’s.
Date published: 2016-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Enlightening AUDIO DOWNLOAD I like Professor Allen Guelzo’s clear, straight-forward lecture delivery. My experience with his TC course on Lincoln led me to seek out his other TC courses. ‘The American Mind’ did not disappoint; the thirty-six lectures seemed to go too quickly. There is a lot here about the Christian religion and its impact on American thought and development. Professor Guelzo drills deep early on with a lot of religious folks, well beyond the usual Mathers and Jonathan Edwards. It is sometimes a challenge to follow the twists and turns as Professor Guelzo traces the interplay of Puritan and Enlightenment influences through American history. This is a much-needed approach to better round out our understanding of the past. I took courses in American intellectual history several decades ago, and have a continuing interest in it, so there is a good deal familiar for me in ‘The American Mind’. Professor Guelzo goes far beyond the conventional treatment that I am accustomed to, however, which, as he notes, grossly simplifies the subject. For me, this course provides a new and quite interesting perspective, and I think many others would greatly benefit from this course as well. For purposes of this review it is especially important to keep in mind Professor Guelzo’s six themes in ‘The American Mind’ (which are also listed in the current online TC course promotional information): “The fundamental struggle for importance between intellect and will—in other words, whether it is more important for us to think or to act. The persistence of religious ideas as a living part of American intellectual life. The formation of two souls in the American consciousness, one the product of Puritan religion and the other the product of America’s embrace of the Enlightenment. The struggle between liberty and power in a democratic society, as seen in the liberal capitalism of Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln, and the fierce suspicion of commercial societies seen in Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. The dramatic shift in categories of American thinking that occurred in the post-Civil War decades, which turned Americans away from traditional philosophical and social thinking and toward pragmatism and secularism. The dilemmas posed by the American ascent to world power through two world wars and the responsibilities that have come with it.” (Course Guidebook, Page 1) While a general familiarity with American history and philosophy is not required for this course, it would help. Professor Guelzo makes things a bit easier by treating the subject in a storyteller fashion that is quite engaging as he carefully explains how matters fit together. There is plenty of historical context here. I especially enjoyed the treatment of the Whigs and Jacksonians from a religious perspective; Lincoln as a determinist (starting out as president seeming in the Enlightenment camp, but ending as a Pilgrim/Edwardsean theologically); William James, John Dewey and many others and the development and impact of Pragmatism; the significant influence of European emigres on post World War II American intellectuals on both the left and the right; Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam; the New Left as modern-day Puritans; and the rise of Neo-Conservatives. There is a lot more; this is but a personal sample. A good deal is left out of the course. As Professor Guelzo admits, due to length constraints, other topics, such as feminism, are not treated. Some might have been accommodated in a thirty-six lecture course, except for Professor Guelzo’s devoting so many lectures to how religious ideas constitute a living part of American intellectual history. For me, that is a big plus for this course, expanding my outlook. For others with a dogmatically secular bent and limited view of the role of religion, much in this course, especially in the early lectures, will likely seem thin and/or irrelevant. That would be a shame. This is a great course, taught by an exceptionally well-qualified scholar. Do not miss this course!
Date published: 2016-06-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Good Enough to Spend Your Time I struggled with whether to give Prof. Guelzo a high rating or a low one, because I learned some interesting things from him. But the bottom line is: I did not enjoy the course. His delivery was sometimes annoying, and I felt that several hours of the 18-hour course were a waste of time. Delivery: Prof. Guelzo speaks clearly, though his pronunciation of foreign words is usually off. But he has a brash manner that can annoy. Think Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island, or Foghorn Leghorn. Content: I liked Prof. Guelzo on politics. I loved his lecture on Thomas Jefferson, even though it detracts from my hero Jefferson. I did not like him on religion. I knew that Prof. Guelzo was Calvinist before I bought the course, and I wanted to hear from someone who does not see Jonathon Edwards as a villain. But Prof. Guelzo spends hours on 18th and 19th century disputes that interest me as little as whether angels waltz or line dance on the heads of pins. Prof. Guelzo does not like John Dewey; fine. He is inaccurate about Dewey: less fine. Concerning his odd statement that men like Dewey are not loved or eulogized, here is Alfred North Whitehead: “wherever the influence of Dewey is explicitly felt, his personality is remembered with gratitude and affection.” If that’s not what you’re looking for, read Max Otto's funeral oration for Dewey. And it’s strange to call Josiah Royce “the last American philosopher who commanded an important public audience for philosophy” when Hilda Neatby called Dewey, who came after, “what Aristotle was to the later Middle Ages, not A philosopher, but THE philosopher”. With so many enjoyable Great Courses to try, I can’t recommend this one.
Date published: 2016-05-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A sardonic take on American history This is a history course. It did not focus on ideas anywhere enough to meet my expectations. Instead it mainly chronicled social and political movements, theological controversies and personalities. There was an inordinate emphasis on Christian theology in the course, and I cannot fathom why he spent 30 minutes on Reinhold Niebuhr and less than 30 seconds on Henry David Thoreau, whose ideas of civil disobedience influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King and continue to resonate today with many Americans and others. The introduction to the course is by far the worst in any Teaching Company course I have taken up to now. The professor had a thesis to argue that might matter a lot to specialists in history but has no place in a course for the general public. He argued for this thesis in an aggressive, sarcastic, overwrought and bombastic manner. Indeed, throughout the course it seemed to be more important to show off how smart-alecky he could be, rather than simply help students understand the material. I did learn a few things that were of interest to me: the background of the colonies' "no taxation without representation," the origin of the separation of church and state in the US, the disagreement between Booker T. Washington and WEB DuBois, and a few more things. However, he didn't discuss cultural (vs. theological) aspects of Puritanism enough to help the listener understand its enduring influence, and his endless treatment of the various Protestant denominations was particularly boring. I would not take another course from this professor and I would not recommend the course to anyone interested in philosophy because there was precious little intellectual content in these lectures.
Date published: 2015-12-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Guelzo does a fantastic job of portraying the American mind from the 1600s through the 1900s. He portrays each thinker well, then hints cleverly at his own opinion of them at the end of many lectures, and / or in subsequent lectures. He shrewdly debunks some popular leftist views / thinkers in American history, without sounding like he worships their opponents. He gives everyone a very fair hearing, but he seems to embrace the idea that wise historians can modestly interpret, praise, and critique where such is necessary. I am strongly considering other courses by Dr. Guelzo. Thank you, and God bless!
Date published: 2015-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly pleased Let me start by saying that I'm not sure I can add to the reviews already left. I think this is a fantastic course, by a fantastic professor - Dr. Guelzo is, in fact, my favorite TC professor and the only reason I bought this course - on a fascinating and interesting topic. I've listened to many, many TC courses and this was the only one that I found so engrossing that I would keep listening to subsequent lectures at home (I usually listen only in the car). That said, as other reviews have pointed out, this is not an introductory course. The learner should have some basic background of philosophy and a rather strong background of American history (TC's "The History of the United States" is required listening anyway). It is also not a course for someone who has trouble holding their attention. I had to rewind the course several times to keep up. Not because I was bored, but because the ideas presented are complex. That said, I really cannot say enough about the quality of this course. It uniquely fuses history and philosophy in a way that I have really not seen done before. I'm not really a fanatical student of philosophy, and I was expecting to, perhaps, enjoy this course. I was shocked to find that it was one of my favorite TC courses. Again, I don't know that I can add to what has already been said other than to echo the positive sentiments and, hopefully, banish the negative ones. Additionally, I will say that Dr. Guelzo's presentation style is absolutely remarkable. He is, by far, the most engaging presenter I have ever listened to in any capacity. He is extraordinarily witty and has the exceptionally unique ability to infuse drama and suspense without making you groan at the speaker's obvious attempts at doing so. I recommend this and any other courses by Dr. Guelzo.
Date published: 2015-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Consider This Part of the Education of a Citizen This is a course that I'd love to present to all of the voters so frustrated with today's political process. Most of us have developed our personal narrative of how the country developed, the philosophies under which it operates and how our individual political values differ. Our narratives have major differences, however, in frustrating ways. We are heirs to a bewildering array of histories, both philosophical and political. Professor Guelzo's lectures help make plain that this isn't just an illusion, or a recent phenomenon, but an almost inevitable happening based on the nation's founders and developers. You come away with an understanding of not only how your own political views were formed, but an appreciation of how “the other guy” thinks. He promotes understanding both ways. Is there such a thing as “de-demonizing” a political opinion? That is the effect, at any rate. He points out that the early settlers were religious emigres from Europe, and that the founders overlaid an enlightenment based structure on top of the existing social order, primarily based on various religions that broke with the church of England. The tension resulting from these two structures, one religious, one secular, has formed American society. Each wave of immigration, forced by foreign wars and economic disasters following the formation of the republic has added its own flavor to this separation. His sequence of presentation is coherent and fascinating. I lived through the second half of the twentieth century and saw it unfold. Professor Guelzo's lectures gave me new insight into what I watched go down, and they also made some relationships which were confusing or ambiguous starkly obvious. The panoply of American thinkers he introduces is broad. From the early explorers and religious leaders that built the colonies through the philosophers, the founders, scientsts, journalists, historians and others, the professor gives an introduction and enough of an exposition of their writings and ideas to engage the student in a search for more. The appendices to the course guidebook, including a glossary of political terms and movements and biographical notes of the people covered in the course are especially worthy of note. Some of the reviews have criticized the emphasis he puts on the religious roots of the country. I find it strange that they would try to make this point. Two hundred years after the founding of the country, 78% of the population claims to be Christian. It is hard to try to make the point that 80% of population should be minimized, philosophically. I do admit that due to my lack of religious sympathies I was disturbed by his emphasis early in the course. It forced me to go out and find the statistics, and I have to admit, not withstanding my misgivings, Professor Guelzo is correct.
Date published: 2014-10-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from American Mind The course lacks focus; it's just a long, long tale of obscure and not so obscure characters who opined about religious, economic, or political philosophy. The introduction is the worst, as the professor sarcastically criticizes his peers who have criticized his approach to this course. At the end, there is minimal summary. If you like "the trees" but don't care what "forest" you are in, you might like this course. It might be saved with another few lectures that take various socio-politcal segments of the US today (such as the Tea Party) one at a time and traced their lineage to the characters in the prior 36 lectures.
Date published: 2014-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great visit of the American Mind set For a first intellectual history visit of the American Mind set, it was very informative & easy to swallow.
Date published: 2014-03-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intellectual History or Cultural Ideology? It’s hard to tell sometimes when an historical rendering of events becomes political fantasy. Professor Guelzo's lectures on the American Mind occupy a gray area in this regard. Much of what he says is incisive and brilliantly expressed. But his overarching assumptions are suspect at best. They’re shrewdly imposed top down, rather than inferred tentatively from the bottom up. Guelzo objects to what he calls "the Great Convention" in American Intellectual History, the view that Americans are primarily a practically minded people, who over time have focused increasingly on the worldly circumstances of their lives, oftentimes with considerable intelligence and success. He’s especially contemptuous of philosophical pragmatism and intellectuals like John Dewey who insisted that practical mindedness is the sole basis for a proper understanding of healthy self-development and civic virtue. Guelzo argues that American culture has two distinct centers or “souls” that work together in a dialectical relationship. One is religion that arrived on American shores with the Puritans in the form of Protestant Christianity. The other is the “mostly secular” western enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. But make no mistake about it, he regards religion as more important and thinks it’s scandalous that “the Great Convention” in American Intellectual History has grossly underestimated this fact. It’s a bit ironic that someone with sympathy for religious conventions would disparage “the Great Convention” within his own academic field. Be this as it may, it’s a convention for a reason. Leading scholars in American Intellectual History have presumably considered the evidence and assented to this view. Do the institutions of Protestant Christianity, or, for that matter, religious institutions of any other kind, continue to shape the American mind in a way they may have in the past, or is their influence melting away like an ice cube on a warm day, as apparently has happened in Western Europe? Granted, there's room for debate here. But even Guelzo concedes where the sentiment lies in his field. He candidly admits he’s not a philosopher and makes no claim to be a theologian. Yet he insists that the institutions of Protestant religion have been a powerful force within American culture no less important than the practical mindedness of the American people. As a historian Guelzo should be careful not to stray too far from established empirical facts, or be too one-sided in selecting his evidence. His position is subject to the counter claims of his peers. This may say nothing about the truth of religious convictions when made on other grounds, only that they can’t be used to drive historical inquiry. It’s questionable enough to contend that conventional American religion continues to play a defining role in shaping the American mind. But to assert that its influence remains on a par with America pragmatism is a top-down attitude if there ever was one. Despite everything I’ve said about the gratuitousness of his basic assumptions, Guelzo’s lectures are highly rewarding to listen to and think about. He’s an excellent storyteller who helps us appreciate how hard it is to build an intellectually credible culture.
Date published: 2014-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Good Presentation This was a pretty good course. It was taught by Professor Allen C. Guelzo. Dr. Guelzo's presentation manner was excellent and the information was well presented. Professor Guelzo said that there would be six recurring themes that would run through the lectures. I forgot what they all were but two of them were that the Puritan beginnings of America and the Enlightenment were the two minds of America and they would continue to interact throughout the series. I thought that was an excellent point and was well developed throughout. There was one thought that was presented that I thought made the entire lecture series worth while. He said that when Englishmen read Locke they had to imagine society rising from a state of nature and entering into contracts to keep their property safe. However, the American's didn't have to use their imagination they could see it taking place around them. I've never thought of it that way. It was awesome. I really enjoyed the first half of the series up until Lincoln and the Civil War. Then I started noticing that Dr. Guelzo was concentrating on the liberal and progressive thought process of the American mind. I kept waiting for him to mention the Christian Fundamental movement of the 20th Century. Practically the only mention of it was when he said the Reinhold Nieburh was too old and tired to respond to something negative that Billy Graham said about him. That's the only mention Billy Graham which was the only mention of the Fundamental movement, and Billy Graham wasn't that great a mention of the movement anyway. Reinhold Nieburh is the only Christian mentioned in the 20th Century, and while he's a good representative I wouldn't say that he represented most American Christians. However, in the 36th Lecture he redeems or explains himself. He said that there were many strands of thoughts that he could have covered and that he covered those that he knew the best. I'm sure that's true. He also, talked about the conservative movement, and how he thought that President Regan was the first conservative president elected. I thought that was pretty good. He also said that he thought that the left was caught be surprise when Regan was elected because they had totally bought into Marxist idea that mankind was homo economist, or man driven by economics. With Regan they voted culturally. this delivered 5 of the next 7 presidencies to the Republicans. I wish it was that the current Republicans would learn that lesson: people don't just vote their pocket books but sometimes vote their consciences if they have a choice. Of course this caught the the left by surprise for much the same reason that Dr. Guelzo didn't cover the Christian Fundamental movement. The Left ignores the majority of Christians, and just relates with the intellectual Christians like Reinhold Nieburh, the kind who wouldn't vote for Regan on a dare. Overall an excellent lecture series.
Date published: 2014-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Anything by Guelzo is Superb This is basically a philosophy course covering religious and secular philosophy as it affected life in our country from Colonial times to the present. I've had trouble finding good philosophy courses, but as usual, anything by Professor Guelzo is so good you can only marvel at his level of performance. I loved the course. The coverage was everything I had been hoping to find, and more.
Date published: 2013-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Demands Your Attention Excuse the pun in my review title, but it is intended. This is a hugely worthwhile, valuable course that contains a quite detailed history on how and why Americans thought what they did over the centuries. It is also a course that requires your careful attention. It is not a series of casual talks, but a powerful intellectual history course that delves into the thinking processes of Americans starting with the Pilgrim fathers. Another caveat: it's advisable to have prior knowledge of the history of the USA; Great Courses offer an excellent course on just this. "The American Mind" is a highly-recommended companion follow-up to a such a basic history course. Dr Guelzo is, I think, the ideal professor to teach this series ~ his academic qualifications are impeccable; his life and interests have proven his dedication to the American scene, and he is a very good talker who can introduce drama and theatre into his lectures so well. A wonderful course!
Date published: 2013-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insight from Stellar Professor Here is someone who not only knows their subject like the inside of their own pocket, but also presents it in such a gripping and eloquent way that leaves Orson Welles in the shadows. For a UK student, this is one of the most revealing insights into US history, thinking and philosophy I have come across. Thank you!
Date published: 2013-04-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Had very high expectations. In 36 lectures the Professor takes the listener through the upper echelon of thinkers in American history. Most lectures will explore a theme or movement by paying attention to one individual, or a few individuals, whose work and ideas are representative of the whole. His style is that of a storyteller, with plenty of inflection and dramatic pauses. I like his style, in fact, his course on Abraham Lincoln is my favorite of all Great Courses I have listed to yet. So I had very high expectations for this course. The course was hard to follow at times, especially when multiple people are referenced. If one is very familiar with Kant, Hegel, De Maistre, Chateaubriand, (just to name a few); then the references (without much background) to these people will make perfect sense to you. Overall I found the course too esoteric. The focus was too narrow for my interest. The course would be better renamed: "The Intellectual History of a Handful of Americans, With an Emphasis on Harvard".
Date published: 2013-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intellectual Fun This course revealed so much to me that I had never considered before. I especially appreciated the insights on how the early colleges were founded in the US. Before studying this course, I never really thought about the many ideas and philosophies that formed the US. I find myself scanning political news articles today and thinking about the philosophies behind them. Having taken other Great Courses in philosophy prepared me to study this one and to get the most of it. I appreciated the college-level presentation of this subject.
Date published: 2013-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging but Worthwhile Course Let me say upfront that I enjoy Professor Guelzo's lecture style, in this and his other TTC courses. Yes, he can border on pompous and bombastic, but his skillful turn of phrase and precise vocabulary always make for a fun, engaging presentation. As for his course content, this offering weaves a fine line between the broad themes of American intellectual history, which I enjoyed very much, and a narrower, deeper dive into the pervailing philosophies evolving within America's leading academic institutions, which grew tiresome at times, I suspect due to my own unfamiliarity with much of this content but also because it was pretty dry. Although Prof. Guelzo brought great energy and enthusiasm to the task, I found that I had to work a bit to hold my interest in the course from time to time and took longer than usual to complete all 36 lectures. All that said, however, I would recommend the course to others with the admonition that Prof. Guelzo may not be everyone's cup of tea (he is mine) and that you will need to bring heightened attention to the course material or risk getting lost and losing interest. I watched the DVD version of this course, but graphics are of little use and would recommend the audio version as a more cost effective choice.
Date published: 2012-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! This is the most thorough, unbiased look at the "American Mind" that I have ever viewed. This ability to understand the religious and secular forces (using facts and Reason), which also shaped our Founding and much of our history, is illuminated. He includes all the dynamic forces--and I mean ALL-- so that we really understand the history of the United States---not by the Socialist/Progressive prism so often forced in the secular schools to eliminate God and impose Darwinism, but in the balanced view which doesn't skirt the origins and fundamental thinking of the Puritans and Calvin's philosophy. Puritans were indeed, enlightened, much as Europeans, and this Age of Reason and intellectual pursuits were used even by the fuddy-duddies in weird black clothing, to uncover the Truth of God. He doesn't gloss over the Great Awakenings, nor the pragmatism of James and the odd John Dewey. You had better understand philosophy and theology to a certain extent and know at least the fundamental movers and shakers in the major events of U.S. history, for he doesn't waste a single sentence with time-wasting nonsense. His presentation is excellent, engaging and exciting!
Date published: 2012-08-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult but worthwhile The review from June 12th stated that Professor Guelzo's course on The American Mind is not college level. I think that is absurd ..... it absolutely is. I found the course quite difficult in places and it was a near thing as to whether I could recommend it to a friend ....... it would have to be an intellectually motivated friend. I do think some criticisms of the course are justified ...... and at times I too thought that Dr. Guelzo had an agenda ......a Biblical agenda. Some of his assertions ...... presented as simple statements of truth, gave me heartburn. As well, he drops an awful lot of names ........ maybe this was needful, but I found it occasionally tedious.. So ....... did I learn from this course? Yes. Many intellectual traditions and their practitioner/leaders were brought together in a comprehensive overview that I found instructive and meaningful. While I did struggle at times, I expect to revisit several lectures in order to gain a better understanding of the material ....... the game is worth the candle. Professor Guelzo is more conservative than I am ....... but I welcome the opportunity to learn from him. I would order any course that he teaches.
Date published: 2012-06-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing! Don’t expect this to be a college level lecture, it’s not. Instead you get what sounds like an author reading his own book. The first half was somewhat tolerable and interesting, if you were looking for an audio book on early the history of theological perspectives of the north east portion of the USA from someone who sounds a lot like a preacher. I listen to a lot of audio books and if this had been presented that way, I might have purchased it. But as an intellectual history it came up lacking. The character studies, though sometimes insightful were very narrow and often obscure. At the same time Guelzo formed conclusions and generalizations without logical foundation or consideration of opposing views. As he moves into the second half of the book it gets worse. I had to simply stop listening and let it rest for several days before I could continue. Guelzo is clearly a Lincoln worshiper and his narrow-minded views of Lincoln’s war are appalling. As it moves into the second half of the 19th century, it becomes clear that Guelzo is very week on economic understanding and makes far too many illogical and unsupported conclusions that support his personal grudges and biases. Save your money and skip this one, even if it is on sale for 70% off.
Date published: 2012-06-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Potential, Unfortunate Execution "The American Mind" - more accurately, An Intellectual History of the United States - could have been wonderful. It wasn't. The topic is fascinating, and I would think many of us who live in the U.S. (and likely others) would love to have a thoughtful, balanced, unbiased, insightful and appropriately critical review of the best and/or most influential thinking to come out of our great experiment. Unfortunately, this is not that course. Prof. Guelzo's command of this mass of material is remarkable, and his speaking style is clear, articulate, confident, well-organized, and often eloquent, It is marred, however, by a sardonic attitude which is so constant it seems second-nature, and which sometimes shades into overt if understated mockery. This attitude is paired with a frequently tendentious approach to the material, often presenting a view as particularly positive or negative without providing thoughtful counter-arguments. While I felt this tendency to be present throughout the course, it reaches manifestly absurd proportions in the grossly unfair characterization of the morality of science and scientists during World War II in lecture 31, and is also quite clear in the pro-religious moralizing in lecture 32. An aside, but an important one - all this led me to wonder about the wellsprings of this bias. An internet search revealed that Dr. Guelzo received his undergraduate education at Philadelphia Biblical University, an institution whose only bachelor's level degree is a B.S. in Bible. Prof. Guelzo also earned an M.Div. and his first teaching post was at a seminary. There is (of course!) nothing wrong with this - *except* that The Great Courses' Professor Biography in the Course Outline leaves all of this out entirely! (The DVD mentions only the M.Div.) TGC people - this looks like an absolutely clear case of trying to hide your professor's expected biases. An explanation, and a commitment to avoid such deception in the future, would be most appreciated. A final criticism, unrelated to the above: A very great deal of the course is taken up by traditional historical descriptions of the people and events of American history, areas which are reasonably well-covered, and covered in more depth, in other TGC courses. This left much less time than should have been the case for examining the purported focus of this course, the history of American ideas. This certainly contributed to the relatively superficial and one-sided treatment of many of those ideas. So - for all of these reasons, I cannot recommend this course. I do hope, however, that it will be re-done entirely with these criticisms in mind. The subject is deserving of an outstanding course.
Date published: 2012-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too superficial I took this course because I was so impressed by the professor's presentation in the American History course (which I would rate as 5 stars). This course was just too superficial. It lacked the continuity of a history course, and it just didn't probe issues deeply enough to be of philosophical value. I have an interest in both history and philosophy and did not feel that either interests was satisfied. Particulary disappointing was the lecture on Neoconservatism (which given current events, should have been much more detailed). The result is interesting tidbits about different people in American history. I don't think this course adds much to the American History course (which I recommend wholeheartedly in its place).
Date published: 2011-08-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good presentation but too many name drops Professor Guelzo has a very good lecture presence in voice and tone, but his presentations contained too many name drops. He clearly chose to organize the course this way, but for someone who is not well versed in American History the effect can be disorienting. A course built more around concepts might have been easier to follow. Certain lectures around the Civil War period and the early revivals are quite good. I give it 3 stars not because I didn't learn and enjoy certain lectures, but because I would recommend other Teaching Company Courses to a friend. I have a BA in history & philosophy, a MA in Theology, and law degree, and by the end of the course I decided the scattered presentation and not just my ignorance of U.S. history contributed to my struggle to follow this course.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent intriguing, thought provoking and insightful, but i think, most of all, a balanced and "unique" way of thinking about America
Date published: 2011-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Who Knew We Have a Mind? An interesting and thought - provoking course. The professor starts by pointing out that the premise of the course itself is an issue. Americans tend to see themselves as a doing people rather than an idea/intellectual people (my interpretation of what he said). Then he goes on to demonstrate that we are a people who have thought and written about ideas. He identifies six major issues that keep arising throughout American intellectual history: ***The struggles between intellect and will ***The continuing importance of religious ideas in our intellectual life ***The continuing struggle between religion and enlightenment (science) Newer issues are: ***The power of liberal capitalism ***The role of pragmatism ***The issues raised by the US's ascent to status as a world power All these issues remain relevant and controversial to this day. Seeing their historical development provides insight into current debates. For example, the conflict between religion and enlightenment/science is obviously still a great source of divisiveness in American (political) life. Realizing that this has been controversial since the founding of the Republic, changes one's perspective. Similarly, there is no surprise to a present-day American to discover that religious thought has always powered our intellectual life. But, seeing the long term gives one a greater appreciation of why this continues to be true. Leaning more about American history is always fascinating and helps me better understand why we are where we are. (There have been times of even greater divisiveness and polarization.) I am always surprised by the way issues repeat themselves throughout our history. (The North-South divide. The agrarian v. urban/industrial divide.) I am also always surprised by how beliefs and factions can flip over time. (Baptists were huge supporters of separating religion and the state during the founding period. That doesn't seem to be quite the situation today.) And, learning more about the Founding Fathers and other great leaders (Lincoln, etc.) always forces me to reassess what I think of them. This course left me with a lot to ponder. That's a test of an excellent course for me. The instructor is excellent.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Content, Slightly Grating Presentation Prof. Guelzo has, as others have observed, a somewhat affected style of presentation. He attempts to "act" the presentation, but simply comes across as a bit pompous. Too bad, because he has many important, interesting things to say. As someone who is married to a Brit, a non-American, I was particularly interested in hearing his discussions about what makes us distinctly American. There, he succeeds. It was not time wasted, but I could have stood a more relaxed reading.
Date published: 2010-10-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking Outstanding content, presented in an appealing manner. Great lecturer. Best of all Professor Guelzo makes you think.
Date published: 2010-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Great! I've listened to this course twice now. I've come to believe that its one of the best TC courses out there (and I've got ~50 of them). It's basically a history of how Americans thought over the decades, and what caused them to think they way they did. The professor has a fine sense of theater to his presentations. Two caveats though: 1) This is not an intro course. Check out TC's fantastic courses on the history of the United States first. This course then takes you the next fascinating steps in that tour. 2) This is not an easy course. You do have to concentrate a bit and pay attention to the various plot lines being developed. But trust me, it's well worth the effort. These caveats make it a course that you can listen to several times, and always pick out something new that you hadn't noticed before. I'm quite sure I'll be listening to it again within the year.
Date published: 2010-04-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Tracing events back to ideas Too often a history course only tells you what happened. I enjoyed how Prof Guelzo shows how ideas germinate, grow, become movements, and eventually affect historical events. There were many cases in the course where he would begin by talking about an intellectual that I had never heard of and work forward to a politician or an event with which I am familiar. I found the connection fascinating. Having said that, it may have been more helpful if he had started with the familiar event/person and worked backwards to its ideological roots. There were times when I spent the first half of the lecture a little lost because it was filled with unfamiliar people/concepts, and I could not see where it was going. I almost stalled in the first third of the course because my knowledge of pre-Revolutionary history was not strong enough to give me a framework to follow the course. But once he got into time periods where my knowledge was stronger, I enjoyed the course a lot more. So if you get bogged down in the first 3rd, skip to lecture 13 instead of quitting.
Date published: 2010-03-16
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