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The American Identity

Discover distinctive qualities that define the American character.
American Identity is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 54.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT, very informative, highly recommend I have taken Professor Allitt lectures in the past and they never disappoint. He is great at getting the material across in a manner that is both learning and entertaining. Would like to have viewed the lecture instead of just audio.
Date published: 2024-06-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent alternate approach to American history I've listened to many TTC courses over two or three decades, almost all excellent, but just have not taken the time to write reviews. I will this time. I am finding this a most interesting peripheral approach to American History, with highly interesting profiles of well-chosen assortment of individuals and their times. I think I've skipped a couple for lack of interest in their spectrum of accomplishment, but almost all are worthwhile. Excellent presentation as are all of Prof. Allitt's course. I happen to do my listening on an underwater mp3 player while swimming (30 min.lecture perfect for half hour swim), and the fact that chronological sequence is not so important is beneficial for devices with scramble and no display. So might be a bonus for others who are not always able to maintain the individual lectures in sequence.
Date published: 2021-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Consistently etertaining and informative You might think that 48 mini-biographies of Americans throughout history would get tiresome after a while, but that was not the case for me. The professor did a great job of connecting the personages and themes, so as to create a sense of continuity in the course. He was careful to present both the underside and the positive achievements of each figure, and except for perhaps one lesson (William F. Buckley), I felt he had no axe to grind and no ideological agenda. His presentation style is incredibly good-natured and amiable, and his far-reaching knowledge impressive. The fact that he grew up in Britain occasionally added some valuable insights - such as what he said about the American educational system. Highly recommended as a way to more deeply appreciate entrepreneurship, religious identity, the arts, education and politics in the USA.
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from American Identity excelent selection of people who contributed to the developement and thinking of the United States throughout its history. Professor Allitt excels at expressing his ideas and very entertaining. one of the Great Courses best!
Date published: 2020-05-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Absolutely Excludes Native Americans Seriously Not ONE Native American is profiled in this series.
Date published: 2018-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Didn't know what I didn't know I have two degrees from Harvard (AB '86, MPP '93) and 25 years of ongoing (lifelong) learning behind me, and still I did not know how much I did not know about such important American figures as John Wesley Powell, Brigham Young, and Francis Marion, to name a few. This is a fantastic course in every way.
Date published: 2018-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved it, I love all of Professor Allitt's courses. The course manages to be informative as well as entertaining. What I really liked about this course is that Professor Allit managed to delve into so many areas of society by discussing such a diverse array of individuals as musicians, Intellectuals, religious figures, politicians and generals. Another way in which Professor Allitt makes this course special is by at times shifting the focus of his lectures away from the people who traditionally would receive the focus to individual's who usually would be confined to the footnotes of history (e.g. Abigail Adams rather than John Adams, William Tecumseh Sherman rather than Ulysses S. Grant or Herbert Hoover rather than Franklin D. Roosevelt).
Date published: 2017-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Edutainment at its best Dr Allitt has created a wonderfully entertaining and informative set of lectures in which he profiles 50 or so 'typical' Americans (specifically folks from the US) who had gained, during their lifetime, a modicum of notoriety. From the proto-American John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) to the controversial Jesse Jackson. From the clearly famous or infamous like Thomas Jefferson, Al Capone, Herbert Hoover and Wild Bill, to the relatively obscure with Emma Goldman, Isabella Gardner, Ann Lee, and David Rittenhouse. Each individual thumbnail biography tells a story of what the good Professor describes as the American spirit...sometimes a rags-to-riches inspirational story, sometimes a ruthless success story fueled by self-interest (please read MrDarcy's fine review on The Great Courses)...each story meant to exemplify the fruits of intelligence, adventurousness, courage and hard work. Each lectures is a standalone survey, but should be enjoyed as a won't be disappointed. Highly combo works well.
Date published: 2017-08-17
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Historian Patrick N. Allitt investigates the national character by introducing you to notable Americans from Thomas Jefferson to Al Capone


Patrick N. Allitt

We live in a world that has created many new incentives for us to become lifelong learners. Luckily, lifelong learning is a pleasure.


Emory University

Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. He received his PhD in American History from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and Princeton University. He is a widely published author whose books include A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism; The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; and Religion in America since 1945: A History.

By This Professor

The Industrial Revolution
The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales
The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy
The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from a Master Educator
How Railways Transformed the World
America after the Cold War: The First 30 Years
Being American

01: Being American

This course profiles 48 notable Americans whose lives and accomplishments help define the national identity. In his introductory lecture, Professor Allitt highlights characteristics that are distinctly American, while noting that these traits are neither prescriptive nor unchanging.

33 min
John Smith—The Colonial Promoter

02: John Smith—The Colonial Promoter

Famous for being saved from execution by Pocahontas (which may not have happened), John Smith was a talented soldier, explorer, mapmaker, colonizer, and writer whose career heralds what would become the American approach to Indian policy, meritocracy, and frontier settlement.

30 min
William Penn—The Religious Liberty Advocate

03: William Penn—The Religious Liberty Advocate

Religious freedom is so central to the American way of life that it's difficult to recall what a radical notion it once appeared to be. William Penn is one of the first great advocates for making America a land of religious liberty where everyone is free to worship in his or her own way.

31 min
Cotton Mather—The Puritan

04: Cotton Mather—The Puritan

A ferociously devout Puritan, Cotton Mather is famous for his role in the Salem Witch trials and for introducing smallpox inoculations to Boston. To some, he represents Puritanism at it worst; others praise his high moral standards and constant attempts to root out corruption and decadence.

31 min
Benjamin Franklin—The Improver

05: Benjamin Franklin—The Improver

American history is full of people trying to improve things, none more so than Benjamin Franklin. Born in humble circumstances, his success as a printer, writer, scientist, and public servant made him admired worldwide, proving that upward social and economic mobility was an American reality.

30 min
Francis Marion—The Guerrilla Soldier

06: Francis Marion—The Guerrilla Soldier

Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox," helped preserve the possibility of American independence in one of the most treacherous campaigns of the Revolutionary War. His style of irregular warfare inspired tactics used later against the Indians and during the Civil War.

30 min
Thomas Jefferson—The Patriot

07: Thomas Jefferson—The Patriot

A striking aspect of American nationalism is its self-critical character, in which Thomas Jefferson leads the way. He was not only proud of the U.S. and its revolutionary accomplishments but also anguished about its imperfections, especially the blight of slavery, which he knew well as a slaveholder himself.

30 min
Abigail Adams—The First Lady

08: Abigail Adams—The First Lady

A minister's daughter full of the Yankee virtues of prudence, thrift, hard work, and sobriety, Abigail Adams was wife to the second U.S. president, John Adams. Along with Martha Washington, she helped create the pattern that American first ladies have followed throughout much of the last 200 years.

31 min
Mother Ann Lee—The Religious Founder

09: Mother Ann Lee—The Religious Founder

Religious innovation is one of the most distinctive aspects of the American identity. We look at Ann Lee, the principal founder of the Shakers, whose demand for absolute celibacy meant that no one would ever be born to Shaker parents and that recruits would have to live a life of heroic self-discipline.

31 min
Rittenhouse and Bartram—The Scientists

10: Rittenhouse and Bartram—The Scientists

American preeminence in science did not come until the 20th century, but there were notable American scientists in the nation's early years, among them astronomer David Rittenhouse and naturalist William Bartram. Relatively unknown today, they had worldwide reputations in the late 18th century.

30 min
Eli Whitney—The Inventor

11: Eli Whitney—The Inventor

A distinctive aspect of the American identity is the ability to make practical new devices and put them to profitable use. A famous example is Eli Whitney, whose greatest invention, the cotton gin, was almost too useful, and the bargain he tried to drive was almost too hard.

31 min
Lewis and Clark—The Explorers

12: Lewis and Clark—The Explorers

The most illustrious explorers in American history, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led a three-year expedition to explore the Missouri river and beyond to the Pacific Ocean. Their work laid the foundation for the nation's subsequent westward expansion.

30 min
Charles Grandison Finney—The Revivalist

13: Charles Grandison Finney—The Revivalist

Charles Grandison Finney helped create the revivalist evangelical style in America in the 19th century, which emphasized a brighter theological message than that of traditional Calvinism. He was also a central figure in Christian education and in the movement to abolish slavery.

31 min
Horace Mann—The Educator

14: Horace Mann—The Educator

No American characteristic is more striking to outsiders than the nation's commitment to education. Horace Mann created America's first statewide public school system in Massachusetts, which became a model for other states and led to today's system of universal education for all.

30 min
Ralph Waldo Emerson—The Philosopher

15: Ralph Waldo Emerson—The Philosopher

Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading figure among the Transcendentalists, an idealistic group of philosophical and social radicals in pre-Civil War New England. His lectures and essays made him the most famous American thinker of his era, at home and in Europe.

30 min
Frederick Douglass—The Abolitionist

16: Frederick Douglass—The Abolitionist

The growing anti-slavery movement in the 1850s found an eloquent spokesman in Frederick Douglass, a former slave who had escaped from bondage. His moving autobiography and electrifying oratory energized abolitionists and helped precipitate the crisis of the union.

30 min
Edmund Ruffin—The Champion of Slavery

17: Edmund Ruffin—The Champion of Slavery

American history is full of dramatic contradictions, none more so than Edmund Ruffin. The father of scientific agriculture, he argued for a wide array of enlightened farming practices. At the same time, he was a passionate advocate of slavery and may have fired the first shot in the Civil War.

30 min
Brigham Young—The Religious Autocrat

18: Brigham Young—The Religious Autocrat

In the 1840s, Brigham Young led the faithful of the new Mormon Church on a spectacular transcontinental journey to escape persecution in the U.S. Settling in what is now Utah, Young transformed desert land into irrigated farms and established a tightly regulated community that has flourished ever since.

31 min
Frederick Law Olmsted—The Landscape Architect

19: Frederick Law Olmsted—The Landscape Architect

America's first landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, was the maker of large urban parks in dozens of cities, including Central Park in New York. He combined this career with a commitment to the antislavery cause. During the Civil War he headed the Sanitary Commission, an important aid organization.

31 min
William Tecumseh Sherman—The General

20: William Tecumseh Sherman—The General

William T. Sherman represents what became the typical American style of warfare, bringing overwhelming force against the enemy and battering it into submission. His destructive campaign against the South during the Civil War made him one of the most controversial people in American history.

31 min
Louisa May Alcott—The Professional Writer

21: Louisa May Alcott—The Professional Writer

Daughter of an unworldly New England Transcendentalist, Louisa May Alcott got her family out of debt by becoming a prolific novelist. Little Women, a fictional transfiguration of her own childhood, became a classic almost at once and has remained one since its publication in 1868.

31 min
Andrew Carnegie—Conscience-Stricken Entrepreneur

22: Andrew Carnegie—Conscience-Stricken Entrepreneur

Born poor in Scotland, Andrew Carnegie found economic opportunity in the U.S. and became one of the richest men in the world. Not content with piling up wealth for its own sake, he became a leading philanthropist. His altruistic "gospel of wealth" influenced generations of Americans.

30 min
“Buffalo Bill”—The Westerner

23: “Buffalo Bill”—The Westerner

Images of the Wild West have long held a treasured place in Americans' conception of their nation, and few people did more to nourish them than "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Famous for staging fictionalized versions of his exploits, he occasionally returned to the field to rack up more adventures.

31 min
Black Elk—The Holy Man

24: Black Elk—The Holy Man

Black Elk belonged to the last generation of Sioux that lived a semi-nomadic life on the plains, dependent on buffalo hunting. At age 13 he was present at the Battle of Little Big Horn. He experienced a powerful vision as a child and devoted his life to offering spiritual guidance to his people.

30 min
John Wesley Powell—The Desert Theorist

25: John Wesley Powell—The Desert Theorist

John Wesley Powell was the first man to travel the length of the Grand Canyon in a boat. He learned the languages of the desert Indians and became a leading anthropologist. At the U.S. Geological Survey, he proposed a dramatic and novel solution to the chronic problem of water shortage in the West.

30 min
William Mulholland—The Water Engineer

26: William Mulholland—The Water Engineer

William Mulholland used fair means and foul to engineer an ample water supply for Los Angeles, showing that cities could flourish in the desert southwest of the U.S. His reputation was ruined in 1928 when the St. Francis Dam, whose building he had supervised, burst and killed 500 people.

31 min
Samuel Gompers—The Trade Unionist

27: Samuel Gompers—The Trade Unionist

A founder of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers was a hero to millions of American workers. He embodied their demands that their dignity as independent citizens be preserved, that they be paid decent wages, work in safe conditions, and enjoy job security.

31 min
Booker T. Washington—The

28: Booker T. Washington—The "Race Leader"

Booker T. Washington is one of America's greatest success stories. Born a slave, he rose to a position of wealth and influence as an educator and race leader. However he was criticized for failing to speak out against worsening segregation, lynching, and other violations of African-American rights.

29 min
Emma Goldman—The Anarchist

29: Emma Goldman—The Anarchist

One of the best-known anarchists in American history, Emma Goldman was widely feared and hated during her lifetime. She has since become one of the nation's most popular women. Aside from her radical political views, she believed in free love, birth control, abortion, and women's rights.

31 min
Abraham Cahan—The Immigrants' Advocate

30: Abraham Cahan—The Immigrants' Advocate

Immigrating to New York as a young man, Abraham Cahan founded the Yiddish-language Jewish Daily Forward to help fellow immigrants adapt to American ways. He also became a widely admired novelist, notably for his semi-autobiographical novel, The Rise of David Levinsky.

30 min
Isabella Stewart Gardner—The Collector

31: Isabella Stewart Gardner—The Collector

Many of the great American art collections were established in the late 19th century. None carries a more distinctive stamp than that of Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston, who showed a lifelong capacity for intellectual growth and eccentric high style.

30 min
Oliver Wendell Holmes—The Jurist

32: Oliver Wendell Holmes—The Jurist

Arguably the greatest of all Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes joined the court in 1902 at age 61. He served until 1932, aged 91, during which he wrote many influential opinions reflecting his "legal realism" philosophy. The life of the law has not been logic. It has been experience.

30 min
Henry Ford—The Mass Producer

33: Henry Ford—The Mass Producer

The first automobiles were toys for the rich, but Henry Ford's Model T, introduced in 1908, came steadily down in price and by 1915 was affordable to ordinary citizens. Ford pioneered in paying high wages to workers to ensure a stable workforce and to enable his men to buy the cars they were building.

31 min
Harry Houdini—The Sensationalist

34: Harry Houdini—The Sensationalist

Magician Harry Houdini developed the ability to escape from apparently impossible situations. Understanding the need to promote his acts, he adapted well to the demands of 20th-century publicity and demonstrated that show business could make a talented performer into a wealthy and influential man.

30 min
Al Capone—The Crime Boss

35: Al Capone—The Crime Boss

Prohibition did little to stem the market for alcoholic beverages, and Al Capone stepped in to meet the demand. Considering himself a "businessman," he organized a crime empire that dominated Chicago, corrupting officials at every level and in every department.

30 min
Herbert Hoover—The Humanitarian

36: Herbert Hoover—The Humanitarian

A successful mining engineer, Herbert Hoover achieved an international reputation for his humanitarian work during and after World War I. He was one of the most widely admired men in America when he was elected president in 1928, but the Great Depression took him by surprise.

30 min
Helen Keller—The Inspiration

37: Helen Keller—The Inspiration

Helen Keller was struck blind and deaf by scarlet fever before her second birthday. Under the care of a gifted teacher, Anne Sullivan, she learned to read, write, and make sense of the world around her. She went on to a life of advocacy for the blind, women's suffrage, socialism, and other public causes.

31 min
Duke Ellington—The Jazzman

38: Duke Ellington—The Jazzman

Before 1900, America had made few contributions to the world's musical heritage. This changed with jazz, particularly with the career of Duke Ellington. His rise to fame was aided not only by his superb musical skills but by the advent of radio and the phonograph, which helped spread his music.

31 min
Charles Lindbergh—The Aviator

39: Charles Lindbergh—The Aviator

Charles Lindbergh became world famous for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927. His later life was beset with personal and political difficulties. Nonetheless, he remains an American icon whose heroic act linked personal willpower and technical mastery.

30 min
Douglas MacArthur—The World-Power Warrior

40: Douglas MacArthur—The World-Power Warrior

Douglas MacArthur was a larger-than-life army commander ideally suited to America's role as a superpower. After performing brilliantly in World Wars I and II and the Korean War, he was dismissed by President Truman for publicly challenging the tradition of civilian control over military decisions.

31 min
Leonard Bernstein—The Musical Polymath

41: Leonard Bernstein—The Musical Polymath

Leonard Bernstein did more than anyone to break down the hierarchy of musical styles from classical to jazz to popular. He was equally at home conducting Beethoven at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, writing Broadway shows such as West Side Story, or broadcasting to children.

29 min
Shirley Temple—The Child Prodigy

42: Shirley Temple—The Child Prodigy

Child actress Shirley Temple was the most popular attraction in Hollywood from 1935-38, cheering America during the Great Depression. As her career faded, she entered politics and served a succession of Republican presidents as an ambassador, State Department officer, and White House protocol chief.

31 min
George Wallace—The Demagogue

43: George Wallace—The Demagogue

George Wallace built his political career on opposition to racial integration, winning several terms as governor of Alabama. His third-party run for president in 1968 made a strong showing. Trying again in 1972, he was wounded in an assassination attempt. Afterward, he recanted his racist views.

30 min
William F. Buckley, Jr.—The Conservative

44: William F. Buckley, Jr.—The Conservative

William F. Buckley, Jr., founded National Review magazine in 1955, gathering anticommunists, classical liberals, and social traditionalists into an influential forum. Buckley's gifts as a polemicist and an entertaining talk show host helped turn conservative ideas into practical political realities.

30 min
Roberto Clemente—The Athlete

45: Roberto Clemente—The Athlete

Puerto Rican athlete Roberto Clemente played his entire 17-year, major-league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He complemented his skills in baseball with humanitarian work. His death in 1972 while taking part in an earthquake-relief operation sealed his reputation as a selfless role model.

29 min
Betty Friedan—The Feminist

46: Betty Friedan—The Feminist

The galvanizing event in modern feminism was the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963. Friedan founded the National Organization of Women in 1966 and became a central figure in the successful campaign to abolish discriminatory legislation against women.

30 min
Jesse Jackson—The Civil Rights Legatee

47: Jesse Jackson—The Civil Rights Legatee

Jesse Jackson inherited the mantle of leadership of the civil rights movement after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Mixing social protest with electoral politics, as King never did, Jackson became a controversial figure, especially after his runs for the presidency in the 1980s.

31 min
Stability and Change

48: Stability and Change

Certain themes and ideas have persisted throughout American history, while others have changed beyond recognition. Professor Allitt discusses what we can conclude about the American identity from the fascinating case histories presented in this course.

30 min