Turning Points in American History

Course No. 8580
Professor Edward T. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
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Course No. 8580
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Relive the Battle of Saratoga - a game-changing conflict in America's war for independence.
  • numbers Take a close look at how early 19th-century Americans redefined democracy by revising restrictions on voting.
  • numbers Investigate how the Manhattan Project began, and follow its legacy through World War II.
  • numbers Find out how television became a national pastime and an influential force on American culture.

Course Overview

1777: The colonial victory over British troops at the Battle of Saratoga persuades France to provide financial and military support that will prove vital to the success of the American Revolution.

1862: The Homestead Act makes more than 600 million acres of land available to be settled, sparking the largest migration of Americans in the nation's history.

1933: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal launches a series of unprecedented laws and programs that will relieve the stress of the Great Depression and reshape American society.

2001: The 9/11 terrorist attacks spark a complex and controversial war against terrorism both domestically and internationally.

These are just four of the many turning points in the relatively short history of the United States—landmark movements that irrevocably altered the direction of the nation and signaled the dramatic start of a new historical reality.

Whether they took the form of

  • groundbreaking political and philosophical concepts,
  • dramatic military victories and defeats,
  • nationwide social and religious movements, or
  • technological and scientific innovations,

these and other turning points are the veritable backbone of the American experience. They forever changed the character of America politically, socially, culturally, and economically. Sometimes the changes brought about by these events were obvious; sometimes they were more subtle. Sometimes the effects of these turning points were immediate; other times, their aftershocks reverberated for decades.

Regardless, these great historical turning points demand to be understood. Knowing what these events are, how they came about, and their dramatic effects is essential to grasping the full story of this great world power. It may even offer you vital clues as to where America is headed in the coming years and decades.

Turning Points in American History is your chance to relive the most powerful and groundbreaking moments in the fascinating story of the United States of America. These 48 lectures, delivered by masterful historian and dynamic Professor Edward T. O'Donnell of College of the Holy Cross, offer you a different perspective on the sweeping narrative of U. S. history. Spanning the arrival of the first English colonists to the chaos of the Civil War to the birth of the computer age and beyond, this course is a captivating and comprehensive tour of those particular moments in the story of America, after which the nation would never be the same again.

Encounter Recurring Themes in American History

Professor O'Donnell has selected these specific historical turning points based on his expansive knowledge of American history and his decades of experience as a professor and lecturer to a wide variety of audiences. What makes these specific events turning points, regardless of the form they take, is the fact that they signal times when American society made a break with its past and entered a new phase of development.

"Turning points mark decisive 'before and after' moments in history," he says at the start of his course. "Before Shays's Rebellion, for example, Americans lived under the Articles of Confederation. After Shays's Rebellion and the constitutional convention it inspired, Americans lived under a new federal government and enjoyed the protections articulated in the Bill of Rights. Put another way, America became a very different place after this event."

Throughout Turning Points in American History, you'll encounter a series of recurring themes that will put your understanding of U. S. history—and even history itself—into a larger, more informed context. Some of these themes are these:

  • Surprises: Few people in any historical era are prepared for what's coming, whether it's a war, an epidemic, a revolution, or an invention. Who, 20 years ago, could have expected the astonishing impact of the personal computer on everyday life in America?
  • Agency: History is often made by towering figures like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. But it's also made by many nameless and faceless people—slaves, workers, farmers, suffragists—who take matters into their own hands and achieve historical change.
  • Crisis: Historical crises are, more often than not, opportunities for great change. American history is filled with moments when a terrible crisis—such as the Civil War or the Great Depression—led to a sudden and radical change for the better.

Experience Both Familiar and Unfamiliar Turning Points

Taking a chronological approach, Professor O'Donnell gives you new ways to understand American history and to appreciate it as a grand narrative pinpointed with key moments that changed things forever. Each of his lectures focuses on a single turning point, explaining the conditions that led up to it, immersing you in the experience of the event itself, and exploring its immediate and long-term ramifications.

Here are just five of the great turning points you investigate in depth throughout this course:

  • The Trial of John Peter Zenger (1735): A free press has played a central role in American history, and it wouldn't be possible without the arrest and prosecution of a little-known New York printer. While the trial did not establish any new legal precedent, it did popularize the ideas that freedom of the press is essential to liberty, that true statements cannot be libelous, and that a jury should decide both the facts and the law in libel trials.
  • The Election of 1800: Many Americans in the months between the election in November 1800 and inauguration day in March 1801 feared that violence might engulf the new republic. Would the Federalists cede power to the winners of the election, the Republicans? In the end, a peaceful transfer of power between the two rival political parties took place, marking a precedent-setting moment in the history of the still-young republic.
  • The Battle of Antietam (1862): This bloody Civil War battle stands out among others such as Bull Run and Gettysburg as a critical turning point for several reasons, including the fact that it allowed for President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and it eliminated the possibility of England and France intervening on behalf of the Confederacy.
  • The Picketing of the White House by Suffragists (1917): Thanks to the increasingly radical tactics of suffragists led by Alice Paul and the National Women's Party beginning in 1917, Congress and President Woodrow Wilson eventually cast their support behind the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that, when ratified in 1920, granted women voting rights and dramatically expanded American democracy.
  • The Watergate Scandal (1974): The most significant crisis of the 1970s, this turning point signaled a heightened level of public distrust toward elected officials—but it also illustrated the power of the news media and proved that the Constitution's system of checks and balances truly worked to stop the abuse of executive power.

Then there are the other events—ones that you may have only cursory knowledge of, or may not even have considered to be such integral parts of America's story. Among the many that you'll investigate in these lectures are

  • the founding of the Rhode Island colony (1636), which established the principle of religious pluralism—an idea that was eventually enshrined in the First Amendment;
  • the Supreme Court case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), which cemented the role of the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in deciding a law's constitutionality;
  • the establishment of the first national park (1872), which was the first time that any nation in the world set out to preserve acres of natural land for posterity; and
  • the start of the Manhattan Project (1939), which led to the creation of atomic weaponry that ended World War II—but also started the cold war with the Soviet Union.

Along the way, Professor O'Donnell often dispels some intriguing myths and half-truths about American history and provides an honest, unabashed look at the subject matter. These lectures are packed with unfamiliar anecdotes, stories, and side notes that just may change your views on the grand narrative of American history. You'll learn, for example, that

  • few Founding Fathers considered the Declaration of Independence a work of significant importance, and only in the 1800s was the document firmly enshrined in U. S. history;
  • most Americans who participated in the westward expansion did not aspire to be merely subsistence farmers but were entrepreneurs who were tied to national markets and were eager for profits;
  • African American soldiers were responsible for seizing San Juan Hill during America's war with Spain and not President Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders; and
  • Albert Einstein did not actually work on the Manhattan Project, despite writing an influential letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warning of Hitler's pursuit of an atomic bomb.

Embark on a Riveting Historical Adventure

With his expansive knowledge, his intriguing perspectives on how we seek to understand the importance and the lessons of past events, and his undeniable passion for sharing his knowledge with others, Professor O'Donnell is a masterful guide through the more than 350 years of American history. Throughout his career, he has taught thousands of students, delivered lectures to a range of audiences, and served as the lead historian for the U.S. Department of Education's Teaching American History grant.

In Turning Points in American History, Professor O'Donnell has taken the story of the United States of America and crafted it into a riveting adventure—complete with triumphant stories whose lessons may inspire you, sobering moments that may challenge your perceptions of the greatest country in the Western world, and powerful insights that will undoubtedly expand and illuminate your knowledge about the true greatness of America. It is, in short, an unforgettable course that only an engaging and insightful historian and professor could create.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    1617 The Great Epidemic
    Discover why the North American continent was never the same after the Great Epidemic of 1617, which wiped out an estimated 90% of Native Americans and allowed British colonization to proceed virtually unchallenged. Then, take a step back and look at the defining characteristics of a historical "turning point." x
  • 2
    1619 Land of the Free? Slavery Begins
    One of history's most troubling questions: How and why did a democratic America become a slaveholding society? Explore this paradox from its origins in 1619—with the arrival of slaves at Jamestown—to the influence of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 to the expansion of slavery throughout the South in the 1800s. x
  • 3
    1636 Freedom of Worship—Roger Williams
    Here, Professor O'Donnell discusses Roger Williams's efforts to establish freedom of religion, a somewhat forgotten story from early colonial America. Focus on religious life in the early Massachusetts settlements (especially in the colony of Rhode Island), Williams's life and controversial ideas, his long-term influence on religious freedom in America, and more. x
  • 4
    1654 Yearning to Breathe Free—Immigration
    One of the most symbolic expressions of the idea that all are welcome in America took place in 1654, when the Dutch West India Company allowed Jews from Brazil to settle in New Amsterdam. Learn why this seemingly unlikely turning point is a gateway to understanding immigration as a central theme in American history. x
  • 5
    1676 Near Disaster—King Philip's War
    In terms of per capita civilian losses, King Philip's War (1675–1676) was the deadliest war in American history. See how this unfamiliar war was critical in shattering the relationship between colonists and Native Americans and in uniting the British colonies in a shared American identity. x
  • 6
    1735 Freedom of the Press—The Zenger Trial
    How did the idea of a free press become a central principle of American democracy? The answer lies in the 1735 arrest and trial of New York printer John Peter Zenger, which, you learn, radically changed the political culture of the colonies and went on to shape the language of the Bill of Rights. x
  • 7
    1773 Liberty! The Boston Tea Party
    Leap forward in time to the 1770s, in the first of three lectures on turning points in the American Revolution. In the first of these lectures, Professor O'Donnell makes the powerful case that the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was the real spark that ignited the American Revolution. x
  • 8
    1776 We're Outta Here—Declaring Independence
    The creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 is one of the most important turning points in American history. Focus on why the colonies decided to separate from Great Britain, how the Declaration evolved from a work of little significance into a central American document, and much more. x
  • 9
    1777 Game Changer—The Battle of Saratoga
    Relive the 1777 Battle of Saratoga, a game-changing conflict between the American colonists and the British that became a turning point in the American Revolution for two reasons: It helped persuade France to join the colonial cause, and it convinced the colonists themselves that they could defeat the British Empire. x
  • 10
    1786 Toward a Constitution—Shays's Rebellion
    Who was Daniel Shays? What political and economic dilemmas led to this famous farmer's rebellion of 1786? Most important: How did this event pave the way for a reconsideration of the Articles of Confederation and the creation of the U. S. Constitution? Find out here. x
  • 11
    1789 Samuel Slater—The Industrial Revolution
    Few people remember Samuel Slater as an important figure in U. S. history, but his introduction of cotton mill technology in 1789 unleashed the Industrial Revolution. Explore how this turning point came about and some of the many ways it reshaped virtually every aspect of American society. x
  • 12
    1800 Peaceful Transfer—The Election of 1800
    One of the dirtiest presidential elections in U. S. history was the election of 1800, which involved a struggle between Republicans and Federalists and a tie vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Investigate how this dramatic crisis led to the first peaceful transfer of power between rival political parties in modern history. x
  • 13
    1803 Supreme Authority—Marbury v. Madison
    Marbury v. Madison, which established the principle of judicial review, is a landmark case in constitutional history. Explore the political dispute that led to this case, the Supreme Court's role in the early republic, how Chief Justice John Marshall crafted his famous decision, and how this principle has influenced the nation. x
  • 14
    1807 On the Move—Transportation Revolution
    Robert Fulton's steamboat trip up the Hudson River in 1807 announced a revolution in American transportation. In this lecture, learn how three key innovations in transportation—steamboats, canals, and railroads—helped Americans overcome obstacles impeding the nation's economic development and led to changes in politics, society, and more. x
  • 15
    1816 One Man, One Vote—Expanding Suffrage
    Take a closer look at how early 19th-century Americans expanded the definition of democracy by dropping most restrictions on voting for white men. How did this important turning point lead to significant changes such as the rise of mass politics, the use of ballots, the potential for political corruption, and more? x
  • 16
    1821 Reborn—The Second Great Awakening
    This lecture focuses on the Second Great Awakening, the powerful evangelical revival movement started in 1821 by the preacher Charles Grandison Finney. Two of the important impacts of this turning point you consider are the democratization of religion and the rise of social reform movements (specifically, the temperance movement). x
  • 17
    1831 The Righteous Crusade—Abolition
    Both William Lloyd Garrison's entry into abolitionism and Nat Turner's violent slave rebellion made 1831 a pivotal year in the growing national conflict over the issue of slavery. Learn how the abolitionist crusade made slavery the central question in American politics from the 1830s until the Civil War. x
  • 18
    1844 What's New? The Communication Revolution
    An often overlooked turning point in American history is the communication revolution. Here, discover how widespread literacy and an expansive post office network aided advances in communication; explore three key technological breakthroughs at the heart of the revolution; examine its effects on politics, economics, and society; and more. x
  • 19
    1845 The Ultimate American Game—Baseball
    Go back to the year 1845 and the birth of the quintessential American sport: baseball. What are baseball's origins? How did it evolve from a gentlemen's sport into a professional enterprise? What about baseball makes it the nation's ultimate game? And how has it both reflected and shaped American culture? x
  • 20
    1846 Land and Gold—The Mexican War
    What were the underlying roots of the Mexican-American War? Why was there so much controversy surrounding newly acquired territories? How did the discovery of gold in 1848 force Congress to confront once again the contentious issue of slavery? Learn the answers to these and other questions in this lecture. x
  • 21
    1862 Go West, Young Man! The Homestead Act
    Professor O'Donnell dispels myths about one of the federal government's most extraordinary programs: the Homestead Act of 1862. This landmark event sparked the largest wave of migration in U. S. history and played a major role in the birth of the American West as a central aspect of America's identity. x
  • 22
    1862 Terrible Reality—The Battle of Antietam
    Go into the heat of one of the Civil War's most important battles: the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Investigate how this Union victory underscored the need for capable military leadership, allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, diminished chances of foreign support for the Confederacy, and announced the arrival of modern war. x
  • 23
    1868 Equal Protection—The 14th Amendment
    Many legal scholars and historians have argued that the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under the laws, is the most important addition to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights. Here, Professor O'Donnell retells the fascinating story of how this amendment was ratified in 1868—and its turbulent history in the 20th and 21st centuries. x
  • 24
    1872 Open Spaces—The National Parks
    In the 1870s, amid the wave of American industrialization, a movement emerged to preserve for all time large sections of wilderness as national parks—the first time this had been done in history. Investigate the political struggle to protect the nation's natural wonders in places such as Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone. x
  • 25
    1873 Bloody Sunday—Ending Reconstruction
    Make sense of the complexities of Reconstruction with this lecture on the period's bloodiest incident, the Colfax Massacre of 1873. Why is this particular period the turning point of the "counter-revolutionary" period of Reconstruction? And how did it pave the way for the rise of the Jim Crow South? x
  • 26
    1876 How the West Was Won and Lost—Custer
    Follow the story of 1876's Battle of Little Big Horn, one of the most devastating defeats ever suffered by the U. S. military. Despite a Sioux and Cheyenne warrior victory, this turning point marked the beginning of the end of Native American military resistance—and to much of the traditional Native American way of life. x
  • 27
    1886 The First Red Scare—Haymarket
    This lecture deals with the 1886 Haymarket bombing of a Chicago workers' rally. Look at the state of Gilded Age America in the 1880s, examine how the American labor movement emerged, experience the events of this tragic attack, and survey the event's larger impact on the rapidly industrializing nation and its politics. x
  • 28
    1898 The End of Isolation—War with Spain
    American isolationist foreign policy ended in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. Discover how this turning point—spurred by lurid journalism and intense political pressure—transformed a nation long committed to isolationism into a grand imperial power determined to take a more aggressive role in world affairs. x
  • 29
    1900 The Promised Land—The Great Migration
    The movement of around 7 million African Americans into northern cities. A flourishing of African American culture that brought about the Harlem Renaissance. The rise of activist organizations fighting harder than ever for civil rights. These are some of the effects of the "Great Migration" of the early 1900s, which you learn more about here. x
  • 30
    1901 That Damned Cowboy! Theodore Roosevelt
    The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt—the youngest man to assume the presidency—left a powerful mark on the office and, more important, brought the ideals of the emerging Progressive movement to the national stage. Among the ones you explore here: trust busting, labor rights, and conservation. x
  • 31
    1903 The Second Transportation Revolution
    Automobiles and airplanes—two innovations that ushered in a new era in American transportation. Place these revolutionary vehicles in the context of the year 1903, when the Ford Motor Company made automobiles affordable and accessible, and when the Wright brothers performed their successful flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. x
  • 32
    1909 The Scourge of the South—Hookworm
    Even diseases can instigate historical turning points. Discover how the hookworm parasite—which caused a debilitating disease that affected millions of Americans—was destroyed through the efforts of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission and other public health initiatives—efforts that helped transform and improve life in the American South. x
  • 33
    1917 Votes for Women! The 19th Amendment
    In 1917, after decades of struggle, a group of radical women decided to do the unthinkable: picket the White House to demand the right to vote. Three years and many protests later, American women finally won the right to vote. Get a fresh perspective on the origins of the suffrage movement and the profound impact it had on American politics. x
  • 34
    1919 Strikes and Bombs—The Year of Upheaval
    Why was 1919 such a chaotic year in American history? Find out the answer by investigating three key events that led to the "Red Scare": a series of massive labor strikes, growing fears about the international spread of Russian Communism, and a surge of anarchist bombings and race riots. x
  • 35
    1933 Bold Experimentation—The New Deal
    During his first 100 days, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set out on a massive, whirlwind project of legislative activity and policymaking—the New Deal—to save the nation from the worst ravages of the Great Depression. Learn why this period was such a breakthrough moment in the role of government in the American economy. x
  • 36
    1939 Einstein's Letter—The Manhattan Project
    The origins of the atomic bomb go back to 1939, when scientists and military leaders undertook an operation to create the world's first successful atomic weapon before the Nazis could. Investigate how the Manhattan Project began, and follow its legacy through the bombing of two Japanese cities that ended World War II. x
  • 37
    1942 Surprise—The Battle of Midway
    What is the most critical battle in World War II? The Battle of the Bulge? D-Day? Here, Professor O'Donnell makes the case for the Battle of Midway as the critical battle—specifically because it ended major Japanese offensive operations in the Pacific and allowed America to focus on defeating Nazi Germany. x
  • 38
    1945 The Land of Lawns—Suburbanization
    This lecture covers an overlooked turning point in American history, post–World War II suburbanization. Look at the origins of the "suburban ideal," examine early versions of suburbanization, learn about the five federal policy initiatives that led to the extraordinary housing boom, meet the "Henry Ford of middle-class housing," and more. x
  • 39
    1948 The Berlin Airlift and the Cold War
    The year 1948 signaled the dawn of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Discover how this epic geopolitical conflict spurred a dramatic militarization of the United States, promoted a culture of fear over Communist spies and nuclear war, and reaffirmed the nation's commitment to internationalism. x
  • 40
    1950 Tuning In—The Birth of Television
    Television was first thought to be just a fad—but by the 1950s it had exploded into a pervasive cultural force with the power to help politicians win elections, support national sports franchises, bring the violence of war into people's living rooms, and create shared national experiences. Find out how here. x
  • 41
    1960 The Power to Choose—The Pill
    Grasp the historical significance of the birth control pill in American society by considering the central role played by women in its development and subsequent FDA approval in 1960. Also, follow the heated public debate that emerged over the ethics and morality of "the Pill." x
  • 42
    1963 Showdown in Birmingham—Civil Rights
    Turn now to 1963, a critical year in the civil rights movement. First, look at the status of African Americans in the early 1950s and the early stages of this human rights struggle. Then, examine the protests and violence that rocked Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. x
  • 43
    1968 Losing Vietnam—The Tet Offensive
    Why did America get involved in the affairs of Vietnam and eventually commit to massive military escalation in the mid-1960s? Why, after a huge buildup, did the United States suddenly pull out? Uncover the answers to these provocative questions by looking at the 1968 Tet Offensive—the turning point of this controversial war. x
  • 44
    1969 Disaster—The Birth of Environmentalism
    Investigate how a disastrous oil spill in Santa Barbara and a dramatic fire on Ohio's Cuyahoga River in 1969 led to the modern environmental movement in America. The subsequent wave of legislation would lead to two major accomplishments: a cleaner environment and improved public efforts to combat pollution nationwide. x
  • 45
    1974 An Age of Crisis—Watergate
    The Watergate scandal of 1974 is one of the most notorious examples of political corruption in modern American politics. Experience the flurry of paranoia, political intrigue, and investigative reporting from this momentous event, and witness it forever shake the confidence of the American people in their political leaders. x
  • 46
    1975 The Digital Age—The Personal Computer
    The world's first personal computers undoubtedly revolutionized America's social, political, and cultural landscape. As you explore the three stages of this turning point in U. S. history—the hobbyist phase, the mass production phase, and the user-friendly phase—you see just how essential these machines are in 21st-century life. x
  • 47
    1989 Collapse—The End of the Cold War
    Go back to November 9, 1989, when the whole world watched as the Berlin Wall fell, bringing the cold war—and later the Soviet Union itself—to an end. While this epic moment changed the landscape of Europe, it also had several ripple effects on American life and politics as well. x
  • 48
    2001 The Age of Terror—The 9/11 Attacks
    In this final lecture, investigate the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the dawn of the "age of terror." While the implications of this recent turning point may not be clear for years to come, Professor O'Donnell helps you put this traumatic event in a larger national—and even international—context. x

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Your professor

Edward T. O'Donnell

About Your Professor

Edward T. O'Donnell, Ph.D.
College of the Holy Cross
Dr. Edward T. O'Donnell is Associate Professor of History at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He earned his Ph.D. in American History from Columbia University. Since 2002 Professor O'Donnell has worked extensively with the federal U.S. Department of Education program Teaching American History. He has served as the lead historian for several grants and has led hundreds of workshops and seminars and delivered...
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Turning Points in American History is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 149.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course!! I'm enjoying the course Very Much! Very Excellent lecturer and topics.
Date published: 2017-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best I've Taken I've taken many of the great courses and have been very pleased with most of them, but have never written a review. I'm moved to do so here, for the first time, because this course was the best! The professor is a great presenter and the content is extremely interesting and informative. If you're interested in American History, don't hesitate to get this course.
Date published: 2017-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely topics Listening to this course on a road trip. Topics are so timely--development of Bill of Rights, beginnings of slavery laws, treatment of native Americans. Choices made in the past resound today.
Date published: 2016-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Excellent course. Wonderful presentation. Professor O'Donnell is a joy to follow combining mastery of subject with an engaging style. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating summary important events I have taken many “Turning point…” courses before. “Turning points in Middle Eastern History” given Professor Gearon, “Turning points in Medieval history” given by Professor Armstrong, and “Living History, experiencing the great events of the ancient and medieval world” given by Professor Garland. In many cases, if I had not heard a few survey courses on the subject prior to hearing the “turning points…” course, the course felt piece-wise and the background context was missing. In many cases the “turning point events” were either not really events – but rather longer phase transitions. Sometimes the events were not turning points but merely incremental changes or even turned out to be non-events. Having said this, when I heard such courses with enough background, they did provide in some of the cases an interesting perspective that helped to highlight the general historical narrative through breakthrough events. I did hear quite a few survey courses on American History before taking this course, and I felt that in the general context of the survey courses, this course did a very nice job in fleshing out the historical narrative. This was done by taking some time to talk about the smaller details of some of the more dramatic events, and taking time to introduce the central figures in those events than you would otherwise get in a wide survey course. I also felt that the events chosen, for the most part (but not for all), were in fact “events” and were also “turning point” – so the course does stick to the title. As in his other course “America in the Gilded age…”, Professor O’Donnell focuses primarily on social and political history, although some military turning point events do make their way into the course – such as the battle of Midway, the Tet Offensive, and the Spanish American war. I actually liked this quite a lot and learned a lot from it. There was not a whole lot of overlap with “America in the Gilded age…”, although the scope of interest is similar and the eras do overlap… I found Professor O’Donnell’s presentation very easy to listen to. He was cheerful and pleasant and seemed fair and reasonable in his historical analysis. Overall this has been a nice, interesting course for me. I am glad I decided to hear it, and I think it was definitely a good decision to hear it as one of the last courses I took on American history.
Date published: 2016-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History brought to life This is an excellent view of American History, even for those who have studied it closely. He brings in details which clarify why events changed the course of history. Most enjoyable.
Date published: 2016-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Delightful I have listened to a frightening number of the lectures from this company. They are generally good, ranging from fair to excellent. This series may be the best yet. As a history buff the choice of topics is intriguing, He drills down into some of the corners of American History I'm happy to learn more about. e.g. The Pill, The Invention of Television, The Birth of Suburbia, Baseball, the long history of anti-communism and what that meant for the American Union Movement. Moreover Professor O'Donnell has a voice, temperament and style that are easy to listen to. The lectures are peppered with stories of the people involved as well as the analysis and pertinent statistics, and then the topics are always put into perspective given the sweep on history. I strongly recommend this series as interesting and informative, may I say delightful, for anyone with an interest in American history.
Date published: 2016-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly outstanding I have purchased many excellent courses but this is by far the best! It made me want to go back for my PhD in history. O'Donnell is masterful in grabbing your attention with an introductory story, then telling you where he is headed in the lecture, then laying out the drama with enough detail to educate but not so much that it bogs down. I wrote a note of thanks to Dr O'Donnell and he personally responded. I highly recommend this course. Even for a history major like me it was a wealth of new and fascinating information!
Date published: 2016-09-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Job, Professor This course was well worth my time. An expansive survey of some of the key elements that transformed American society into what it is today: from immigration to the industrial revolution to the transportation revolution to key battles in nation-threatening wars to the invention of TV. It covered a vast expanse of US history from battles to inventions to scandals. The Professor's main themes: History is made by agency- not just the well-known leaders of society but also the unnamed farmers, protesters, or laborers who led the country onto a new path. History is not inevitable- To us it may appear that an event was inevitable and everything was leading up to it but history is actually full of surprises: the key events were not seen as "around the corner" by those living at the time; This includes the end of slavery, the Berlin wall coming down, and the terrorist attacks of 9-11 History is made by people making choices- History is not made by some mysterious unknown force or "fate" but by real people making choices that led to a distinct change in the trajectory of the country Pluses of the course: • Lectures not only focused on the actual turning point but also discussed the history of the topic in question before and after the turning point (for example: immigration wave history, voting suffrage, etc.) • In most cases the professor gave ample examples of the ripple effects the turning point had on the American people and society • Course covered topics that are not often found in typical U.S. history courses such as Roger William’s movement for freedom of religion, King Phillip’s War, and the eradication of hookworm in the south • Lecture 5 (King Phillip's War), 9 (The battle of Saratoga), 11 (Samuel Slater and the Industrial Revolution), 12 (Election of 1800), 15 (expansion of voting suffrage for white men), 36 (Battle of Midway), 39 (beginning of the Cold War), and 47 (end of the Cold War) • The professor seemed personable and down to earth • The professor’s lectures were easy to understand and follow Minuses of the course (minor ones at that): • While the professor generally did a good job of explaining why a specific turning point was important I was hoping that he would’ve speculated more on the “What If” side if the turning point had not occurred or had gone another way: how would the U.S. or society be different? I know this would be difficult to do but would sure be fun and thought-provoking! • The professor had a habit of constantly correcting himself or he’d start a sentence with one phrase but then change in mid sentence and say it a different way; The constant correction of himself sometimes hindered himself from effectively emphasizing a point he was making; Unfortunately, there were times I found myself unintentionally focusing more on a correction than letting a point sink in If you are interested in key moments in US history that set the country on a different path from where it had been previously, then this course is right for you.
Date published: 2016-08-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Religious bias or bad history? This course is probably OK for a person who knows little or nothing about US history. The Professor is a competent presenter.I couldn't get past his first lecture for three main reasons. 1.He correctly points out that the Native Americans("NA's") could have wiped out Jamestown at any time. I was appalled by the reason he offered for their forbearance-that the NA's believed the deaths from the plagues, brought by the Pilgrims, were due to the power of their God and that it was fear of this God that protected them. That is not supported by the evidence.The real reason was guns.The NA's immediately recognize their importance and wanted to acquire as many as possible. The Pilgrims desperately needed to trade for food but were reluctant to include many guns.However, they did promise that more guns were coming when their supply ship came the next summer.The NA's kept the Pilgrims alive through the winter and deferred the decision about the fate of the colony until after that ship arrived and they could get those promised guns.Bad history to not know and talk about that? 2.The portrait of the NA's as naive,superstitious,ignorant savages who were in awe and fear of the White man's god is an unsound view. Is it based on a bias toward the importance of religion? 3.There were two very important turning point in American history from this period and he wrongly characterized one and missed the other entirely. The decision by the local chiefs to defer their destruction of the colony-until it was too late changed the course of history. Brushing the reason for that off, as a fear of God is just wrong. Worse was his failure to talk about the first great massacre of NA's by Europeans. When the ship came, trading resumed.The promised guns were not forthcoming. The NA's began asking for a more even exchange for the value of the food they were providing to keep the colony alive. More colonists arrived.The Pilgrims decided that it was foolish to pay for what they needed when they could just take it. Their solution for their "native problem" was a surprise raid on the villages, a massacre of over 500 NA's and the theft of the food supplies. This first breach of faith and terrible crime set the pattern for the eventual displacement and destruction of the NA Nations.I couldn't understand how this seminal event in US history could be ignored. The information about the drastic effect of European disease on the Native American population is something everyone should understand.However, I was surprised he did not tell his students to read Diamond's "Guns,Germs and Steel" which is fundamental to understanding this issue. I bought this course to update my knowledge base by current scholarship.I lost confidence in the teachers historical judgments after this first lecture, and decided to look else where.
Date published: 2016-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Review of Key Points in America's History Edward O'Donnell takes you on an amazing journey through America's history starting with the very first Europeans through the tragedies of 9/11. This is an amazing body of work that shows how the mundane can be significant, and he takes the significant and puts it into context. Both my husband and I repeatedly found ourselves saying, "I had no idea . . ." and we are both well educated and avid readers. If I had Prof. O'Donnell as one of my high school or college teachers, I might have pursued history as my profession. Thanks to The Great Courses I can partake of some amazing topics given by superb lecturers in the comfort of my home and in my own time frame. I find myself even more passionate and knowledgeable about our country's history. Thank you to The Great Courses for such an incredible body of work, and thank you to Prof. O'Donnell for not only his mastery of the subject, but his passion which you can help but come to share with him. Bravo!
Date published: 2016-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply One of the Best of "The Great Courses" This course is simply one of the best in The Great Courses inventory, and works very well in the audio format. My wife an I just completed it over a week's driving vacation and it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to eat up the miles between our destinations. Highly recommended! If you have never purchased a course from The Great Courses, this is an excellent one to start with. The lecturer is as good as they come, with an easy-to-listen-to voice and a ready wit. Each lesson is very well organized, starting with an illustrative story then laying out the basic concepts, diving into each with supporting facts. In the process of identifying the key turning points in American history, the course also provides a wonderful overview of all of American history along with a framework that allows the student to hang that knowledge.
Date published: 2015-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This course is highly informative and the professor knows how to keep the audience engaged. I've listened to many American history courses over the years and I still learned something from this course.
Date published: 2015-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome I would highly recommend this course to anyone that wants a lecture series that is informative but not boring. Professor O'Donnell does a great job. I listened to this on the way to work for 2 months, I was sorry it was over.
Date published: 2015-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Turning Points in American History I really enjoyed this course. As a retired professor of biomedical engineering, i was looking for a course that could provide a comprehensive but enjoyable overview of American history. This course achieved that and more! The lectures were broad enough to include politics but also the effects of decisions on the evolution of American culture. I highly recommend this course to those seeking detailed but entertaining stories of our ancestors. Thank you!
Date published: 2015-07-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Presentation But Short on Substance Edward O'Donnell is a gifted lecturer, and each lecture is very entertaining. Each lecture is well organized, and O'Donnell begins with a brief outline of his main points. My main criticism is that the lectures do not involve very much critical thinking. The points that O'Donnell makes are fairly obvious ones, and they are not the result of real insight. A top notch history class will include material on competing theories and points of debate for different topics, and that is not presented in this class. I have recently watched classes by Mark Stoler and Garrett Fagan, which do include this level of critical thinking, which is missing in this class. I struggled on whether to rate this class as a 4 or a 5. It's definitely a 5 in terms of presentation and entertainment value. It's as enjoyable to watch as a history special on TV. I ended up giving it a 4 because it lacks the level of critical thinking that I have found in some other Great Course history classes.
Date published: 2015-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Pleasant Surprise I dragged my feet on getting this course because it was so long and just didn't sound interesting to me. However, my wife overruled me, and we bought the course, finding it to be an engaging, learning experience. Professor O'Donnell kept our interest such that we hated to see it end.
Date published: 2015-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth every penny Prof. O'Donnell delivers an abundance of facts and connects them in a manner that is not only insightful but quite entertaining. Wasn't sure if an audiotape would hold my attention like the many great DVD courses have visually, but can honestly say this collection was worth every penny.
Date published: 2015-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course This was an excellent course, one I wish I had 60+ years ago when I was in college. The professor is an excellent communicator and the course gives an excellent overview of the critical events in American history from the arrival of the earliest Europeans. There is even a class on baseball as one of the turning points. I loved this course.
Date published: 2015-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Turning Points in American History Dr. O'Donnell, as with all of the courses I have enjoyed, makes this course worth every minute. His knowledge and understanding of American history is apparent in the topics he chooses for each of the lectures. I felt the anticipaition of opening a gift just before the next topic/lecture was announced. His delivery, organization and command of the topic makes this a very enjoyable lecture series. I would highly recommend it.
Date published: 2015-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was surprized how much I learned! I have been an American History buff for 50 years - but I was surprised how much I learned in this course. Professor O'Donnell chooses 48 turning points over the last 400 years: many you would expect (Saratoga, The Industrial Revolution, The New Deal) - but many are not expected (The Great Epidemic of 1617, Baseball, Hookworm cure). He is also one of the most organized lecturers I have seen in The Great Courses. Usually starts out with a related story, than the objectives of the lecture including why this or that was a turning point. As with most first time Great Courses lecturers he is a little mannered in the beginning, but it is never a serious distraction. He is always (for a college professor) entertaining. I also appreciate hearing this series of lectures from someone who is not only knowledgeable but considerably younger than myself (I am 60). Besides getting a look from a different prospective, it nice to know that American History is not the sole province of senior citizens.
Date published: 2015-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incisive Look at Key Points in American History This is among the best Great Courses that I have purchased. Rather than hopelessly try to peruse every event of note in American History, Professor O'Donnell teaches the whys and wherefores of the most vital moments in which our emerging nation grew and changed. I was surprised by several stories and facts that somehow I missed in my 18 years of formal education.
Date published: 2014-12-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Turning Points in American History Professor O'Donnell's lectures are content-filled and interesting. The "turning points" he's selected are indeed important, but our history has been jam-packed with such things so maybe he'll consider issuing "Son of 'Turning Points in American History.'"
Date published: 2014-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exciting and Engaging Course Having a technical background, I avoided taking history courses during my formal education because I was always skeptical of the ways that historical events were presented. This course totally changed my view about American History. Each lecture opened my eyes to how events unfolded, leading to new directions for Americans. I purchased the video download and was very pleased with the pictures and maps that enhanced my understanding of the material. There was never a dull moment in this fantastic exploration of turning points in American history. I especially appreciated the inclusiveness of this course with its coverage of Native Americans, women's issues, and the contributions of many ethnic groups to the nation's history. Organizing this course around turning points was a wonderful way that the professor approached this course. Professor O'Donnell is a great teacher that provided a flawless presentation of this exciting subject. I hope that he will soon have another course offering, because I will immediately purchase it.
Date published: 2014-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic I can't say enough about this course. I loved it. The professor is a pleasure to listen to; his voice is easy on the ear, his presentation is smooth, and his style is conversational. He starts each lecture with a story, proceeds to outline the objectives, and then leads us through each event in a natural way. The subject matter was interesting. As the course title implies, these are turning points in American history - not necessarily the usual topics you would expect in an American history course. But with that in mind, they were very well chosen. I thought it was a delightful way to learn about 48 events in American history.
Date published: 2014-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's called The Great Courses for a reason... This is an outstanding and non-conventional course that delivers its message very precisely. Choosing all the turning points must have been a fun exercise, which seems like the Professor did with brilliance e.g. Kennedy's assassination isn't a turning point, but the efforts to get rid of hookworm in the South in early 20th century is. If you stop and think about it, makes a whole lot of sense! I wished more Professors would structure their lectures in the same fashion as Professor O'Donnell: start with an anecdote (normally a surprising one), establish objective for the lecture and then deliver it in a witty, smooth, precise, no hyperbolic way, peppered with clever remarks and unbiased arguments. The course doesn't try to "sell" you on anything. O'Donnell is very capable in making you understand that things are what they are and choices were made. As a non-American (but married to one) this course was an absolute joy. You could start understanding some finer points about America that the regular course isn't able to deliver. Excellent course. We need more lectures by Professor O'Donnell!
Date published: 2014-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learn American history in a Whole New Way I was very excited to purchase this course. I enjoy reading and studying American History. In high school and in college, I was exposed to a more general approach to the subject. It didn’t challenge me intellectually. Having finished “Turning Points in American History, I felt that I took the American History class I had missed out on. Professor Donnell’s course was a very intriguing and refreshing look at our nation’s history. 1) Content – Prof. Donnell wisely choose a whole variety of historical events, from the important (1776, Battle of Antietam, The New Deal, Sept. 11) to the less well known, most obscure turning points (King Philip’s War, Shays’ Rebellion, Hookworm, The First Red Scare). These lesser-known events are ones that are never covered in schools, but often their impact has been just as long lasting as the important events. Prof O’Donnell knows his content, back to front. 2) Structure – O’Donnell is fond of saying, “History is the study of choices.” Change is driven by choice. Nothing in history is ever fated to happened. Each lecture starts with a short list of objectives: the state of the country before the event, the turning point itself, and its aftermath. From this, each event is thoroughly explored and explained well. 3) Teaching Style – O’Donnell is quite an engaging lecturer. I wish that he had been my American history professor in college. He is well spoken in his lectures and several times throughout the course, his humor peaks through. I wish that the course had been longer. For anyone else interesting in learning more about American history, this is the course for you. It was very hard to finish “Turning Points”, but I look forward to watching any future course that Prof. O’Donnell will do next.
Date published: 2014-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Refreshing Approach This course is a great broad strokes history of the United States. It is presented in a topical manner as opposed to chronological. Professor O'Donnell explores the evolution of each turning point up to modern times. It is like living American history dozens of times from dozens of different sets of eyes. It is probably my favorite course yet. One side note - Professor O'Donnell is obviously a fan of baseball, so there is an entire lecture on baseball thrown in for no apparent reason. Fair enough. The rest of the content is easily relevant enough to make up for it.
Date published: 2014-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Turning Points in American History Provocative, insightful and entertaining. I saved the disks to revisit.
Date published: 2014-04-22
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