Making History: How Great Historians Interpret the Past

Course No. 8818
Professor Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Princeton University
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Course No. 8818
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Course Overview

History is not truth. While it forms the backbone of our knowledge about the world, history is nevertheless only a version of events. History is shaped by the interpretations and perspectives of the individual historians who record it. Consider:

  • Sallust, writing his dark history of Rome to rail against the political corruption he saw consuming the empire—while artfully concealing his own role in it;
  • John Foxe, in his Book of Martyrs, writing about church history to discredit the Catholics and legitimize the reign of Elizabeth I;
  • David Hume, penning his massive History of England with the deliberate goal of creating a potboiler that will earn him a fortune.

What, then, is the motive and the vision of the historian? How do historians create their histories? And what role does the historian's viewpoint and method play in what we accept as truth?

These questions underlie a history lesson of the most revealing kind.

In Making History: How Great Historians Interpret the Past, award-winning scholar Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College takes you inside the minds of our greatest historians. Over 24 intriguing lectures, he challenges you to explore the idea of written history as it has shaped humanity's story over 2,000 years. Told through enthralling historical anecdotes, the course travels deep into mankind's fundamental desire to record and understand the world, to shed new light on the events and experiences of yesterday, and to use the past as a window onto the present and the future.

History: The Art of Discovery

"History is more than merely a pile-up of facts or a chronicle of the past," notes Dr. Guelzo. "It is an art—and a very complicated one at that. And like the others arts, it has techniques and perspectives, some of them old and long-since retired, some of them in violent conflict with each other."

The actors in this art of discovery are the great historians themselves, from the ancient Greeks to our own time. You look through the eyes of our civilization's greatest historical minds to ponder why they conceived and wrote history the way they did.

In key sections, you explore the seminal thinking of these men:

  • Herodotus, considered by many the first history writer, who replaced the epic imagination of Homer with istorieis, or inquiry
  • Livy, the author of a 142-volume didactic history of Rome that spanned three continents and seven centuries
  • David Hume, who framed English history with an evolutionary vision of economic, political, and intellectual freedom
  • Edward Gibbon, whose monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire forged a complex picture of epic collapse and decay

Beneath the Surface of Written History

With Professor Guelzo's penetrating perspective, you examine the processes that create accepted views of historical events. As you take apart the elements of history writing, you discover how the great stories of the past were chosen and how they were interpreted.

In considering the key choices the historian makes, you uncover the ways in which understanding how history is written is crucial to understanding historical events themselves. You also explore how the version of history you accept reveals much about you as an individual and as a member of a community.

The journey rewards you with an unforgettable insight into our human heritage and the chance to look with discerning eyes at human events in their deeper meanings. Anyone with an interest in history, philosophy, or intellectual history will find these lectures a far-reaching meditation on the evolution of historical thought.

"Constructing" the Past

As a core feature of Making History, you explore the major interpretive concepts or historical genres that form the backbone of Western history writing. These are among the many fundamental genres you examine:

  • Celebration: History writing as the remembrance or glorification of great deeds or events, providing a cultural identity for a given people
  • Declension: An interpretive model of decline, charting the deterioration of political, social, and moral systems
  • Continuity: The understanding or justification of present events as they conform to patterns of the past
  • Apocalyptic: A view of human events as moving toward an ultimate, devastating rupture with the past, leading to a new order

You follow these core genres through time and learn how they interact with other ways of viewing history, including history as science, as economics, as progress, as class struggle, and as culture. You also chart the ways these themes intersect and oppose each other across the centuries, as they illuminate the origins of our contemporary thinking.

In the Trenches with Great Minds

Professor Guelzo's storytelling enriches the background of the writing. In the Greek world, you travel with Xenophon and Thucydides through their own dramatic military exploits, as they develop models of history writing that still carry weight. In the early Christian era, you witness Augustine's personal trials as he defends Christianity against the pagans. In the 19th century, you trace Macaulay's dynamic career and his white-hot impact on the reading public.

From Thucydides, you hear Pericles' great articulation of democracy. You hear Sallust's reasoning that ancient Rome declined due to moral rot, Luther's condemnation of the papacy, and Macaulay's soaring rhetoric in his contemplation of the Puritans.

Throughout the story, the evolving arc of historical thought plays out as a heated series of battles of interpretation.

In the bloody era of the Christian Reformation, you see how the conflict of Luther's ideology with Catholic dogma takes the form of warring views of church history. In the revolutions of the Enlightenment, Gibbon, Leopold von Ranke, and Auguste Comte overthrow the Christian influence, advocating the use of scientific systems in understanding history.

Rejecting the logic of Enlightenment ideals, the Romantics develop another method for understanding history: the glorification of emotions, nature, and the sublime. On the heels of Romanticism, you meet another breed of historian, from Wilhelm Dilthey to Arnold Toynbee, who demands understanding of cultures and patterns.

On our own shores, you taste the poignant struggles of the Puritans, the Indian wars, and the closing of the frontier, as history writers come to grips with the promise and disillusionment of the new nation.

Professor Guelzo highlights compelling connections in theme and thinking between historians of different epochs. You see how Bancroft and Prescott's narratives of the American Revolution hearken back to the ancient Greeks, and how Karl Marx's writing echoes themes articulated by Augustine in the 5th century.

This is knowledge to enrich all the history you know and all the history you encounter. Join one of America's outstanding historical scholars in this bold engagement with critical thinking about the past.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    History as the Second Question
    You explore and define the nature of history writing, taking account of the historian's vital act of choosing the elements to include in a narrative. x
  • 2
    Homer and Herodotus
    You probe the pivotal transition between epic storytelling, the literary or religious interpretation of political events, and written history. Herodotus, in his account of the Persian Wars, breaks new ground, rejecting the causal power of the gods and the right to describe the past without evidence. x
  • 3
    Marching with Xenophon
    Leading from Herodotus's conception of history as celebration, Xenophon writes of dazzling military exploits he personally lived. Thucydides' firsthand account of the Peloponnesian War brings a starkly different cast of questioning and futility. x
  • 4
    The Unhappy Thucydides
    Here you look deeply into the vision of Thucydides—arguably the beginning of true history writing. Thucydides asks uncomfortable questions and draws equally uncomfortable conclusions about chance, free will, human nature, and the fixtures of character that rule civilizations. x
  • 5
    Men of Mixed Motives—Polybius and Sallust
    The personal character of the historian comes dramatically into play. Polybius, the Greek, living in luxurious exile in Rome, becomes an apologist for Roman conquest. Sallust, the Roman, writes to condemn the moral degeneracy of Rome—while shielding his own complicity. x
  • 6
    The Grandeur That Was Livy
    Here you contemplate the monumental achievements of Titus Livius. In his universal history of "the world that was Rome," grounded in centuries of Roman annals, Livy dramatically extends both the timeframe of history and its geographical reach. His complex frame of moral judgment prefigures the writing of history as both rational inquiry and art. x
  • 7
    Tacitus—Chronicler of Chaos
    Tacitus, the second Roman giant of history writing, records the murderous string of emperors of the 1st century. You meet the first philosophical historian, who reflected deeply on the nature of purpose, action, and fate in a world turned upside down. x
  • 8
    The Christian Claim to Continuity
    The rise of Christianity brings a radical new twist to history writing—the ethos of continuity. The claim reconciles Christianity with its roots in Judaism and with the bloody history of Rome. x
  • 9
    Augustine's City—Struggle for the Future
    Augustine's theological writings spurred far-reaching innovations in interpreting history. You witness his passionate defense of Christianity against the pagans, in the dynamic opposition of his spiritual ideal to the corrupt societies of men. x
  • 10
    Faith and the End of Time
    You trace the twisting, regressive path of history writing in the Dark Ages. As the Roman Empire disintegrates, Christian annals and chronicles take prominence. The evolving tenets of history writing dissipate, often revealing a grim vision of apocalypse—a radical, divine ending. x
  • 11
    The Birth of Criticism
    You focus on the dramatic transformations in historical method in the Renaissance. A new brand of intellectual turns in disgust from the church, setting forth a secularized conception of human events. Classical history writing is reclaimed, then challenged, in defining history as a wholly reasoned inquiry. x
  • 12
    The Reformation—The Disruption of History
    Martin Luther's protest against church corruption ignites religious wars and a Protestant reconstruction of the church across much of Europe. You probe the far-reaching conflicts of historical interpretation that flowed from these events. x
  • 13
    The Reformation—Continuity or Apocalypse?
    You track the intimate embrace of historical interpretation and politics. In Britain, Protestant history writing legitimizes both the monarchy of Elizabeth I and the early, pre-Catholic English church. In the civil war under Charles I, the apocalyptic vision of the Protestant Puritans does battle with the king's claim to divine authority. x
  • 14
    Enlightening History
    Hume interprets English history as containing the seed of political and intellectual liberty. In charting the rise of commerce as an equalizing force, Hume becomes the first historian of progress and freedom. x
  • 15
    The Rise and Triumph of Edward Gibbon
    Hume interprets English history as containing the seed of political and intellectual liberty. In charting the rise of commerce as an equalizing force, Hume becomes the first historian of progress and freedom. x
  • 16
    History as Science—Kant, Ranke, and Comte
    You enlarge the scientific frame with Kant's bold "propositions" on universal history. Following Vico's notion of an inevitable pattern in historical development. Leopold von Ranke embodies Kant's challenge, writing histories based in meticulous study of primary sources, while Auguste Comte urges a rejection of the Divine, aiming to make history writing consummately rational. x
  • 17
    The Whig Interpretation of History
    Contrasting markedly with scientific principle, the worldview of the British Whigs serves a different purpose. Thomas Macaulay traces British political life to its "ancient constitution," based in deep notions of liberty. You probe the validity and role of this version of celebration, one of history writing's original impulses. x
  • 18
    Romantic History
    Romanticism rises to oppose the Enlightenment ideals of reason and order. In Germany, Johann von Herder champions the unique essence of the Volk—the people—in shaping historical events. Hegel argues history charting the dialectical evolution of nations as a divine movement toward ultimate freedom. x
  • 19
    The Apocalypse of Karl Marx
    You explore Marx's influential ideology and its roots in historical thought. Marx adopts Hegel's "dialectic" of progress but applies it to economics and materialism. With echoes of Augustine, Marx predicts an inevitable political apocalypse as the bourgeoisie engineers its own destruction. x
  • 20
    Culture and History
    In the latter 19th century, Wilhelm Dilthey and Jakob Burckhardt define the notion of cultural history, at the crossroads of individual experience and the larger social existence of the individual. x
  • 21
    Civilization as History
    You study the larger patterns of civilizations. Oswald Spengler's "arc of Destiny" prefigures the rise of Fascism. Freud and followers extend psychoanalytic theory to cultural and historical issues. Arnold Toynbee maps patterns of growth and deterioration of civilizations. x
  • 22
    The American History Lesson
    The tenets of history writing arise in startling contrasts in narratives of the American "experiment." Strong currents of decline and apocalypse figure in accounts of the Puritans. Conversely, the founding of the new nation is heralded as a fulfillment of the ideals of the Enlightenment. x
  • 23
    Closing the Frontier
    Here you follow deepening complexities of historical interpretation. The first great post-Revolution historians glorify the triumph of liberty and political autonomy. Darker views appear with the closing of the frontier and the disillusionment with the Civil War and its aftermath. x
  • 24
    The Value of History
    You follow changes in the discipline of history over the last century, considering the influence on history writing of philosophy and ideology. You mark trends in history writing through Marxist, structuralist, and postmodern phases, in ruminating on the history writer's dedication to truth. x

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Your professor

Allen C. Guelzo

About Your Professor

Allen C. Guelzo, Ph.D.
Princeton University
Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Senior Research Scholar in the Council of the Humanities and Director of the Initiative on Politics and Statesmanship in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. 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...
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Reviews

Making History: How Great Historians Interpret the Past is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 70.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent historical analysis! I've listened to 16 of the 24 lectures, and I look forward to listening to the rest! Professor Guelzo is one of my favorite professors. He lectures with clarity and passion. It's a pleasure to hear his presentations!
Date published: 2017-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Challenge is "Interpretation" As with many courses that deal with opinions and specific views of history you are going to raise a healthy debate by just addressing the topic. For starters Prof. Guelzo is top notch whether you agree with his views or not. His passion for the subject matter, research, development and presentation is among the best TGC offers from the academic field. Throughout this series I found his take interesting because he moved through the major periods of time, events and influencers of the historical narrative by showing how much history is really history. This, in of itself, poses a remarkable challenge because there are many divided camps in how we come to understand or trust the history. Personally, I found he did a fair job and holding his "cards to his vest" and didn't allow his biases to influence the content. While, at times, it feels as if he is just reciting some history I found it to be helpful since the events that shaped the philosophy and world views are influenced. But here is the challenge....this lecture almost borders on philosophy because so much of history is colored by opinion, religion, culture and not just the cold hard facts. I enjoyed this series and would highly recommend content from this professor.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Often misses the mark. I was disappointed in the quality of the lecture on this course. Guelzo seems to focus on the individual motivations of those historians and he's very subjective about it. His overview of Polybius repeatedly describes him as a Quisling-like figure. Fine, once is great but under Guelzo you come away scratching you head thinking; 'well what is his history like?'. His commentary on Sallust is a real mess. He criticizes Sallust for his opinionated views, slams Caesar and seems to be a fan of Cato and Cicero. Many scholars of the Roman Revolution weigh any condemnation of Caesar with an equal condemnation of Cato's almost pathological intransigence and Cicero's own both culpability [he murdered Roman citizens without trial] and defense of murderers. He seems to defend the patrician class without mentioning the myriad of corruption, self-dealing, blocking of plebeian rights, etc. Goelzo's view is an old-fashioned conservative one and quite biased.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Makes you think Good to be made to think about what has gone into the writing of history. Presentation may be a little over done but informative just the same.
Date published: 2017-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant! I am a retired history teacher & I was enthralled & informed.
Date published: 2017-06-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Wheels within Wheels Guelzo has a dynamic delivery, and his portion of the US History course was great, but this one started dry and got drier. I can't imagine a non-historian sustaining interest to the end.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best presenter yet I've listened to the first few lectures of "Making History", and I have to say that the presentation is the best yet, very vivid, not at all dry. Makes my drive home not only interesting, but enriching! I then inform my husband with my newfound knowledge!
Date published: 2017-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very helpful in understanding perspectives (pl) I loved this course, and don't understand the 3-star and below reviews. (Of course, I love Dr. Guelzo's presentation style, so, there's a "disclaimer" of sorts.) I found the information extremely helpful in coming to an understanding of WHY (and how) different historians come to different conclusions. (It also helped me understand why some are so infuriated by "revisionist historians." They actually mean nothing more than, "I liked the conclusions the last guy came up with, and this historian disagrees, so I hate him.") Dr. Guelzo makes the point (early on) that writing history is inherently a choosing process. You simply can't relate everything, so you pick and choose. And you pick and choose based on your perspective and purpose. A writer who believes the events he's writing about brought about a good result will write one way, while a writer who thinks the end result was bad will write another way. Perhaps one is right, the other wrong. Perhaps they are both right, in their own ways. But both choose, based on their conclusions and their purposes. From there, the course provides numerous examples of various purposes. That's an oversimplification (kind of like most historical writing), but perhaps it explains what I found so useful about Dr. Guelzo's course.
Date published: 2017-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful! I bought this a month ago and plowed through it. Couldn't "put it down."
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great breadth of topics I like history, so I was prepared to like this series. There is a wide sampling of authors, starting with Homer. Also included are Heorotus, Xenophon, Polybius, Livy, and Tacitus, most of whom few people these days have read.even though they are well worth the time. Gibbon rates a lecture, and so, rather oddly in my view, does Karl Marx. If you are a history fan, don't miss this!
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worldly Historians: Making History Speak The significance of PAST EVENTS and the various GENRES of HISTORICAL WRITINGS through the ages about those events are not necessarily identical or clearly articulated or mapped. What is selected, emphasized, analyzed, interpreted, and understood as the past is the task, choice, and character of the historian that carries immense political and philosophical implications for humanity's knowledge of itself. IN MAKING HISTORY: How Great Historians Interpret the Past, Professor Allen Guelzo surveys the great historians through biography and the lens of HISTORIOGRAPHY -- the theories, methods, background assumptions, and philosophical issues of the craft itself -- as socially constructed and presented in their prose writings. Beginning with an operational definition of history as a HUMANISTIC concern, PROSE narrative, with incessant questioning and systematic INQUIRIES, accompanied by verifiable EVIDENCE that can be replicated by others, the standard parameters are set for an historical journey of enlightenment and disillusionment concerning past events, and by extension, our present knowledge and future directions. Beginning with the CLASSICAL period, the historical genres of growth and decay, from Herodotus and Thucydides to Livy and Tacitus are made very explicit. The Professor discusses various genres of writings: celebration, suspicion, declension, escapism, inversion, degeneration, etc, histories that interpret and explain the past according to these historians. Transition from a natural to the metaphysical and moral worldview of LATE ANTIQUITY and the MIDDLE AGES. Be exposed to writings that shuttle between continuity with a believed authentic religious past of the City of God and an apocalyptic rupture with all previous earthly history of the City of man. From Augustine and Bede, to Geoffrey of Monmouth and Joachim of Fiore, constructed are genres of struggle, dynamism, eschatology, apocalyptic, Arthurian legends, etc, histories that interpret and explain past and present events while referring to the future. Again, move from a metaphysical and moral to a critical and philosophical worldview of the RENAISSANCE and REFORMATION. From Petrarch to Machiavelli witness critical writings spanning from continuity with the classical world to conflicts with the established authorities of the papacy, theology, royalty and noble chivalry through the birth of criticism, classical humanism, philology, natural law, etc, new genres of writings. These tensions erupted in protest movements from Luther and Erasmus to Foxe and Knox culminating in a divided Western Christianity, religious wars, and historical re-interpretations ranging from radical skepticism and divine folly to religious continuity and apocalyptic disruptions with Church history. Finally, move through the ENLIGHTENMENT, ROMANTICISM, and the AMERICAS, changing from a critical and philosophical worldview to the multiplicity of historical genres constructed and deconstructed with scientific reason, historicism, objective necessity, class struggles, cultural traditions, hermeneutics, philosophies of history, etc, offering both enlightenment and disillusionment with the historical craft and the possible pathology of civilization itself. From Descartes and Hume, to Gibbon and Comte; from Macaulay and Hegel to Marx and Huizinga; from Spengler and Freud to Beard and Hofstadter, etc, these genres of affirmation and negation of history are debated today. From the rise, decay, and fall of civilizations, and the closing of the American frontiers, to the birth, decay, and CRITIQUE OF REASON itself, history seems to have come full circle in search of its identity. There is at present a growing HERMENEUTIC of suspicion, academic captivity, anti-rationalism, and relativism surrounding the historical craft. The Professor's own struggle with THE PAST and the CHOICES confronting the historian are delivered with an objective honesty and scholarly passion that are hallmarks of the profession. Lastly, a survey of the course reviews revolve around two dominant issues and are equally divided over the professor's VOICE and SUBSTANCE of the lectures. Regarding the voice, it is quite different at times, but it constructs IDEAS and not simply the WORDS of past historians to convey the nuances of the various genres used in their writings. Beauty is in both the eye and ear of the beholder --> the aesthetic of the professor's speech is masterful. Regarding the substance, the issue seems to be over the definition of what is an historian? Since contributions from philosophers, theologians, political scientist, sociologists, economists, etc, also make their appearance, this is the flip side of the question of what is history? Yes, we have come full circle with the MULTIPLICITY of historical genres --> the rationality of the professor's lectures are by necessity an INTERDISCIPLINARY project called making history that constructs interpretations, explanations, and understandings of past events in my opinion. *** Very Highly Recommended ***
Date published: 2016-09-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Presentation is not the main problem Like so many others here I found Guelzo's delivery often off-putting. I'm not sure it is right to characterize it as "pompous" - as most of his critics here do - although he certainly could be at times. Rather than pompous what I found disconcerting about his delivery was that it sounded like he was giving a performance rather than a lecture (this feeling was reinforced by the fact that the timbre of his voice is not unlike that of actor Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame!). This form of delivery is not to be confused with passionate exposition which is the hallmark of all great lecturers - rather it is a focus on delivery rather than content, and this is a serious criticism of any lecturer. Nonetheless, I did find it possible to put such presentational concerns, at least partly, to one side throughout most of the lectures where, especially in the first half, I found much of informational value. Yes, there could have been more in-depth analysis of the historical interpretations of many authors but going down that route just gets us into the interminable Great Courses reviewers' argument about how deep the courses should be - general grad level overviews or post-grad level. On that score, I think there was a good deal of interesting insight into a number of authors most graduates don't usually examine in much detail. I would have given the course a higher rating but I feel compelled to mark it down for reasons other than the presentation. First, Guelzo claims to be interested only in truth, yet he brings some very heavy handed prejudices and narrow categorizations to bear on historical interpretation. Certainly from the mid-18th century when he starts to talk about the great Italian philosopher and meta-historian Giambattista Vico, who Guelzo outrageously dismisses as not much more than the precursor to modern historicism, Guelzo is on a narrow track of his own prejudices about the practice of historical writing. Vico was certainly historicism's precursor but he was much more than that - as Isaiah Berlin most famously pointed a few decades ago - but Guelzo clearly has a view about historicism as the ideological straight-jacket on history leading inexorably to Auschwitz, so the subtle complexities of Vico's historical world view are ignored and Guelzo then proceeeds to whip anyone following in this tradition into a narrow category which leads to the horrors of WW2. The result is we don't get to see how the Vichian world view led others (though often not acknowledged) in different non-historicist directions such as the new textual interpretations by biblical scholars, and then into the historical significance of myth, signs and changes in human consciousness - which have all informed the development of history writing (and much else in studies of human behavior) ever since. Secondly, related to the previous problem, it is hard not to describe Guelzo's treatments of the extraordinary developments in historical writing since the mid-19th century as other than very scant. He gives us a bit on Macaulay, and then some on Spengler and Toynbee but skips over everyone else until we get a bit on Foucault and a bit on some modern American historians. Overall the picture he draws of the modern era of history writing - like that of the earlier period of ancient writers - is very much personality based. With the proximity of the last century I would have expected more intricate detail of the trends and debates which have so energized and often torn historians from their traditional moorings - particularly in areas such as the re-interpretation of indigenous history; and feminism (in this latter aspect, it is typical of Guelzo's treatment that he mentions the early dearth and later rise in the number of women historians - a useful point to make - but doesn't also examine the feminist re-interpretation of the role of women in history). Finally, in his last lecture Guelzo indulges in some quite nauseating self aggrandizement about his personal commitment to truth, yet what I heard was a good deal of unscientific and ideological waffle which should be contrary to the true vocation of the historian. I would give this only one star (rather than two) but for the fact that there are a few courses in the many I've watched and listened to (the majority of which are great) which I rate worse.
Date published: 2016-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from judicous and insightful I enjoyed this course very much, although I can imagine it might not suit everyone. I see other reviewers have noted that Prof. Guelzo spends too much time on classical historians, and not enough on the 20th c. This might be true, to an extent, but obviously some measure of selection is necessary--indeed, Guelzo says as much--and he has exercised his judgment over what to keep include and exclude. The only omission that struck me (except for, maybe, the 20th c.) would be the 1000-year stretch of the middle ages: you’d think at least a single lecture could be used to nod in that direction. Other reviewers are turned off by Prof. Guelzo’s “pompous” delivery. If by pompous they mean arrogant or condescending, I do not see it; if they mean theatrical or ornate, it’s certainly there (as well as a lot of scripted chuckles...)--but this listener didn’t mind. What I did find distracting, however, was his choice of obscure (and, in a few cases, at least, simply incorrect) pronunciations. Why say gil-GOM-ish, for instance (instead of GIL-ga-mesh), but not KIE-zer and KICK-er-oh (instead of SEE-zer and SIH-ser-oh)? For what it’s worth, I know of no evidence to say gil-GOM-ish, unless it is to sound a little snooty or clever. And regarding the Venerable Bede, to call him BAY-duh is simply incorrect, whether your touchstone is 8th-c. English, medieval Latin, or 21st-c. English. I don’t expect Prof. Guelzo to be a master of all languages, ancient and modern, but the default ought to be standard and recognizable. That aside, these lectures form an enjoyable course. Prof. Guelzo has chosen to talk about what he finds most interesting, and his enthusiasm translates into a worthwhile course.
Date published: 2015-12-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Difficult to review For starters the course should be simply called "A History of Historical Writings". This course is not about the process of writing history, but about the theory or philosophy of historical writings. If you are looking for insight into the craft of writing history, you are in the wrong classroom. Unlike most Great Courses, this one is fairly arcane and probably will not have wide appeal. That is not meant as a reflection on the quality of the course but meant to convey that people who merely come into this course "off the street" may regret their choice. This may help explain the diversity of reviews. Essentially, Prof. Guelzo provides an overview of historical writings from various epochs and then goes on to explain how specific works or works of a specific epoch ascribe to various styles of historical writing i.e Celebration, Declension, Continuity etc. Not being a science class, much of the interpretation of historical writing is subjective and left to the Professor. That being said, Prof Guelzo clearly has the "chops" to take on such a task and offers a well considered, well delivered course. Pros- To provide context, there is naturally a lot of old fashioned "history" reviewed and revisited. Greece, Rome, Enlightenment etc. I found Prof. Guezlo's presentation and insight refreshing and informative whether or not I agreed with his later assertations about a particular historian or his motives. Cons- Apparently Prof. Guelzo's presentation style is not for everyone, though I am not enamored of it, I will say his presentation style alone should never discourage anyone from taking his courses. There is one critcism of the Professor I have and I struggled with this in his "American Mind" course as well. To me, his narratives are always a little too clean i.e "this intellectual movement begat that movement which begat that movement which of course begat this..." etc. In general, contrarian views about the topic at hand are hard to find. Overall, if you want to explore this esoteric world of philosophy of historical writings you may very much enjoy this class, otherwise you may want to pass. Because I did very much enjoy his "American Mind" course, I dutifully completed this one. I can now say I know a whole lot more about this topic than ever before, though I have to add, I am not any more excited about it.
Date published: 2015-12-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Suboptimal style and Content The lecture style is not suitable for teaching. The style is very pompous, as others have noted. Worse, the listener feels he/she is hearing Shakespearean play monologue, not a lecture ! There appears to be no overall theme or logical organizational plan. The result is very low information transmission per unit time.
Date published: 2015-11-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice Intellectual History of Historians I was a history major as an undergraduate some 45 years ago. I thought this course would provide an overview of the "major" historians and their "histories". It did not disappoint. Dr. Guelzo is an entertaining and thoughtful lecturer. His approach is to view the historians in their historical context and so one learns, over time, the variety of approaches historians have taken to articulate their history. From 'ancient' history - that is history that has some recorded record (i.e. the Trojan Wars through Edward Gibbon and beyond)--to the present day, his approach suggests the underlying philosophy of the Great Historians. I enjoyed the course although I do note that it is very intellectual with some philosophical underpinnings. I learned particularly a great deal about the early Roman historians I viewed the course on DVD but given a relative dearth of illustrations I would easily enjoy the lectures on CD as well.
Date published: 2015-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A masterful professor When I started listening this course I was gratefully surprised. Professor Allen Guelzo has the talent of a supreme storyteller around an ancient camp fire. Prof. Guelzo conducts all of his listeners through a theatrical voyage since the beginnings of History till today. Each lecture is like an act of a Shakespeare play with actors enhanced in a specific part of History. We can feel the emotions, the voice, the tune, the explanation of a bygone age. The lecture about the roman historians informs us about the problems of the Roman Empire, his emperor and his decadent morals and how the historians tried to tell us the best virtues of the Roman Society or tried to hide its vicious. This course is so good that I immediately bought another one of Prof. Guelzo about the American Revolutions. Highly recommended for those who love History.
Date published: 2015-10-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Don't misunderstand the goal of this course. This course is NOT about specific historians' views of history -- although those are used as EXAMPLES. This is more "The PHILOSOPHY of: What Constitutes "History" and How to Convey that in Written Form." Prior to this course, I thought of history as an extended series of "first there was THIS civilization, they had THIS form of government and their major contribution to "world history / world culture" was THIS," or alternatively: "THIS form of government and THIS economic system existed during this "age". Then THIS form of government and THIS form of economic system came to be dominant the NEXT age." The overall "message" of this course is that at different times and in different places, different PERSPECTIVES have been considered to be "history". And different APPROACHES have been considered "PROPER" methodology. Over the past several hundred years, often the "CURRENT" perspective of what is "proper" methodology and "appropriate" material to be considered "history" is the exact opposite of the PREVIOUS prevailing view just a few decades or generations earlier. When reading "history", it is important to understand the "school" of thought that the writer belonged to AND the prevailing view of history at the time -- which might not be the same. It's also important to understand whether the author was on the cusp of one of these major shifts -- if so, part of his writing might be aimed at refuting the "outdated" view or the "upstart" view. Also, Prof. Guelzo is careful to point out that often what many laypeople consider to be "history" (i.e., a "written history") in fact REALLY served some OTHER purpose -- such as one RELIGIOUS group or one POLITICAL group claiming CONTINUITY with some much older group or perspective, or conversely, a religious or political group trying to DISTINGUISH itself from some other group. In many such cases, the "history" advocated is either largely outright fabricated or at least highly distorted and biased and emphasizes or omits particular events in order to bolster the claims of the writer. Regarding Prof. Guelzo's STYLE of presentation, I agree with many of the other reviewers about its shortcomings. MOST of the time his intonation is like an "omniscient third-person narrator" in a novel -- the kind of narrator that doesn't just describe the events and dialog, but tells the reader the characters' thoughts, etc. The style comes across as if a novel's author is reading excerpts aloud to an audience. That might be appropriate when reading excerpts from particular historians' writings, but when simply describing the characteristics of the prevailing literary style of historians in a given period, it is a bit much. Given the fact that this course is really about the PHILOSOPHY of a PARTICULAR ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE, I find it hard to see that many people who are not historians per-se would find the material particularly interesting. But that doesn't mean the information isn't USEFUL and IMPORTANT to a WIDE RANGE of areas of interest. In almost ANY area of academic study the HISTORY of that subject is one of the things a person must be familiar with in order to adequately understand the subject. This course gives the listener a much clearer idea of the RANGE of meanings that "history" has -- and of the issues and problems involved in "history" OTHER THAN "is there sufficient documentary or other physical evidence to support the writer's view?"
Date published: 2015-08-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some interesting material but overall dry I've greatly enjoyed Prof. Guelzo's other courses but found this one fairly dry. I skipped big chunks of several of the lectures, which I so rarely do with TC courses. I did find value and some very interesting material in about half of the lectures, so i got something out of it. I do agree with the comments that Prof Guelzo's delivery in many of the lectures comes across as pompous and somewhat annoying to listen to.
Date published: 2015-08-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I agree with both sides. I agree with many of both the positive and negative reviews; this course is well worth listening to, but the presentation can be irritating, and isn't really suitable for The Great Courses. It can be both pompous and the reverse; I’ll give a few small examples. Repeatedly using “declension,” not in its usual usage as a grammatical term, but simply as a longer synonym for “decline,” is unwise: If you find yourself being longer-winded than Gibbon, you need to rethink your style, or be extremely careful. And if you are going to be that pompous, you must be thorough about it. Saying “could have cared less” (16 18:57) for “couldn’t have cared less” is objectionable enough in casual speech; in this context, it’s intolerable. Similarly, a couple of minutes later, saying about Ranke’s training, “with perhaps several of the Middle Eastern languages thrown in” is lazy; if it’s worth our time to mention the matter (and for me it was), it’s important enough to say which languages he knew. And a lesser but more personally irritating error is his mispronunciation of Toynbee’s (and my) alma mater, Balliol College in lecture 21.
Date published: 2015-08-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sadly disappointing Sorry, I could not finish this course. I found the presentation extremely dry and quite boring at times. At the end of each lecture, I found myself thinking "What have I just learned about historians and how they interpret history?" and I was at a loss, frankly. I'll be giving this one to a charity shop. The professor almost ignored eastern and modern historians, and failed to provide an initial outline of how his talks would be structured. Maybe better to read the guidebook, but I've already moved on.
Date published: 2015-08-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Important but Disappointing History is not a straightforward uncovering of indisputable and well-ordered facts, but a creative interpretation of bits of evidence, whether chronicles, wills, decrees, court records, or e-mails. Over the last 2500 years, historians have differed in the ways they have gathered those bits and interpreted them, always under the influence of their own times and their own biases. As Professor Guelzo says, history is as much art as science. This course is the only one from the Great Courses that devotes itself entirely to historians and historiography, so anyone with a deep interest in history will want to add it to his/her collection. My favorite lectures are those on Herodotus, Thucydides, the Renaissance “Birth of Criticism,” David Hume (Lecture 14), Edward Gibbon, and Karl Marx. I have, however, some serious objections, which I hope some future designer of a second edition, if any, will act on. First, the course completely ignores non-Western historians; at a minimum it should have at least one lecture on Sima Qian and the Chinese historical tradition, and one on al-Tabari, Ibn Khaldun and the Islamic historical tradition. One could make room for them by cutting two or three of the lectures on classical historians. While Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy and Tacitus are obviously important, we don’t really need to learn here about Xenophon, Polybius and Sallust. Second, I would have liked more than one lecture—the last—devoted to the twentieth century, a time when the history field blossomed with new methods and interpretations. One could compress the Christian/medieval/Reformation lectures (8-10, 12-13) to make more room there. Third, Professor Guelzo spends too much time in several lectures narrating the grand historical background and not enough talking about the historians and their works. Fourth, some of the figures he discusses at length are not historians at all, but theologians and philosophers, so we learn much more, for example, about Augustine than about Eusebius, and more about Herder and Hegel than about Ranke. Fifth, he often gives no overview of what he plans to discuss in each lecture, so the viewer/listener has no idea where he is going. Sometimes he fails to finish a topic and carries it over to the next lecture. Sixth, he really irritated me by repeatedly mispronouncing Ludwig Feuerbach’s last name as “Fewer-bach” rather than “Foier-bach.” That's a minor point, of course, but I always try to get people's names right, and professors should too.
Date published: 2015-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I have long thought Prof. Guelzo is one of the best lecturers in the Great Courses' stable of academics, and he is shown to very good effect in this offering. The course presents a tour through world history through the eyes of those who have written about it, and I think Prof. Guelzo does a terrific job of showing how the way history is viewed, recorded and thought about has changed and evolved over time. He explores how bias, perspective and the perception of truth impact what is presented as historical fact and helps condition us to maintain our own critical judgment in reading any historical account or analysis. Another solid offering; one that I highly recommend. FYI - I watched the DVD version but the audio version should be entirely satisfactory (the only visuals were pictures of certain historians and some text references).
Date published: 2015-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Historically great lecture Of the very many Great Courses I have taken this is among the best- if not indeed the best of the best. The lectures besides giving a clear and distinct notion of the variety and interactions of approaches to writing history have an ironic tone, Listening to them proved to be both informative and pleasurable - I laughed very frequently while viewing-hearing them;
Date published: 2015-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent epistemological analysis The professor does an outstanding job of examining different approaches to doing history along with a clear and thought provoking discussion of the limits and merits of each perspective. Insightful, logically persuasive and engaging.. My interest is more in epistemology than history itself, but I found the course fascinating.
Date published: 2015-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much more than expected! I took this course by Professor Guelzo to understand the criteria used by historians in writing their work. This could help me assess how much credence I could assign to their positions/conclusions. Boy did I get more than expected! Not being a student of history my knowledge of how the western civilizations evolved to today was confused, fragmented and incomplete. This course gave me an excellent overview of that long process that has shaped all of our lives. And on many occasions I was surprised by what I learned. I give great credit to the presentation through which this material was offered. As a student required to take history, I was bored by the method of teaching just events, dates, names, blah, blah. THIS is NOT the presentation offered by Dr. Guelzo! Entertaining, humorous, thoughtful and frank are just a few attributes I offer to describe the Professor's style of delivery. I listened and loved it. I, the one of little interest in history, thoroughly enjoyed the course - in addition to fulfilling the original needs that drove me to "enroll"!
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You Will Think New Thoughts, Even About Old Things In selecting a course, I look for courses that don't just inject a few facts into my repertoire, but actually give me a new outlook, a new way of looking at things. This course does that very well. This course changes your outlook on the world. You will look at new things in a way that makes them more exciting, but even the familiar things will take on a new dimension. This course is an exceptionally worthwhile educational event. Whether you are an accomplished historian on your own, or like me, still fumbling at the gate, I highly recommend this course. Over the progression of the course, under Dr. Guelzo's guidance, I developed three views of the material at differenct times. When I first started the course, I saw it as a history of historians. From Herodotus and Thucydides to Kuhn and those following, these were the people that had viewed the happenings of their days and recorded them for posterity. As the course developed, it became apparent that this wasn't just a list of dead historians, the dates they lived and the events they recorded, but a meta-history, a history of the entire field of historiography. Each era had its own style, even the purpose of the record was changing with the times. By the last lesson, I had taken on the opinion that those who write our histories, whether they are historians, dedicated dilettantes, philosophers, economists, teachers or passersby, they didn't just record history, but they set the stage for those of us who come later, to view the record and decide who we are and how we will face the future. I have taken many Teaching Company Great Courses. Often, I go back to view specific lesson sessions to review a particular topic. This is the first course where I went back and listened to the entire course immediately after I finished it, this time looking for the viewpoint of the individual historians and trying to see if I could see how his view of the past had colored his history, and thereby influenced his readers. Doctor Guelzo did end up softening my cynicism a bit. I was exposed to the American student's standard (for the fifties and sixties) history, where our noble and courageous forefathers braved the wilderness and the savages to conquer a blank slate barren of civilization. Then I lived on an indian reservation, and read Howard Zinn, Oliver Stone and Russell, where the record was corrected to reflect the greed and culpability as the indigenes were stripped of their property and rights and ejected from their own lands. I, as many others have done, developed a sense that all of history is a fraud, perpetrated by some hidden power group of conspirators at the top. With Dr. Guelzo's guidance you have to come to the conclusion that all histories will show a slant, a bias. This bias is not necessarily intentional, it can be due to the fact that the historian is a product of his times, and his work a byproduct of a world of finite time and space, where at some point, even the best intentioned historian has to walk away and say, “Enought. The project is done.”
Date published: 2014-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Course This is Prof Guelzo at his very best. Guelzo's style is perfectly on 100% of the time as he nails probably the most interesting course I've ever taken. This really is a unique course that could only be taught by this particular professor in this specific erudite and learned fashion. This course is pure joy. If you love Guelzo you will love this course. Since he is my favorite professor, I wish this course was 50 lectures! It's brilliant, novel, and flat out entertaining. Well done, sir!
Date published: 2014-08-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Decent Overview of the Great Historians What is History? How have the great historians approached the task of writing History? These are the issues confronted in this course and Professor Guelzo provides a good taster for those who, like me, have a love of history. He does this through tracing the work of some of the great historians through the ages commencing with the Greeks. There are interesting vignettes on the lives of some of the historians themselves too. There are a number of ways historians can approach their task from a duty to celebrate and remember achievements in a society to describing, through history narrative, the declension or decay of once great empires. Fundamentally, as professor Guelzo states, the writing of history boils down to the discipline of choosing; which material to cover and which to omit and of course to some extent this itself may be determined by the presuppositions or worldview of the historian. I found the lectures on Spengler and Toynbee fascinating as well as coverage of the French Annales school. A couple of points undermined an otherwise good lecture series. First the course guidebook was very limited in that the lecture summaries were far too brief and that made them of limited value when reviewing the material. Furthermore some of the criticisms of historians I found a little sweeping ie of Hobsbawm, EP Thompson or RH Tawney. To dismiss them as ridden with class envy and implicitly infer that their work was affected negatively by such is striking. For those that love history nevertheless it is a decent course to give you a flavour of how the whole subject has developed from early Greek times to "professionalization" in recent times.
Date published: 2014-08-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Difficult Task Professor Allen Guelzo attempts to cover a very broad overview of world history and its interpretation by historians in this 24 lecture course. Unfortunately, the coverage seems a bit superficial to me. The history and interpretation of the Peloponnesian War takes Professor Kenneth Harl 36 lectures in his Teaching Company course. Professor Guelzo tries to get through it here in just one 30 minute lecture while also including biographical material on Thucydides and his perspective on the war and society of the day. I did learn some valuable lessons helpful in reading history. These lessons, however, could probably have been presented in 2-3 lectures in total. Other Teaching Company courses with more depth might be better choices.
Date published: 2014-06-18
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