The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy

Rated 1 out of 5 by from A very slapdash, reactionary take Numerous ridiculous mispronunciations of words and places. Huge conservative apologist. Glosses over major issues like slavery. He really doesn't seem like he understands much about the American West at all. Not recommended.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The American West Allitt was very interesting. The topic sounded interesting and he did not dampen our enthusiasm for it in any way.
Date published: 2020-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course, very entertaining. I totally enjoyed this course. I learned much about things I thought I already knew about, such as Indian wars, settlements, ranching, cattle drives and great plains farming. Excellent presentation as always with Allitt.
Date published: 2020-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Lecturer and Course Material I really liked this course by Patrick Allitt. I suspect he first became interested in the American West, as I did, growing up in England and watching cowboy films as a child. It was nice to get a different perspective from someone born outside the US. I have listened and loved all the courses narrated by Allitt. He is a great lecturer. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2020-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Survey Course on the American West I enjoyed these lectures. My college degree was in American History (with at least one course solely on the Trans-Mississippi West), so I learned very little that I did not already know. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the "refresher" aspect of it and I did pick up a few things which I had not known before. As noted by many, Professor Allitt is British and sometimes a word takes a moment to percolate into translation. For instance while talking about the dangers of digging a well in the prairie, he mentioned that some diggers were overcome by ME-than and it took me a moment to realize he was talking about METH-ane. I did not find that it distracted at all from the course. My only reason for giving it less than Five Stars was that a number of historical events were mentioned several times in different lectures (the Donner Party, how long Jefferson thought it would take to settle The West, and Brigham Young's belief that the Mormons would have Utah to themselves for years) and I felt that some other historical tidbit could have been inserted. For instance, when he mentioned Joel Poinsett as America's minister to Mexico shortly before the Mexican-American War he did not mention that Poinsett brought back to America the plant which we call Poinsettia. Overall, this is a very well-balanced explanation of the history of The West, and he does an admirable job of navigating both sides of various issues. I have to admit that I was hoping for a bit more Myth vs. History.
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A worthwhile course. This course offered great historical and geographical context to the western expansion. It also focused on several of the most significant aspects of the West's history, such as the settlement of the plains by settlers and the gold rush. Like this professor's course on religion in the US it is among the best of those on offer by the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2020-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Broad Survey of the Wild American West This Great Course is a broad survey of the taming and expansion of the American West, even as the western border kept moving until quite soon, historically speaking, it abutted the sea. Professor Allitt, a native of England who was educated there at Oxford and in the U.S. at U.C.--Berkeley, does a masterful job in presenting diverse material, proving that where one is born does not limit his or her ability to become knowledgeable in a particular subject. Using a chronological approach coupled with various crucial elements of the topic, Dr. Allitt includes in his lectures several rarely seen historical photos, maps, and oral and written passages from leading historical figures and historians of the period. Subtopics ranged from the Lewis and Clark and John Wesley Powell land and river expeditions to western expansion, animal trapping and the fur trade, defending the Alamo, the cowboy life, effects of gold rushes, homesteading, dislocation and removal of American Indians from their homes on the plains, gunslingers and lawmen, protecting natural resources, and "Buffalo Bill" Cody and his traveling Wild West show. The accompanying course guide is very informative. I just found it to be a bit frustrating that most Questions to Consider at the end of individual lecture materials are not readily answered by supportive material presented in either the applicable lecture or course book itself.
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More I live in Arizona. Loved history in high school. But, it was a meager introduction to the western expansion. This has so expanded my understanding of the reality of that expansion. Thank you!!
Date published: 2020-07-29
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The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy
Course Trailer
Westward the Course of Empire
1: Westward the Course of Empire

What are some of the ways we think about the American West? How did this vast, fascinating region come into being, and how was it shaped by centuries of myth-making? What is it about westward expansion that has fascinated every generation of Americans? These and other questions are the topic of this introductory lecture.

31 min
The West in the Colonial Era
2: The West in the Colonial Era

To understand the history of the American West, you have to understand the mark left by its earliest colonists. Among those you'll encounter here are the Spaniards (who introduced horses), the French (who developed a complex trade system), and the English (who, ironically, had little interest at first in colonizing west of the Appalachians)....

31 min
Venturing beyond the Appalachians
3: Venturing beyond the Appalachians

After the Revolutionary War, the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi became part of the new republic. How was this territory organized? As you'll learn, it started with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which created a set of new rules that came into conflict with complex old realities....

30 min
Discoveries of Lewis and Clark
4: Discoveries of Lewis and Clark

Follow the fascinating journey of the two explorers who mapped the Louisiana Purchase between 1804 and 1806. Along the way, you'll learn how Lewis and Clark fit into the tradition of explorers looking for a water route to the Pacific, and you'll consider the political (and geographic) history of the Louisiana Purchase....

31 min
The Fur Trade and the Mountain Men
5: The Fur Trade and the Mountain Men

Fur traders and mountain men played an integral part in exploring and mapping the American West. Here, Professor Allitt reveals why fur was such a precious commodity; how John Jacob Astor dominated the American fur trade; and how famous mountaineers like Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger, and Kit Carson became legends....

31 min
Trail of Tears
6: Trail of Tears

Turn now to one of the most dismal episodes in the story of the American West: the forced migration of the "Five Civilized Tribes" (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole) under the Indian Removal Act of 1830. It was this ordeal that the Cherokee came to call the "Trail of Tears."...

30 min
Struggles of the Plains Indians
7: Struggles of the Plains Indians

From 1830 to 1890, the lives of the Plains Indians changed irrevocably. Topics include our sources for the early history of the Plains Indians (including portraits and archaeology), the importance of buffalo and horses to life on the Great Plains, and two visitors' perspectives on America's treatment of the Plains Indians....

30 min
Rebellious Texas and the Alamo
8: Rebellious Texas and the Alamo

Get the full story behind the last stand at the Alamo and the story of the Texas republic. What led to tensions between the Mexican government and the growing United States? Why is the idea of rebellion so crucial to the myth of Texas? How did the territory eventually join the United States?...

32 min
Traveling the Oregon Trail
9: Traveling the Oregon Trail

The Oregon Trail has become a symbol of westward migration. In this lecture, Professor Allitt invites you to consider the challenges of the journey, as they were experienced by thousands of travelers. Among the most exceptional were Brigham Young's Mormons, fleeing persecution back East as they headed to Utah....

31 min
Manifest Destiny and the Mexican War
10: Manifest Destiny and the Mexican War

In 1846, the United States went to war with Mexico and, as a result, gained the whole of what is now the nation's southwest region. Welcome to the era of "Manifest Destiny," which, as you'll learn, set the stage for the future of California, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico....

31 min
The California Gold Rush
11: The California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush transformed the politics, demographics, and economy of the United States. It also, for the first time, gave the American West an irresistible mass appeal. Discover how the gold rush accelerated westward expansion and, in the process, established some of the first truly multicultural American communities....

30 min
Bleeding Kansas and Civil War in the West
12: Bleeding Kansas and Civil War in the West

Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, giving new states the right to decide their relationship with slave labor. Explore how this event led to a period of chronic anarchy and low-level warfare on the frontier, and how the American Civil War played out in the western states and territories....

31 min
Building the Transcontinental Railroads
13: Building the Transcontinental Railroads

For Professor Allitt, the great dividing line in the story of the American West is the construction of the transcontinental railroads, which did more than anything else to link the West with the Eastern states from which they'd emerged. Go inside the myths-and startling realities-of this decisive moment....

30 min
Cowboys and Cattle Drives
14: Cowboys and Cattle Drives

There is no greater symbol of the American West than the cowboy. But who were the cowboys, exactly? What were their everyday lives like? What did it take to go on a cattle drive along the Chisolm Trail? And why did the arrival of the farming frontier bring an end to the open range?...

30 min
Homesteaders on the Plains
15: Homesteaders on the Plains

With the Homestead Act of 1862, public lands became available for anyone willing to settle and farm them. Enter the homesteaders. Explore the frustrations they faced in trying to cultivate the Great Plains, what fiction reveals about their emotions, and how farming difficulties led to the rise of the People's Party, or Populists....

32 min
Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee
16: Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee

Examine the period from 1865 to 1890, which marked the end of the Native American resistance to white domination. Two events form the core of this lecture. The first: the massacre of General Custer's cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The second: the massacre of the Lakota at the Battle of Wounded Knee....

31 min
Life in Western Towns and Cities
17: Life in Western Towns and Cities

Survey the five main types of towns that developed in the American West: Spanish towns, mining towns, farming towns, railroad towns, and the Pacific coast cities. Three cities you'll explore in depth are Salt Lake City, laid out in 1847; Chicago, the central metropolis of the West; and the great port city of San Francisco....

30 min
John Wesley Powell and the Desert Southwest
18: John Wesley Powell and the Desert Southwest

Twenty years after the end of the Mexican War, thousands of square miles of desert land the U.S. received had yet to be mapped and settled. That's where John Wesley Powell came in, whose report on these arid regions sparked the rise of irrigation farming techniques that would lead to unimaginable bounty....

30 min
Women in the Wild West
19: Women in the Wild West

What was life like for everyday women in the American West? Some were prostitutes. Others were missionaries. Others still were working- and middle-class women trying to recreate their lives back East. Ultimately, as you'll discover, the experience, while enlarging women's sphere of influence, was nevertheless a conservative one: to create a stable home....

30 min
From Territories to Western States
20: From Territories to Western States

Imperfect and violent-two words to describe how Western territories were created and then transformed into states. In this lecture, go inside this intriguing, often misunderstood process, from the role of influential businesspeople to the copying of other state constitutions to the efforts to give women the right to vote.

29 min
Western Violence, Law, and Order
21: Western Violence, Law, and Order

There is no doubt that the American West was a violent place. Why was this so? What kept the region from chaos and civil war? Professor Allitt's brief survey of violence explores the rise of vigilante justice, race riots against Mexicans and Chinese, and class conflict at coalmines....

30 min
Protecting Yellowstone and Yosemite
22: Protecting Yellowstone and Yosemite

The American West is home to a magnificent series of national parks, two of the earliest of which (and, arguably, the greatest) are Yellowstone and Yosemite. Discover through these case studies how the idea of a park system came into existence through government action and the dedication of conservationists....

29 min
Mythology of the American West
23: Mythology of the American West

Go inside the mythology of the American West, which kept the frontier alive after the U.S. Census Bureau declared in 1890 that it had disappeared. Examine historian Frederick Jackson Turner's influential "frontier thesis." Learn about the contributions of novelist Owen Wister and painter Frederic Remington. Also, explore the main categories of Western movies....

30 min
Winning the West?
24: Winning the West?

When thinking about the American West, Professor Allitt stresses a balanced view that encompasses both the achievements and the sufferings of this period in American history. It's an insightful conclusion to the grand, fascinating, sometimes troubling story of how exactly America became a vast nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific in just a century....

32 min
Patrick N. Allitt

Nostalgia is the enemy of history. 'Downton Abbey' is great fun but it's not history. If seeing or reading something historical makes you feel warm and cosy, it's probably very inaccurate.


University of California, Berkeley


Emory University

About Patrick N. Allitt

Dr. Patrick N. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt-an Oxford University graduate-has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow. He was the Director of Emory College's Center for Teaching and Curriculum from 2004 to 2009, where he looked for ways to improve teaching. In this critical administrative position, he led workshops on a wide variety of teaching-related problems, visited dozens of other professors' classes, and provided one-on-one consultation to teachers to help them overcome particular pedagogical problems. Professor Allitt was honored with Emory's Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2000 was appointed to the N.E.H./Arthur Blank Professorship of Teaching in the Humanities. A widely published and award-winning author, Professor Allitt has written several books, including The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities throughout American History; Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950-1985; Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome; and Religion in America since 1945: A History. He is also author of I'm the Teacher, You're the Student: A Semester in the University Classroom, a memoir about one semester in his life as a university professor. In addition, he is the editor of Major Problems in American Religious History. He has written numerous articles and reviews for academic and popular journals, including The New York Times Book Review.

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