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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Making History: How Great Historians Interpret the Past is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 70.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Only course I've ever returned Potted history; potted biography; phony professorial style. Presentation of Greek and Roman historians unbelievably superficial. By the time I finished the end of the ancient period (lecture 9) I just returned the Course. Maybe the lectures that followed were better; I wouldn't bet on it.
Date published: 2012-12-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sad effort or poor knowledge I expected that the CD set would present information and analysis about how different historians viewed and wrote history based on their knowledge, biases etc. Instead, the CD focuses on only a very few views of history from a very few "historians." Rather than comparing and contrasting historians throughout history, the CD blandly outlines the works of the few chosen ones. For example, after rattling on endlessly about the basics of Augustine, the presenter jumps ahead over a thousand years without the slightest reference to Joinville, Ockham, Villehardouin, Froissart, or anyone else. The task of presenting the history of history requires more knowledge than this presenter possessed at the time, or perhaps his omissions and misinformation were willful, and intended to perpetuate the myth of the "Dark Ages," (a term he actually uses I think).
Date published: 2012-11-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Like Wagner's Music... Mark Twain once said of Richard Wagner's music, "It is better than it sounds." The same could be said about this course of Prof. Guelzo's. The content is excellent. Unfortunately, one has to endure Prof. Guelzo's melodramatic, even pompous, lecturing style in order to benefit from the great content. His lecture style is a cross between Thurston Howell of the old "Gilligan's Island" TV show, and a 19th century speaker on the Chatauqua circuit, where audiences expected the speaker not just to tell them stories, but to act them out. Some of the reviewers obviously like this style, I find it condescending and, ultimately, disrespectful to the listener. It's as if Prof. Guelzo is saying, "You there sitting in your car listening to this lecture, you are not smart enough to enjoy this content on its own, so I have to make it 'entertaining' for you." For the intellectually curious, great content is entertaining on its own, without melodramatc embellishment by the lecturer. As an example, just listen to any of the courses by Prof. Thomas Childers. He is a lecturer who respects his audience and let's the great content itself be the entertainment. Prof. Guelzo needs to learn that a great course is about the content, not about the lecturer. That having been said, I did recommend the course to others, because the content -- if you can endure the delivery -- is truly outstanding.
Date published: 2012-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Evocative Journey through Time and Mind First, I have only the highest praise for the manner of presentation by Professor Guelzo -- his use of the human voice to convey enthusiasm, doubt, suspicion, and sadness is an integral part of relating how various historians have chosen to tell their stories of the past. In his narrative, the voices of past historians resonate with song and passion. I cannot recall anyone whom I have loved just listening to as much as Dr. Guelzo. As to the course content: it is superb! Early in my adult life I set out to be a teacher of American history. After only a few years, I encountered some attractive detours and, while remaining an avid reader of history, never did return to formally teaching it. As. Dr. Guelzo makes wonderfully clear, all of history involves 'choice' by the historian: not only 'what' to tell, but 'how' to tell it. Further, all who encounter history wonder if there are any 'lessons' to be found there. The answer is as much in the eye of the reader as of the writer. Nonetheless, this marvelous course gives an all too brief journey through time as long-ago events live again, and we accompany heroes and villains alike as they celebrate their triumphs and suffer their losses. Simply put, a wonderful course, marvelously told! Kudos to Professor Guelzo and the Teaching Company alike!
Date published: 2012-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Course that Enhances the Value of Others This course is another Guelzo gem, comparable to his course on the American Revolution. I love this professor's clarity, pacing and flair. His use of the language is masterful. His lectures are all wonderfully well crafted. After reviewing about 50 of the great courses, I have seen at least a handful of superb lecturers. Professor Guelzo is my favorite. I have enjoyed a number of history courses. Although this course has significant value in and of itself, it is the only course that significantly enhanced the value of all the of others. What the professor attempts in this course is quite ambitious, but well within his range. I rate it as a course not to be missed by students who have enjoyed other Great Courses on history.
Date published: 2012-01-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Better content than presentation The course design and content is quite but good, but the professor's overly dramatic presentation is rather hard to take lecture after lecture. Some lecturers go on in a monotone which is boring for the listener, but this one goes so far in the opposite direction that it detracts from the high level of scholarship and extrememly wide knowledge that he brings to his course. On the whole the course is worthwhile but it would have been more so if the professor had recognized that speaking on an audio CD is different from addressing a crowd of students in a big lecture hall and had adjusted his style to suit the more intimate medium.
Date published: 2011-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview and interpretation of the ... ... Western historical tradition. Wow - I couldn't disagree more with the negative reviews of this course. To start, Allen Guelzo is an *excellent* storyteller. And since this is a survey of - in a sense - storytellers, that's very appropriate. He does quote well-chosen excerpts from the historians he discusses - just I would hope he would. The quotations give you a flavor of the historian's style and are entertaining in their own right. One reviewer seems to object to Guelzo's brief and infrequent quotations in the historian's language. If I was taking a course on Dante, I'd expect to hear some Italian, so I guess I wasn't surprised to hear some Latin in his survey of classical historians. Guelzo does much more than tell a series of great stories. He interprets his subjects in the same way they interpreted theirs. I came away with a good understanding of the historical context of each historian and of their stance towards their subject matter - celebratory, apologetic, critical, etc. What's more, Guelzo has a great eye for irony, hypocrisy, special pleading, etc. So the historians come alive as real people, not busts on a shelf. It should be clear that this is not a historical survey. It's a survey of the work of great historians in the Western tradition. Of course, this means that many of the historians covered will be some combination of ancient, Latin, and/or Christian. But Guelzo also covers Enlightenment, Romantic, and recent historical approaches. As he emphasizes, doing history demands "choosing" - you may or may not agree with his choices of who to cover, but his choices are perfectly valid on their own terms. Guelzo's style is smooooooth and oratorical. For me, this made listening to the lectures entertaining and compulsive - I could listen to Guelzo all day. Others may find this style not to their taste. Either way, *under* his manner of presentation is a wealth of scholarship about a huge topic.
Date published: 2011-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Modern History Among the most engaging and easy to listen course that I have had. Be aware that this is not a history course, but a course on the writing and interpretations of history. The professor made each 30 minutes pass very quickly with his animated, expressive style of presentation with a sprinkle of humour. He provides a perspective on approaching written history.
Date published: 2011-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview I'm absolutely baffled by the negative reviews of this course. As someone who has listened to a number of teaching company courses, and reads quite a bit of history, I found this to be a very solid course. One reviewer spends a great deal of time attacking the author for not covering Toynbee or Foucault, but in fact they are both covered in the course. I suppose this person did not listen to the course, but only read the course titles and jumped on the hobby horse. Others complain about not being able to follow the lectures, but this perhaps reveals a need to do further study before taking a meta-course such as this one. If this were an undergrad course, it would be a 401 not because the teacher is difficult at all, but because the material requires prior understanding. For me, this course was of tremendous value in placing the various historians I have encountered in my varied intellectual journeys. I recommend it highly to others who want to understand the "history of history" in the Western tradition.
Date published: 2011-02-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ambivalent I'm ambivalent about this course. To be sure, the reviewers as a whole are also deeply ambivalent. It just wasn't what I expected... The Pros *If you know a good bit of world history, but are not necessarily a historical scholar, this course has a lot of ++excellent++ content. But, if you're not that familiar with world history, this course isn't a good starting point. *A reviewer below indicated that this is a course on the history of thought. In that it does a good job. *He has a lot of quotes in foreign/dead languages, which gave it a fun twist. 'Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" was a particularly funny moment of the course. The Cons *Professor Guelzo would be a fantastic lecturer to hear in a room of 500 people. He has a big theatrical presence that was endearing at first, but then it got in the way of my absorbing the information. *There is a high density of ideas which makes it hard to follow. Therefore, I strongly recommend NOT getting the audio only version. It would be hard to stay on track with him without the visuals. *I expected him to cover things that would answer the questions of "How do we know [such and such]? Do we believe this is what really happened?" ( For example, how *do* we know how many Persians fought at Thermopylae (sp?) and the details of the last day's battle, since every one of the 300 Spartans died?) In sum: *I only recommend this course to someone who is quite academic in character.
Date published: 2011-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of history I want to break with the overall negative consensus on this short course. While the course may be superficial to someone who has an advanced knowledge of any of the periods in question, to someone less academically jaundiced, this course offers a great deal of interest. This course constitutes my favorite sort of historical inquiry, that of philosophical or "big" history. Prof. Guelzo analyzes not history itself, but rather the evolution of historical thought from the time of Herodotus, the father of history, right up until our own era. How has the writing and analysis of history advanced or changed since ancient Greece? What societal and philosophical concerns have motivated or guided historians in any particular era of history? These are giant questions that this excellent little course introduces the student to, giving him a framework for the development of historical inquiry. I found Guelzo's approach most inviting and entertaining. He has a rather florid rhetorical style which can be slightly distracting at times, but is overall clear and engaging. Anyone interested in the philosophy of history and not simply a recounting of battles and anecdotes should savor this course!
Date published: 2010-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful, Illuminating & Engaging I found this course riveting. Acknowledging that different lecturing styles have varying impacts with different people, I found Mr. Guelzo's delivery engaging, warm, and, frankly, interesting. There is a lot going on in between the words, the pauses, and the inflections that challenged this listener, anyway, to enter into a silent dialogue with the ideas being explored. The course is not simply about selected historians, but about the concepts of what history "is", the ways in which its tools were forged and applied, coupled with consideration of just who thought history to be that way, and perhaps why. Though this lecture is confined to examining the threads that weave "Western" historical thought, without touching on the fabric of China's, India's, other great world cultural centers' history, this is simply one of the best lecture series I've listened to during the last 10 years.
Date published: 2010-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Informative I found this course very informative and the professor enthusiastic about his subject. MrWhitby from Canada must not have watched the whole course as both Foucault (lecture 24) and Toynbee (lecture 21) are covered. If you want a sense of historiography through the ages, this is the course for you.
Date published: 2010-07-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too bored to learn from this one This course may be better on video, or as a written text, but in the audio format, my mind wanders constantly while the professor orates his heart out. This is pretty clearly a canned recitation from a text, not a lecture so much as a speech, with a lot of ostentatious declamation, lingering pauses and a smattering of false chuckles. Out of 10 or so courses I've listened to, this one stands out as being uniquely hard to absorb, or even pay attention to. Other professors practice, in various styles, statement-explanation-restatement, so the information sinks in. But for this course, there seems to be little in the way of framing; nothing that gives the listener questions to be answered or a structure to be filled in. I found that when the lectures ended, I had retained almost nothing.
Date published: 2010-07-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing This course was a disappointment. Rather than speaking about great historians, the course seemed to focus on western history and culture for 24 lectures. I was hoping to understand more about how the social culture of historians influence the way they portray the narratives of their times. However, instead of historians I found philosophers and social commentators. (Kant, Marx, Freud, etc.)
Date published: 2010-07-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Ever heard of Foucault? It is utterly astounding that an entire series of lectures on the 'idea' of history, and the notion of historical interpretation can be delivered without even a fleeting reference to two of the most important figures in the area: Arnold Toynbee and Michel Foucault; with the latter being perhaps the most influential figure in the humanities on both sides of the Atlantic in the past 50 years. Whatever one may think of Foucault's thought and politics, I don't understand how one can talk about historical interpretation without dedicating, at a very minimum, at least two lectures in a series of 24 to the depth of his vision, particularly with respect to methodology of historical interpretation. Foucault's ideas are directly responsible for much of the transformation in the humanities in a most profound manner in the academia from the 1970's onward. Although the course was otherwise well presented, it is severely lacking in depth precisely because the worthy Professor entirely ignores a highly influential theorist, most likely (and I presume here) that he personally finds some of the implications of Foucault's thought distasteful. However, the entire point of an intellectual or academic endeavor is to elucidate the subject of study in a rational and objective manner without elevating key figures to semi-divine status because their ideas correspond to ours, nor completely dismissing them because we find their thought contemptible. I disagree with much of Foucault, but he is undoubtedly the most important historian of the 20th century. Arnold Toynbee's ideas are also ignored/dismissed, and although his thought has not had the far ranging effect of Foucault's historical analysis, he is nonetheless a key historian with highly relevant ideas on civilizational development and decline. As impractical as it may sound, the TC should start getting 'peer-review' committees composed of other scholars in the respective field, similar to academic journals, before courses that deal with abstract topics are approved for release. No committee would have endorsed the production of this course, and it would have been sent back to the instructor with the comment "incomplete course."
Date published: 2010-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from an unprecedented masterpiece! Traditionally when we learn history we learn about facts, movements, and we try to analyze people in historical perspectives. It was not until I read History of England by three different authors (David Hume, James Froude, Thomas Macaulay) that I began to realize that the perspectives historians adopted influenced the progress of history significantly. Then, very fortunately, I came across Professor Allen Guelzo's "Making History". It is a very thought-provoking course. It changed my idea of history completely. Before listening to the course, I only had a very unclear notion that history was more than narrating facts. Now I have understood clearly the major movements of historians, or rather, the history of history. From Herodotus to Gibbon, to Hume, the great historians have made history themselves. I high recommend this course to everyone who is interested in the backgrounds and backbones of history. It's not quite an advanced course, it's just a course on the history of history, some stories that we normally neglect.
Date published: 2010-06-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Read the Reviews and Then Decide This is an example of a course where you should read the reviews before purchasing to avoid misunderstanding what you are getting for your money. I enjoyed the course very much, but I am a new comer to the perspective Dr. Guelzo provides: Writing history requires choosing from the vast amount of available data and deciding why you are writing it. I think he did that very well. Several of the more negative reviews have been by people whose expectations for the course were much higher than mine. Why someone with advance degrees in history would purchase an introductory overview series like this baffles me. Never purchase a series if you think you already know as much about the subject as the lecturer. Of course you're going to have professional level differences with his approach, sources, and conclusions. Interesting at an acedemic conference perhaps, but not especially useful comments here. But if, like me, you're interested in an introduction to the topic of history writing and how what appears in your history book came to pass, it's worth the money. And yes, his presentation style can be a bit pompous at times; so be forewarned. It didn't detract that much from my overall enjoyment of the course.
Date published: 2010-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Excellent lecturer, disappointing approach I have been mesmerized by Prof Guelzo's past courses. In this one, though, he seems to be reaching. Although the content is interesting, and (as always) brilliantly presented, this feels more like a broad-brush overview of history in general -- but too broad.
Date published: 2009-11-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A disappointing set of lectures First, I must agree with those who found Guelzo's mannerism and language difficult to take. His pronunciations are interesting. I have never heard "amoral" pronounced with a short first 'a.' His choice of words is also unusual. Instead of using 'decline' or 'deterioration,' for histories that take view that the past is a record of decline, he uses 'declension.' This is not an inappropriate word, but is usually used in its grammatical sense, not the more obscure sense of decline. More important is the generally skeptical, even cynical tone of most of his characterizations. A tendency that is enhanced through the inflections and tone of his language. I constantly imagined him speaking with a sneer on his face. It is far more interesting and enjoyable to listen to a teacher who is enthusiastic about his subject and makes it seem important. Only at the end of these lectures does Guelzo take a positive stance toward the enterprise of history. Another problem with these lectures is that many of them are much more a discussion of historians than of the themes the lecturer is trying to discuss. Many lectures include a long discussion of the life and experiences of a particular historian followed by a short mention of his approach to history. There is little continuity or development across lectures. The last few lectures redeem the set. When Guelzo moves to the twentieth century and then to the history of American history he becomes much more analytic and explanatory. I decided it was worth going through the rest of the lectures to get to these last ones.
Date published: 2009-10-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I purchased the audio version. ‘Making History’ is not an easy course. I have two university degrees in history, and I found Professor Guelzo’s content and presentation difficult to understand and follow. For the first dozen lectures, I was unsettled and distracted by the professor’s somewhat bombastic, histrionic manner of speaking. I finally got used to his style , so the last dozen lectures were easier to understand and enjoy. The second half of the course covers the last 450 years -- a period which I find, as a matter of personal taste, more interesting than the highly familiar Homer, Thucydides, et al., of ancient times. I was disappointed that this linear course rarely mentions any living historians. (Perhaps Dr. Guelzo doesn’t want to offend any of his colleagues.) This ‘history of historians’ pretty much ends with Prescott, Bancroft, and Parkman -- writers who ‘celebrated’ American history. I sense these three historians don’t rank highly among the professor’s favorites. After being torn apart by the Civil War, what was so wrong about celebrating United States history? Too often, Dr. Guelzo criticizes motives and methods, but never really fully explains what he personally considers to be proper history writing. Organizationally, I feel the last lecture should have been the first. It perhaps would have set us up better as to what to expect in the coming 23 lectures. Finally, I am haunted by the professor’s repeated assertion that ‘history is writing.’ I recently read that Apple’s Steve Jobs was asked why Apple has not developed an e-reader, like Amazon’s Kindle. Jobs replied, “People don’t read.”
Date published: 2009-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fine historiographical survey This is a course on historiography, not research methods. Anybody interested in the craft of history -- how historians identify and interrogate historical sources -- will be disappointed. As an overview of Western historical thinking, the course is excellent. It seems heavily influenced by John Burrows's A History of Histories (2007). I think Guelzo relied on it a lot in writing these lectures. The professor's presentation style is unique -- you'll either love it or find it smug and annoying. I like it. Guelzo puts a lot of effort into his delivery; in effect, "performing" the lectures. He reminds me of Prof. Fears in this regard.
Date published: 2009-08-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Historiography by Any Other Name Prof. Guelzo is a master of words. I will agree that some might not like his smug presentation, and not all will find his musings as entertaining as I did. But I personally found him to be one of the more engaging speakers I've encountered thus far with Teaching Company courses. His lectures captivated me and held my attention as though I were listening to a great novel. The biggest flaw with this course is the omission of some critical ideas and topics, not to mention people. The material is decidedly focused on a historiography of pre-modern times, which is a big loss. The course seems to hide behind its title at times. The title is ambiguous enough to allow the professor to simply pick and choose whatever "great" historians he wishes and discuss them howsoever he should choose. The central themes and main historiographical ideas and controversies are not identified or emphasized as such. What ideas do come through are lose thematics and recurrent conflicts and it is largely up to the listener to put these into a wider context. This is a historiography class that never takes on the responsibilities one would expect of a historiography class. Nevertheless, I found Prof. Guelzo highly entertaining and informative and the material likewise. If one simply goes along for the ride, it is an excellent course. If one wants a comprehensive course on historiography, one will be disappointed and find the content lacking. One might also find, as I did, that this course is very humanistic in its disposition. This could be a strength or a weakness depending on your own leanings, but academically, it would have been nice to highlight the various contentions over what history is and should be rather than by defining history in humanistic terms and presenting a class that is shaped by this view. This is a simple case of affirming the consequent. Guelzo's fine oratory and delivery do not entirely make up for the fact that his reasoning is at times blatantly circular. Regardless, I really enjoyed the course, and would recommend it to those interested in history and historiography. But I would add the caveat that one should NOT substitute this for a truly comprehensive exploration of historiography. I would have liked to have seen this class take a tone, scope, and focus, more akin to the way the course Science Wars approached the history and philosophy of science. Perhaps the teaching company can release a specific course on historiography along such lines.
Date published: 2009-07-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from For advanced readers only I ordered this course as a supplement to Prof. Fears TTC course entitled, “The Wisdom of History.” Each are quite different in their approach and target audiences. Guelzo’s course reminds me of my graduate seminar in historiography. In fact, I wish I had this lecture series years ago to supplement my grad school education! This class is useful, interesting, thoughtful, and informative. Indeed, this class is for advanced students of history, deeply read laymen, or members of the academy looking to brush up on the great writers of history—a narrow audience. Guelzo is an acquired taste. I find his smug, rhythmic, and syncopated lecture style quite irritating and off-putting… but I warmed to him after the fifth or sixth lecture. He does, however, know his stuff and this is a great course on the writers of history. The lectures get better once you get past the Greeks, and his insights on the Enlightenment are excellent. A good course, but only for advanced readers of history.
Date published: 2009-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A triumph ! Notwithstanding another review which I believe too harsh and pedantic, I would counter that Professor Guelzo offers a splendid course, both interesting and edifying. Had this course been, for example, a doctoral dissertation, the negative reviewer might be on more solid ground. But that is not the audience sought by Professor Guezlo ( or for that matter, any of the Teaching Co Professors ) In the context for which it was intended, these lectures deserve nothing less than an A+. For the record, other than being a regular customer, I have no special relationship with the Teaching Company or any Professor.
Date published: 2009-03-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Philosophy of History I didn't understand what I was getting into when I purchased this course and consequently, I was disappointed. I was looking for how a historian does his or her job. What Dr. Guelzo delivers is a course on the philosophy of history, i.e., different themes that a historian might use to view the subject.
Date published: 2009-03-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Convoluted, Mis-Titled The course consists of a great deal of story telling, rambling, and pontificating, but very little treatment of the main topic of " Making History." There are occasional spots of clarity and glimpses of methodology and process, that is - Making History, but they are overshadowed by the convoluted pedantic sidebars and strings of lengthy quotations. Because of this, it was extremely difficult to ferret out the main idea of the lectures. The outline was rather sketchy and the course was clearly mis- titled. There is little to commend in this course, and TeachCo. still needs courses in various areas of historiography.
Date published: 2009-03-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from In the Shoes of the Great Historians The comments from NYNM are interesting and I at first would agree. Yet, Professor Geulzo's course on "How Great Historians Interpret the Past" begged a question; when did the event-driven and hind-sighted history writing that I learned in high school and college begin? Aside from archaeological finds, the bulk of what we 'moderns' call history prior to the 20th century seems to have been written with a bias. Even Gibbon's impressive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which did a good job mapping to previous biased historical documents, was flawed itself with bias or choice as Professor Geulzo describes it. I was befuddled when Professor Geulzo viewed Augustine and other religious figures as writing history incorporating concepts like "continuity" and "apocalyptic". Did not make sense from my event-driven history education nor his definition of history in Lecture 1. However, Professor Geulzo, and others like Professor Goldman, have used a social-history approach in opening minds to Intellectual History --- putting ourselves in the shoes of the 'Great Historians' of the past. This Intellectual History approach may be why some professors choose to quote directly from the 'Great Historians' and let the students interpret. Now we might attempt to answer that begged question. The event-driven, or exam-driven, approach to teaching history may be a modern phenomenon. We don't see this degree of objectivity in the 'Great Historians' of the distant past, so do our best in reading their works and acknowledging the impact they had on their surrounding culture; the evolution of which we may call history.
Date published: 2009-01-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Flawed I have just completed listening to this new series, and I think it is seriously flawed. I have a PhD in one of the social sciences and also teach, so I am coming to this as a fellow academic. To his credit, Geulzo offers good content from a very traditional, conservative, "classical" perspective. With this, his material is quite dated. His focus is on how earlier (esp. Greek, Roman) historians have written history. Most of the remainder is conservative (Gibbon, Whig, Foxe) and of the early Enlightenment. While this is commendable, it also represents only one perspective on the topic. Of 24 lectures, less half of the last lecture (less than 5% of the course) deals with any material since the 1890's, and then very superficially. Unfortunately, much of his secondary source material was written in the 1970's and earlier; volumes have been written that are more up-to-date, even on classical theory. Geulzo minimizes the influences of the Annales school, which was developed as far back as the 1920's and has had a very strong influence on how current history is seen and taught. His interpretation of current material (postmodernism) is dismissive, biased and inaccurate. Further his presentation style is "oratorical" in an annoying, pompous way. He likes to read original sources but it is not clear what the point is in doing so. His actual lecture style is not really analytic, but expository; at times I had trouble with the focus of his talk. This is of the "Great Man" tradition of history, not a contextual and cultural approach. Geulzo admits he should have titled it "Writing History"; I agree, this is not a course in "Making History" (Ie, the social construction of history) it is literally how the (classical) historian writes. It might have been better as a "literature" course than a "history" course. It appears to be a presentation of his own personal interest where he can use his interest in "speaking", not an objective survey of historiography. To be fair, this course would appeal to an audience who is drawn to "the classics." (ie: Herodutus, Livy, Thucydides). It would not appeal to a reader who wants a contemporary discussion of the theory of history.
Date published: 2009-01-09
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