Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies

Course No. 8510
Professor Robert J. Allison, Ph.D.
Suffolk University
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Course No. 8510
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Course Overview

The history of colonial America is a story of extraordinary scope, with Europeans, Africans, and the native peoples of North America interacting in a drama of settlement and conflict that lasted nearly three centuries. In the midst of it, no one would have predicted that the profoundly different English colonies along the East Coast, separated by religion, politics, economics, and many other factors, would eventually join to form the United States of America.

Yet the seeds for this outcome and the future character of the United States were germinating in developments such as these:

  • The Mayflower Compact: As the Mayflower lay anchored in Massachusetts Bay in 1620, the Pilgrims drew up an agreement committing themselves to self-government. No other colony in the New World—French, Spanish, or Dutch—asserted such a right.
  • The Quaker colony: America's core ideals of democracy, fair trade, religious freedom, and social mobility first came together in the 1680s with the founding of William Penn's Quaker colony of Pennsylvania—"the best poor man's country in the world," praised one early visitor.
  • The Great War for Empire: Also called the French and Indian War, this global clash of empires began in North America with an attack led by the young militia captain George Washington. Lasting from 1754 to 1763, it ended with England and her colonies as the preeminent power on the continent.

Indeed, the events that led from the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1607 to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, on the eve of the American Revolution, tell us who we are as citizens of the New World, what ideas and traditions shaped us, what our ancestors experienced, and how the United States came to be.

In addition, they tell a larger story of geopolitical rivalries that spread across the globe, as the major European powers competed to build vast empires based on their voyages of discovery and colonization—a struggle that forged the modern nations of Europe, the idea of empire, and the mercantile system of global trade.

Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies tells this epic story in 36 spellbinding lectures by Professor Robert J. Allison of Suffolk University in Boston. An acclaimed teacher, Professor Allison is also an eminent scholar who has served as an advisor to several prestigious museums and historical societies in Massachusetts, including the Commonwealth Museum at the State Archives in Boston.

Building a New World

While concentrating on British North America, Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies also covers developments in the colonial outposts of Spain, France, and the Netherlands. Britain's possessions in the West Indies loom large in this story as well, since the mainland colonies developed primarily to serve the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, which were the source of the most lucrative crop in the New World and the reason for the enormous growth in the slave trade.

You begin by examining the state of Europe, Africa, and the Americas in 1500, when the full extent of the New World was just becoming clear. After investigating Spain's initial dominance in the region, you turn to the earliest English efforts to establish a colony, resulting in the Jamestown settlement—a near-disaster that was saved by the discovery that a breed of tobacco from South America could flourish there.

Then you trace the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth and the society that they and the later-arriving Puritans built in New England. In recounting the ensuing settlement of North America, Professor Allison notes that the British crown had no grand plan for creating a unified political entity. Each colony had its own genesis. For example, South Carolina was founded by English planters from the West Indies, New York was won from the Dutch in a war over international trade, and Georgia was established from a private philanthropic concern for English debtors.

You also look at the settlement of the New World from the point of view of the native peoples, who responded to the colonists with a mixture of cooperation and fierce resistance. And you probe how the importation of African slaves transformed the civilization of the colonies with new traditions, skills, foods, and other aspects of the cultures represented by these unwilling immigrants.

The colonies were often turbulent, dangerous places, and you learn about Indian wars, slave revolts, witch persecutions, rampant piracy, and other upheavals, as well as the gradual cementing of social order and the development of customs that made the colonies distinct—and difficult for the British government to rule.

The course builds toward a discussion of the roots of the rebellion that succeeded in toppling the colonial system—the American Revolution—covering its long gestation and closing with an examination of the meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

Conflict, Hardship, and Adventure

Drawing on a wealth of illustrative material, including period engravings and maps showing the New World as it was known at the time, Professor Allison weaves a captivating story. His gift for conveying complex material in an entertaining and enlightening way has earned him teaching awards at both Suffolk University and the Harvard Extension School.

Professor Allison conducts you through a subject unusually rich with absorbing personal narratives. The very nature of the colonial enterprise ensured that there would be no end of conflict, hardship, and adventure, providing a stage for many heroic and colorful characters. Among the historical figures you learn about are the following:

  • Captain John Smith: Professor Allison calls Smith "one of the most interesting characters in the history of Great Britain and North America." Smith's alleged rescue by Pocahontas (which may not have happened) almost pales beside his other exploits.
  • Anne Hutchinson: A brilliant theologian, Hutchinson took on the Puritan establishment of Massachusetts, arguing against its punitive interpretation of scripture. Banished, she moved to Rhode Island where she founded the town of Portsmouth. She later died in an Indian massacre in New Netherland.
  • Mary Rowlandson: Taken captive by the Wampanoag leader King Philip during his uprising against the Puritan settlers in the 1670s, Rowlandson wrote a remarkable memoir about her ordeal. King Philip's War was the bloodiest conflict per capita in American history.
  • Olaudah Equiano: Kidnapped as a boy from a West African village in the 1750s, Equiano spent years being sold from owner to owner throughout the New World and England. He eventually bought his freedom and became a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery.
  • Benjamin Franklin: This celebrated Founding Father shows up in numerous lectures in the course—dealing with his impoverished upbringing, his youthful clash with Cotton Mather over smallpox inoculation, a famous and misunderstood political cartoon, and his diplomatic genius.
  • Patrick Henry: Henry was a failure at everything he tried until he bluffed his way into the Virginia legal profession, took on a hopeless case, and achieved renown for his bold argument that the king of England could not veto an act of the Virginia legislature—a startling view that resonated with the public mood.

Thanks to the contributions of these and many other notable inhabitants of the New World, the American colonies became a crucible of social ferment and innovation, testing new ideas about society, religion, agriculture, and economics. Some ideas caught on; others did not. But the resulting change was rapid and profound—not only in the colonies themselves but around the globe. In fundamental ways, the world we know today emerged from the tempestuous and eventful history of colonial America. Deepen your appreciation for this formative era with Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The World before Colonial America
    What was the world like in 1500? Begin your investigation of colonial America by exploring the European discovery of the New World. What was happening in the Americas, West Africa, and Europe, where seemingly unrelated events would converge to change history? x
  • 2
    Spain's New World Empire
    Newly united under the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, Spain accidentally found itself in possession of previously unknown lands. Learn how Spain set about exploiting the New World and how it acquired the mineral wealth of Mexico, which excited the ambitions of other European powers. x
  • 3
    John Smith, Pocahontas, and Jamestown
    Investigate the varied life of Captain John Smith, a prototypical Englishman in an age of expansion. After a career as a mercenary fighting Turks, he was assigned to the London Company's venture to Virginia, where he helped found Jamestown and was famously saved by Pocahontas—a story he may have fabricated. x
  • 4
    Virginia and the Chesapeake after Smith
    Discover how tobacco seeds from South America rescued the Virginia colony from extinction but also caused increased conflict with Native Americans. Virginia remained a death-trap for Europeans brought to work in the tobacco fields, which led to a greater reliance on slave labor. x
  • 5
    The Pilgrims and Plymouth
    Who were the Pilgrims, and how did this small devout religious community revolutionize the colonization of North America? Learn how a crisis aboard the Mayflower prompted the Mayflower Compact, which asserted a principle claimed by no other colony in the New World: self-government. x
  • 6
    The Iroquois, the French, and the Dutch
    Expansion by the Dutch and the French into New Netherland and New France brought them into contact with the Iroquois, the most powerful people in eastern North America. See how the goals and principles of these three peoples collided as they competed for pelts and power. x
  • 7
    The Puritans and Massachusetts
    The Puritans represented a different religious sect from the Pilgrims and were from a more prosperous social class. Learn what motivated them to migrate to New England in the 1630s, and how they developed self-governing institutions such as the town meeting. x
  • 8
    New England Heretics—Religious and Economic
    Study three figures who disrupted the social order of New England. Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams were religious heretics in the 1630s. In the 1640s, merchant Robert Keayne also challenged Puritan orthodoxy—not on religious grounds, but because the Puritan hierarchy disputed his right to trade. x
  • 9
    The Connecticut Valley and the Pequot War
    Although the founders of Massachusetts believed they were coming to save the native people, they were soon involved in a bloody war to exterminate the Pequot of eastern Connecticut. Examine the causes of this conflict and its consequences for the Indians and for the Puritans themselves. x
  • 10
    Sugar and Slaves—The Caribbean
    Focus on an area where the colonization venture flourished: the Caribbean. Barbados and Jamaica produced sugar that enriched English investors. Other European powers fought for control of the West Indies, and here the Europeans developed a system of slavery unknown in the Old World. x
  • 11
    Mercantilism and the Growth of Piracy
    Sail the seas with a notorious byproduct of the newfound colonial wealth: pirates. During its golden age in the 1600s, piracy was a big business, fueling the economies of countries that harbored freebooters. The need to suppress pirates ended up strengthening the authority of the imperial powers. x
  • 12
    South Carolina—Rice, Cattle, and Artisans
    The only North American colony founded from the West Indies, South Carolina had a different social fabric from its neighbors. Professor Allison explains how rice, a crop essentially unknown to the English, became a lucrative export, thanks to the importation of African slaves skilled in its cultivation. x
  • 13
    New Netherland Becomes New York
    The Iroquois alliance in the fur trade made New Netherland a prosperous colony of the Dutch West India Company. Discover how conflict between the Dutch and English led to the British conquest of New Netherland, though many of the Dutch chose to stay under the new regime. x
  • 14
    King Philip's War in New England
    Encounter the bloodiest war per capita in American history, a rebellion of native people led by Metacom, also known as King Philip. Bands of Indians attacked half of the English towns from Maine to Connecticut, burning 17 to the ground. The conflict caused thousands of deaths among settlers and Indians. x
  • 15
    Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia
    Nathaniel Bacon, an English aristocrat, led a military force of former indentured servants that nearly toppled the Virginia government. Learn that in the aftermath, Virginia planters turned more toward African slaves for their labor force, bringing Virginia's era of indentured servitude to a close. x
  • 16
    Santa Fe and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680
    Examine Spain's strategy of securing the remote upper Rio Grande as a protective buffer for its rich mines in Mexico. Conflict with the Pueblo Indians led to a Spanish policy that resulted in a hybrid culture in the region—part Native American, part Spanish. x
  • 17
    William Penn's New World Vision
    In 1681, King Charles II granted to William Penn, an English Quaker, all of the land west of the Delaware River. Gauge the success of Penn's goal of establishing a place of fair trade, benevolence, religious freedom, and peaceable relations between Europeans and native people. x
  • 18
    The New England Uprising of 1689
    King James II proposed reforming the New England colonies into one entity: the Dominion of New England. Witness the reaction of recalcitrant colonists when the new governor arrived to tell them that they couldn't hold town meetings, set aside common land, and otherwise govern themselves. x
  • 19
    Witchcraft in New England
    In 1692 Salem, Massachusetts, experienced the most famous outbreak of witchcraft persecution in colonial America. Probe several intriguing questions: What caused these incidents? Why did people accuse their neighbors of witchcraft? And what were the long-term consequences of this public hysteria? x
  • 20
    Captives and Stories of Captivity
    New England and New France were on a collision course after the 1660s. In Canada, the French spurred their Native American allies to attack frontier settlements in New England, seizing hundred of captives who were taken to Canada. Learn why some captives, particularly women, preferred their new lives to their old. x
  • 21
    The Indians' New World
    Weigh the price that Indians paid for European colonization. While Europeans encountered a previously unknown land, rich with new plants and animals, the Indians also faced a new world—of imported crops, livestock, tools, weapons, religions, and, above all, diseases, which devastated native populations. x
  • 22
    Family Life and Labor in Colonial America
    Notions of family life and the nature of a family were undergoing a transformation during the centuries of colonization in the Americas. Here, grasp the parental and social forces that welcomed the independence of children. x
  • 23
    Smallpox, 1721—The Inoculation Controversy
    Delve into an important early episode in the battle against smallpox: the 1721 outbreak in Boston, which triggered a heated dispute over a method of inoculation recommended by Rev. Cotton Mather. The young Benjamin Franklin wrote an anonymous series of essays satirizing Mather and New England culture. x
  • 24
    France, Senegal, and Louisiana
    Shifting attention back to New France, consider France's strategy of planting colonies from Canada to the lower Mississippi, which met setbacks along the Gulf Coast. The French trading post on the Senegal River in Africa provided most of the immigrants to French Louisiana, profoundly influencing the developing culture there. x
  • 25
    Georgia—Dreams and Realities
    Learn how Georgia was born from two motives: English philanthropists hoped to found a colony in the New World where debtors could find useful labor; and the British government needed a buffer on the South Carolina border to prevent expansion of Spanish Florida and French Louisiana. x
  • 26
    The Atlantic Slave Trade and South Carolina
    By the mid-1700s, Britain was bringing more than 50,000 African slaves to the New World every year, with South Carolina providing one of the major markets. Learn how the small white population in South Carolina faced insurrection from the slaves on whose labor their survival depended. x
  • 27
    The New York Conspiracy of 1741
    Discover that New York City, too, was ripe with unrest. In 1741, a tavern frequented by slaves and free blacks, Irish servants, and Spanish dancing masters (who may have been disguised Catholic priests) was the alleged headquarters for an attempt to burn the city. x
  • 28
    The Great Awakening
    Investigate the origins of the Great Awakening, a religious revival that swept the American colonies in the 1740s and 1750s. At its root was a new relationship between worshipers and their churches, which displaced Old World traditions. The movement produced such notable evangelists as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. x
  • 29
    The Albany Conference of 1754
    Responding to moves to consolidate France's position in North America, the British government ordered its colonies to meet at Albany and restore their alliance with the Iroquois. As you'll discover, a delegate named Benjamin Franklin tried in vain to unite his fellow colonists in this cause. x
  • 30
    The Great War for Empire
    The first global war started as a frontier skirmish between a Virginia militia unit led by 22-year-old George Washington and a group of French soldiers and Native American warriors. Explore this contest of empires, which Americans call the French and Indian War—a struggle that the British won after initial reverses. x
  • 31
    Pontiac's Revolt against the British
    A confederation of native tribes under the leadership of Pontiac very nearly drove the British out of the Ohio and Great Lakes valleys. Follow the Indians' well-coordinated plan and the aftermath, which saw the rise of vigilante groups of settlers that indiscriminately killed Native Americans. x
  • 32
    Imperial Reform—The Sugar and Stamp Acts
    Regarding its colonies as a cohesive economic unit, the British Parliament set up a system to regulate colonial trade. Hear about the impact of the Sugar Act and the notorious Stamp Act, which incited violent resistance by self-proclaimed "Sons of Liberty." x
  • 33
    North Carolina Regulators Seek Local Rule
    Watch the seeds of revolution take root in North Carolina over seemingly petty local grievances. There, misrule by colonial officials spawned the Regulator movement, which sought to reduce taxation and curb the abuse of power. The movement reached a bloody climax at the Battle of Alamance in 1771. x
  • 34
    Virginia—Patrick Henry and the West
    Trace the rise of Patrick Henry from an obscure lawyer to public figure, thanks to his brilliant argument for the autonomy of the Virginia legislature in a case called the Parson's Cause. Also look at Dunmore's War, in which aggressive Virginians frustrated the Indian policy of the British. x
  • 35
    Destruction of Tea and Colonial Rebellion
    Probe behind the scenes of one of the most famous incidents leading to the American Revolution: the Boston Tea Party. The British Tea Act in 1773 focused on India, but a minor provision relating to the North American colonies provoked rebellion in Boston and other colonial seaports. x
  • 36
    Independence and Beyond
    After exploring the starkly different colonial societies in the previous lectures, consider how remarkable it was for them to sign a common Declaration of Independence in 1776. Investigate what united and divided England's North American colonies, which were about to embark on a bold new experiment in government. x

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Your professor

Robert J. Allison

About Your Professor

Robert J. Allison, Ph.D.
Suffolk University
Dr. Robert J. Allison is Professor of History at Suffolk University in Boston and also teaches history at the Harvard Extension School. He graduated from the Harvard Extension School with an A.L.B. before earning a Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization at Harvard in 1992. Professor Allison received the Harvard Extension School's Petra Shattuck Distinguished Teaching Award in 1997, the Suffolk University Student...
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Reviews

Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 92.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I thought I knew all about it! ... having read extensively about this period. But, this lecture series added all sorts of new and fascinating information, insight and anecdotes. In addition to a vast store of information, the lectures were made even more enjoyable by the lecturers sonorous voice and nice pacing. Some reviewers gave this series lower marks because of "errors" on the part of the lecturer. The ones I detected were not so much errors as, perhaps, poorly stated. For example he refers to Persian, like English, as being a Germanic language when it would have been better to say that Persian and English share a common root, proto-Indo-European. These few, and minor, items in no way detracted from my enjoyment of this informative, interesting, and, in places, amusing set of lectures. I was sorry to come to the end of them.
Date published: 2017-11-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Accurate Title I recently bought this course to learn more about my pilgrim heritage, but did not learn very much that was new. However, I am also interested in the 29 other sections of the course and think they will be very interesting and informative. I am very anxious to learn more about our early American history and this will be a fun way to do that.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Entertaining Overview I have read several books on Colonial America as part of a genealogical study -The Savage Years and Albion's Seed - and this fit in well with both of those. There are areas that I will explore in greater detail on my own, but I feel that this presents a good foundation for further study where required.
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great in-depth overview of Colonial America Being a student of American history, especially the Colonial period, I found this course a wonderful primer to the formation of the fledgling and developing English colonies in North America. Adequate, but not too much time and detail, was spent on each colony, it's leadership, people and events to keep the course interesting and moving along. Professor Allison did a marvelous job at putting in the right amount of detail on individuals, what they did, said and wrote, and tying it together to show the progression of social, religious and political life of each colony. I would listen to one to three of the lectures on the way to and from work and looked forward to each with anticipation. Great job overall by Professor Allison! I look forward to listening again in the near future.
Date published: 2017-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I am on the lecture 7, the Puritans and have found the course fascinating thus far. It would add some excitement if the presenter was a bit more animated. he is certainly knowledgeable but could smile more and exude more excitement into his presentation.
Date published: 2017-04-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Misleading title, but engaging all the same This is primarily a course in political and military history - not social history as the title implies. I expected less narration of the minutiae of shifting alliances and battles and more about how the colonists lived. I would not have bought it had I realized what the emphasis would be. With that said, the course is solid and informative. The professor has a competent lecture style without distracting quirks. I took the course on audio and it works very well in that format.
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A superb history of Colonial America If you are interested in Colonial America, there is no reason to hesitate. The professor is highly knowledgeable and is a very talented lecturer. The approach includes political, social, and economic factors. The British colonies are discussed in a global context that includes developments in Europe, the Caribbean, and in Native America. The 18 hours of lectures begin in the 16th century with the initial colonization by the Spanish, move on to the 17th century struggles between the Spanish, British, French, and Dutch empires, and then focus on the evolution of the British colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries. The 18th century political developments that culminated with the Declaration of Independence were covered in a lucid and moving fashion. I detected a Massachusetts perspective, not surprising since he professor has a doctorate from Harvard, teaches at Suffolk University in Boston, and has published on the Boston Tea Party. It is true that Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, North and South Carolina, and the neighboring areas of Florida, Ohio, and Louisiana, and the Upper Midwest also each becomes the focus of attention at various times in the course. However, as a "Baltimorean", I was sensitive to the near total neglect of the Colony of Maryland, which would have provided an interesting special case as a haven for Roman Catholics. If you don't share my particular interest in Maryland, you probably won't notice. I recommend a video format rather than audio-only. 90% of the time, you are looking at the professor lecturing, but the remaining 10% includes maps, pictures, and highlighting text. The course is quite dense. If you want to follow it closely, you will find this visual material quite helpful.
Date published: 2017-03-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from No streaming Wish I could watch it on my Ipad but no streaming available. Without video it puts me to sleep
Date published: 2017-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Entertaining Course! I REALLY enjoyed this course! The Professor has a very great of knowledge about this period in US history. I learned so much about the different colonies, their relationships with Britain and other countries, as well as each other, and the role of the native Americans in shaping this period in our history that I had never known about before. The insights into issues of economics and slavery were quite interesting (who knew where the term "cowboy" came from or that it was rice, not tobacco , that played a significant role in the agriculture of some of the southern states?). The discussion of the background of the Declaration of Independence and the background situations leading up to the idea of "separation of church and state" were very interesting. There was good use of on-screen text, pictures, and graphics without being excessive. The maps in both the video and in the guide book are excellent and helpful. That said, I think that this would be a good course in an audio format as well. The Timeline, Glossary, Biographical Notes, and Bibliography in the Guide Book are all excellent. What I REALLY enjoyed was the professor. He is comfortable with the material and speaking into the camera. He speaks in a casual, conversational style and is actually quite funny. I laughed all the way through the lecture about John Smith! I don 't see any other courses taught by this Professor in the course listings. This course was published in 2009, so it's possible that Professor Allison is no longer working with The Great Courses. However, if there is ever another course taught by Professor Allison, I would buy it immediately!
Date published: 2016-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An in-depth and comprehensive course This course provides quite an in depth view of what the American colonies were like prior to the American revolution. In the first ten lectures of “History of the United States”, Professor Guelzo provides quite a wide topical canvas of what the American colonies were like in this period, and I found them to be very well done indeed. This course is focused on a relatively short period in history; it dedicates the full thirty-six lectures to the topic and appropriately enough, the treatment is both broader and deeper. It is quite an in-depth course and is more of an advanced course than an introductory, wide survey type. I found it useful to have heard the mammoth 84 lecture course “History of the United States” before listening to this one, in order to get the general orientation. Most of the lectures have a primarily narrative subject as their central point of focus, but do contain many analytical and thematic aspects within them. The course explores many different topics, but a few major themes are covered in several lecture groups. One important theme is simply the narrative description of the formation of the different colonies; how they formed, who were their members and what kind of economy and governance did they form? Professor Allison makes a compelling case why the colonists “had” to create a slave based economy in order to succeed economically, and why this was particularly true for the South colonies as opposed to the more Northern ones. Another point which I found extremely interesting was how disjointed the colonies were – each following its own interest and all lacking an overarching governance structure. Another important and central theme is the interaction between the new colonists and the native American population. Many lectures are dedicated to this aspect and I found them to be exceptionally interesting and fascinating, and really quite tragic. A lot of time is spent on trying to understand the many complicated native American wars, and the other strategies the natives tried to adopt to best interact with the new settlers. Like other previous reviewers, I found Lecture 20, which describes the captivity of white colonists abducted by native Americans, to be one of the highlights of the course and to provide a perspective new to me. Another important theme has to do with explaining the dynamics between the colonies of the different European powers - Spain, France, Netherlands and England, and how eventually the colonies now called the United States ended up being governed by England. Finally, the last five lectures describe the friction between the colonies and England which lead us to the point ending the course – the American revolution. Some previous reviewers have commented that Professor Allison did not seem to be engaged in the lectures, even sounding bored sometimes. This is not what I felt. True – he did not go out of his way to make the lectures particularly entertaining, but there were quite generous doses of humor within the lectures. To me, he sounded enthusiastic and interested in the subject, and he presented the lectures in a sober and academic fashion. Overall I enjoyed his lecturing style a lot and really can’t think of anything I disliked about it. The course content itself was wonderful, profound and insightful, and its main topic is almost unique within the TGC library – certainly with anything close to this level of depth.
Date published: 2016-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating info + tidbits. Puts the coming Revolution into broader context. Highly recommended :-)
Date published: 2016-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course, Professor Allison In the almost fifty years since I graduated from high school, my memories of American history's earliest years have grown pretty dim. That's why I thought that "Before 1776" would be a good course for me. I wasn't disappointed. I didn't realize that there was that much history! Professor Allison does a great job of narrating his way through it, visiting now one colony, now another, now the frontier, giving a holistic picture of the early growth of our nation. He explains the unique characteristics of different regions, accounting for different local forms of government, or views of slavery or economics. He tells of events that I'm sure I never learned in school, but that had a significant influence in their time. All the while it is like hearing a skilled story teller who can keep you coming back for more. I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-07-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misinformation and Missing Events I originally looked forward to this course on early American History but, in the very first lecture, my Baloney Detection Kit was activated when Robert Allison noted that Persian was a Germanic language (it's not...it's Indo-European, not Germanic). He also made some questionable statements about the state of European affairs in the 15th century including Venice and Genoa as the only real European powers. At this point I started looking for omissions and mischaracterizations, and unfortunately I was not disappointed. Events in the Virginia and New England colonies are given precedence to the exclusion of other colonies. For instance, the founding and establishment of the Delaware and Maryland colonies by the Swedish and English Catholics respectively are completely ignored, an oversight that is all the more glaring from a historical perspective because early Maryland colonists enacted North America's first Act of Toleration, granting religious freedom to all. While it was later withdrawn by the Maryland Protestant majority, this act, enabled in 1649, presaged the United States' Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom by over 100 years. The course is entitled "Life in the American Colonies," but lectures on daily life in the colonies are sadly missing and would also have enhanced the course content. The course guidebook is barely above Cliff-Notes level and its only saving grace is a timeline section (again missing some crucial events) and a fulsome biographical notes section. This is a shame because the course could have been a more factual and interesting, albeit survey-level, course on the birth of the American experiment.
Date published: 2016-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I really liked the lectures but: In the early 18th century, Ulster Scots started to emigrate to New England, many as indentured servants. The religious toleration in Pennsylvania then attracted many of them to there. They were not well thought of there compared to the Scots and Germans. They were regarded as uncouth and too inclined to resort to the gun in disputes. They tended to move from place to place beyond the reaches of the law and polite society. They would sometimes try to settle on land not of their legal ownership. They slaughtered and were slaughtered by the Indians. They did not like the term Scotch Irish as they did not want to be associated through it to Roman Catholic Irish. They referred to themselves as Frontier Inhabitants. I am surprised that the excellent Professor Allison seems to have a blind spot about this 'People With No Name'. By 1790 there were an estimated 3.17 million European Americans and between 0.5 and 0.6 African Americans In the American colonies. Between 440,000 and 517,000 of them were of Irish origin. Over 350,000 of those were first or subsequent generation Ulster Presbyterians; 11% of the Euro-American population. Even today Americans speak with variations of the Ulster accent that this people brought with them to the New World.
Date published: 2015-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Survey of Pre-1776 America This is an outstanding course covering the colonial period in America. If the course has a weakness, it is that it only briefly discusses the colonial period of areas other than the original thirteen states with the exception of one lecture dedicated to Spanish settlement in New Mexico. That being said, this course was exactly what I hoped and expected it would be—a discussion about the origins and development of the original thirteen states and the lead-up to the American Revolution. The course did a particularly good job describing the causes and events surrounding the famous Salem Witch Trials. The course stops on the verge of the Revolution and only touches on a few of the events that are directly part of the Revolution. It left me wanting to take the course on the American Revolution next to pick-up the story where this course stopped. The professor is clearly very knowledgeable and well-prepared. The professor is obviously interested in the material and does a good job conveying the history in a concise and informative manner. This is what a Great Courses class should be.
Date published: 2015-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent First Course for American History This is an excellent course on American History up to the Declaration of Independence. In this course, Professor Allison does a wonderful job of explanatory the environment in both England and the Colonies up to 1776. Professor Allison explanations include physical factors such as geography and climate as well as social factors such as politics, education, economics, social interactions, etc. I learn many items that I would not aware of from my K-12 schooling or from my college classes. The American Revolution was not as simple as sometimes portrayed and England could have avoided the American Revolution if they had handled the situation directly. However, England did learn after the fact because they changed how they were treating their other colonies in order to avoid additional revolutions (see The Great Courses class “The Rise and Fall of the British Empire”. The Great Courses have many other excellent courses on American History and this course provides good solid background information for these other courses. Professor Allison does an excellent presentation. However, I am not able to give this course 5 stars in presentation due to some technical flaws in the videos. For example, when Professor Allison is discussing the settlements around Massachusetts Bay, the video is showing a world map instead of a map of Massachusetts Bay. Also on several other videos, there are problems with the maps and graphics where the outline of the area is shown but the labels of the locations or landmarks are not visible. However, despite these technical flaws, I still consider this to be an excellent course and it is highly recommended for anybody interesting in American history.
Date published: 2015-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough and illuminating treatment I use these courses to transform my 35 minute commute each day into a productive time. I had read extensively about our Revolutionary War period but had only rudimentary knowledge of the 150 years in North America that preceded the French and Indian War. This course filled that void. It was both entertaining and informative. I would recommend it to anyone in a similar circumstance.
Date published: 2015-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Differences in colonial political cultures This is a review of the audio download. I agree with the majority of reviewers here, that this is a very good course - one of the 5 or 6 best I have listened to (out of roughly 20 to date). I use these courses - the history, literature, music and philosophy courses at least - to distract me when I am exercising, travelling or doing mundane tasks. What I am looking for, therefore (and you may be different) is a course that is entertaining as well as informative. So, I use the following five criteria when I am assessing a course. Your criteria may be different. 1. Do I look forward to listening to or watching the next episode? Yes, I went through this course much more quickly than I had anticipated, simply because I wanted to hear the next episode. There was not a moment that I was bored even on topics about which I thought I already knew a substantial amount. 2. Do I feel I learned something interesting or useful from each episode? Yes, There was a huge amount that was new to me in every one of the 36 lectures, and in fact, very little that I had heard before. I came away from this with a much broader familiarity with each of the colonies, and the rather substantial differences in their political cultures. 3. Would I recommend this to a friend? Yes, I have already recommended it to two people. 4. Do I find the speaker’s lecturing style compelling and interesting. Yes, I did. I don't at all share the opinion of the few people who gave this a negative rating, that the lectures were given in a monotone, or that Allison did not seem excited. I found his quiet enthusiasm infectious. He is not someone who makes a lot of jokes, or noise, but he appears, to me at least, to be someone who is genuinely interested in the subject. 5. Would I buy another course from this lecturer, without hesitation? Absolutely, and I was disappointed to learn that so far there are no other courses by Allison available. I personally would like to hear a course on Benjamin Franklin, more on the history of the Native People in North America, or on the colonies that became Canada. And I will be happy to buy all three.
Date published: 2015-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course I thoroughly enjoyed this course. Professor Allison laid out the meaningful events that shaped North America as we know it today. The course struck a wonderful balance between the presentation of the information and an appropriate level of detail. My only regret is that I did not order this sooner, as the video version is only available in DVD format, and I really wanted a digital version so I could watch it on the go. Excellent course, highly recommended to anyone with the slightest interest in history.
Date published: 2015-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Loved it, it was exactly the information I was looking for. I love all your courses and I have over 20 of them.
Date published: 2014-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Zard review of Before 1776 This is the first time that I have re-watched a lecture (because I have so many still to be viewed) and I did not regret a moment of it. It was fascinating to learn about America before 1776. There was a lot I did not know about the roots of our country and how very different it was to today. It is amazing that colonization even worked and even more amazing that we started the revolutionary war. I found each lecture to be a little gem and the graphics were very good. The only negative was the lecture, Dr. Allison, worried to much about which camera was operating and that he was constantly running from one side of the podium to the other to get in front of the camera. It was a distraction to his otherwise fine lectures. Just talk to the class and let the camera catch up to you. That is the only negative, IT WAS A GREAT COURSE (no pun intended).
Date published: 2014-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Rich American History Before Independence The historical events in North America from 1492 to 1776, a period longer than the history of the USA since the Declaration of Independence, had as much impact on the evolution of the American economy, politics, and culture as the events that have followed the founding of this country. Yet these events get much less "air time" than the events from the American Revolution forward. Dr. Allison brings this oft-neglected history to life in this course. This historical saga is rife with interactions of peace and war between and among the settlers and the native peoples; the latter having already had their ranks decimated by diseases brought by the first European explorers well before the American colonies were first settled. The various nations of the native people interacting with the various Europeans: English, Dutch, French, Spanish, even Swedes who settled North America leads to an intricate montage of historical interplay. Without a doubt the primary motive for European interests in the Americas was economic. Ultimately this led to the first economic globalization, the so-called "Colombian Exchange" which was thriving already in the 16th century. An element of this "exchange" was the introduction of African slavery to the American colonies. Dr. Allison explains how slavery was in common practice throughout Europe and Africa prior to Columbus as a means to utilize prisoners during war (and for criminal punishment). The story of how this institution got transformed into a trans-Atlantic African slave trade during the colonial era is complex. Simple Economics of the times alone does not explain it; this course will explain other important factors including disease resistance, religion, and agricultural know-how that contributed to the institution and controversy of slavery. The course naturally does build up the series of events that ultimately led to the American Revolution. But along the way many interesting events and characters. are introduced. Some examples are how Ben Franklin started his writing career with a series of letters debating Cotton Mather on the virtues of Smallpox inoculation (a bit of surprise here), how as a 21 yr old George Washington sparked the first truly global war well before becoming the father of his country, how a dearth of trained ministers in the colonies led to the Great Awakening, and how the English settlers came to name the bird "turkey". All in all this was a fascinating and complete course. Much information was packed into the 36 lectures. There could have been a bit more about the colonies that now comprise the mid-Atlantic states. Maryland, the only chartered Catholic colony, was only mentioned in passing, The impact on colonial development of the great wave of Scotch-Irish and German immigrants through Philadelphia in the first half of the 18th century was barely mentioned. Philadelphia itself was the largest city in the colonies prior to the Revolution but events there were largely missing before the Continental Congress convened. Despite what Dr. Allison said about covering the geographic areas where the events actually occurred, it is understandable that as a professor teaching in a Boston based university that there is a bit of a bias toward New England events in terms of lecture time. Even so, the course was very complete and enlightening. Dr. Allison is an engaging speaker. He is an enthusiastic lecturer who does a great job of telling the story in an engrossing way while sticking to the facts. He does a good job of explaining the difference among historians' interpretations and why he believes the facts support the one he prefers. He speaks in a baritone voice with inflection and virtually without any "non-words" like "ah" or "um". In fact, his oratory is so crisp that the student might consider purchasing the audio-only version of the course (you will miss Dr. Allison's constant motion body language). The video version does have some interesting maps, a few portraits, and a few illustrations but relative to other TTC courses these are fewer and farther between. Many of these materials are no doubt available on the internet. The course guide is adequate. The lecture notes are in outline form, which typically is suitable. However, in this case the outline contents are fairly sparse. OTOH: the timeline is very detailed, the biographical notes are very complete, and the bibliography is thorough and well annotated. The bibliography also includes the URL's for a number of historical websites. Several of the key maps referenced in the lectures are included. Dr. Allison's recommendation of Alan Taylor's book "American Colonies" as a companion text is a good one. I have read much of that book and find it gives an informative overview of the time period. Without hesitation I recommend this course.
Date published: 2014-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it The professor is dynamic and interesting. I loved this course. Many find early colonial history a dreaded and boring subject. Not here! The professor knows his stuff. The anecdotes and lively presentation make this a worthwhile watch!
Date published: 2013-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 1776 This was a really great document and is very helpful!!
Date published: 2013-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies Great course and content. For me personally, the professor could have had more inflection in his voice when presenting but that is just my preference. Otherwise, well worth the investment!
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and breathtaking Repeated visits to the United States had left me a real eagerness to know more of the history of the country and, being from a country in its colonial infancy when the United States was entering its first maturity (although both ultimately derived from the same English stock), I was keen to know why the US and Australia had developed so differently. This outstandingly delivered and breathtakingly comprehensive course of lectures attempts valiantly to encapsulate the entire colonial experience and offers listeners a rich and vibrant insight into this period — its personalities, events, wars, peoples, cities, and contributions to wider human society, all delivered with measure and without patriotic tub-thumping. Professor Allison's delivery is exceptionally varied, musical, even poetic; if occasionally one wonders how we got to a certain point he is making, the sheer pleasure of listening to him carries one along. He is deeply knowledgeable, highly insightful, and rapturously committed to the subject matter. There are occasional errors in the reportage of some non-American events and people (and possibly also some American events and people), but this is a minor quibble that should spoil no-one's enjoyment of this series of lectures.
Date published: 2013-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies This is a wonderful course, worthy of a prominent place on the shelf for repeated future reference. The Professor is gifted with superior knowledge of the subject, and he presented himself in a manner that made me want to absorb the information and search the suggested reading lists. My favorite of the courses so far!
Date published: 2013-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Superb TC Course I rate this course with two other superb Teaching Company (TC) courses on American History: "American Revolution" by Prof. Guelzo and "American Civil War" by Prof. Gallagher. For those with an interest in American history, it is not to be missed. I thoroughly enjoyed every lecture, each of which was top-notch in both content and presentation. This professor not only wears well, he bacame more interesting with time, and I regretted it when there were no more lectures to listen to. Another course that has a great dealt offer is Prof. Eakin's course on Conquest of the Americas. It covers a great deal of information I had never been exposed to--primarily the Spanish conquest of Latin and South America in the late 1400s and 1500s.
Date published: 2013-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and interesting As another reviewer said, I expected more about daily life in the American colonies than was presented. Nevertheless, I am extremely glad I took this course, and found it easy to follow and watch, even though much of the information presented was new to me. I would say the main thing I came away with was that each colony has a unique history. The planters from Barbados who founded South Carolina were much different than the Puritans who founded Mass, for instance. At times I got somewhat depressed about the level of violence during this period, although the course ends on an upbeat note. Prior to viewing this course I viewed the excellent "Conquest of the Americas." Next I am on to "The American Revolution" and then "American Ideals" as I try to work my way through American history via the Great Courses.
Date published: 2013-01-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Before 1776: Life in the American Colonies Not exactly what I expected from the title. I thought I was getting a course on how people lived in the American Colonies, not only the Europeans but the native tribes. This course is actually an overview of the historical events that occurred leading up to 1776. If that is what you are looking for, this is a great course. The professor is well informed, articulate and excited about his topic. He got me interested enough to continue on, even though this is not what I had in mind.
Date published: 2013-01-15
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