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The Skeptic's Guide to American History

An award-winning scholar and professor examines commonly held myths and half-truths about American history and invites you to think about what really happened in the nation's past--as opposed to what many believe happened.
The Skeptic's Guide to American History is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 189.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Revist American History Open-Mindedly Overall this is a very worthy course to have in anyone's collection. I will caveat that with this: his best lectures are absolutely riveting but some of the others felt like I was passing time. Professor Stoler is one of my favorite professors in TGC's stable. He tells it like it is with an authoritative style but also causes you to reconsider not only your own long-held views but also his own: hard to leave one of his lectures without giving some serious thought to what you've heard. His course "America and the World: A Diplomatic History" was one of the best I've listened to. This course is slightly below that standard (reasons to follow). But it is well worth a listen. It will challenge you to reassess common perspectives and beliefs about what people consider mainstream history interpretations and force you to consider how much of it might be myth or misconceptions. This ain't stuff you'll hear about in other history courses. But it isn't conspiracy theory material: what he covers will cause some serious thinking on the listener's behalf. What I also liked was in many cases the professor explains WHY a certain myth has taken hold. Understanding why the general population has come to a general understanding of a historical event is enlightening and necessary if you wish to lend credence to his myth-busting. While describing specific misperceptions, the professor takes the opportunity to also explain general thoughts on the discipline of history on a macro level such as how history is made, how historians study it, how perceptions of historical events change over time (and what influences that change) as well as which pitfalls to avoid when pursuing the study of history such as anachronistic thinking, assumptions of an event’s inevitability by use of hindsight, and allowing a recent event in the past to influence our perception of the entire past. In some ways you are getting two courses here. My highlights o 4 (George Washington’s legacy) o 8 (Causes of the Civil War) o 9 (Civil War’s turning points) o 19 (Misperceptions about World War II) These lectures should hook just about anyone. Some real amazing stuff especially on the causes of the Civil War. To hear the layer upon layer of causes carefully dissected (be it political rights, economic, paranoia, etc.)---all while concluding that slavery was at the root of all of it---as well as why perspectives around these causes have changed over the years was like being spellbound by your favorite professor in college. So why not 5 stars? Sometimes the professor seems to go too far with his refutations of commonly held historical perspectives, states opinions as facts emphatically, or doesn’t summarize why he is disputing a common perception (lecture 20 on whether the Cold War was inevitable is a good example of all three). Contrarian thinking is welcome. But we always have to be careful not to go too far or at least I wish Professor Stoler would summarize his main points better. For the most part they are out there but behind all of the emphatic delivery of his general refutations in his confident style, they can get lost. Also I'm not sure if this can be blamed on the possible use of a teleprompter but the professor’s delivery cadence can become distracting at times: he stops midsentence at awkward moments, emphasizes odd words in a sentence, and mispronounces common words. Breaks up the flow and is a pity to be honest. You are still getting a winner in this course and well worth your dollars or time investments. Go for it. I would welcome another course by Professor Stoler.
Date published: 2023-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Skeptics Guide to Amerian HIstory I have enjoyed this course and many of the others that I have purchased over the years. However, I would like to know if this course or other courses add additional Lectures that bring in up to date that would include information on current American History?
Date published: 2023-08-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from What happened to the War on Drugs? I do not know how skeptical this course can be when it ignores the drug war, i.e., the fact that America has outlawed almost all naturally occurring psychoactive medicines in violation of the Natural Law upon which Jefferson founded America. This silence on the topic reminds me of the silence of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation when it comes to the 1987 DEA raid on Monticello to confiscate Thomas Jefferson's poppy plants. The Foundation refuses to even TALK about the raid because no one dares talk about the politically created boogieman called "drugs" in this "free" country of ours. In fact, this review is likely to be censored for merely mentioning this topic.
Date published: 2023-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What Is Progressivism? Lecture 1 (=L1) of this 2012 course states: "History and memory (are) often antithetical”. L10 notes that human beings create history based on perceptions far removed from the reality of the event. Stoler’s Scope alone points out 17 major areas of controversy, many of which have been distorted by anachronistic thinking (facts out of order and context), changing perceptions, and unintended consequences. It’s time to turn the TV off and listen to Stoler. Though only the course can answer all of the manipulated controversies, I’ve selected Progressivism, as it is a common term in this course, a hot topic, and in schools/media has become anachronistic Truth (see SUMMARY). I must use many quotes to best avoid the error of misrepresentation. L1 asks: "...once one begins to question authority as antithetical to liberty instead of defensive of it, where does the process end?” Washington (L2) was unable to replace British authority without the involvement of tyrannical European powers. The states did not ratify the Articles of confederation (L3) for 4 years (until 1781) because of “their distrust of centralized power and one another”. “In framing a government, the great difficulty is that you must first enable the government to control the governed and ... oblige it to control itself." Madison, in particular, felt that any majority faction “…could easily gain control and destroy liberty.” Washington thus wisely appointed Hamilton (a northerner who wanted stronger central control and backed self-interest) and Jefferson (a southerner wanting less federal influence and calling self-interest evil) to avoid division. Under less wise men it will become winner takes all. L5: Jefferson becomes president and counter-intuitively EXPANDS federal power. L11 has an interesting take on the rise of Populism – via victimized farmers. By 1892, Populists were already attempting to unite blacks and whites against Conservatives and wanted to level income gaps. Populist issues “echo (those) of more than a century ago”. L12: Unfortunately for Populists, “The courts defined corporations as individuals…" voiding state attempts to regulate them and provided them with 14th Amendment protection. L14: American Conservatism was diametrically opposed to the traditional European Conservatives who favored strong central governments. Progressives then (vs. now) wanted "to restore morality”. Their social reform morphed into social control. Professional medical standards (today’s: "you are just an ICDA code") “hurt the poor" as physicians left (as they are leaving today). Populist nationalism suppressed civil liberties. “Progressivism …failed... and it appear to worse than the problems it originally grew to address." L15: President Wilson abandoned his New Freedom program, emphasized regulation, and brought racial segregation to the federal government. His Espionage and Sedition acts violated civil rights. Stoler feels that Wilson’s high presidential ranking is "assessor" bias. L16: Prohibition, the National Origins Act, and scientific racism were “also Progressive reform". SIDE NOTES: L6 is a positive reconsideration of “King Andrew Jackson's” presidency that ended with the re-creation of a two-party system including his Democratic party. L7: Horace Mann wanted state money to “strengthen religious and family values". "Most northerners were not abolitionists." Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued as a war measure, and it only applied to adversary states. The Civil War was really ”a struggle between competing economic systems": tax, tariffs, monetary and land policies and even railroads. Alexis de Tocqueville noted the numerous religious sects and their inseparable devotion to liberty. "Perhaps all our politics are - and always have been - evangelical”. Is Tocqueville's line of reasoning why religion is such a hot political target today in the land of religious freedom? SUMMARY: L14: "Progressivism created much of the…structure we live with well as the inculcation of such values through OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM." (Emphasis added). CONCLUSION: As Stoler shows, Progressivism is the pseudo-science behind what an “all knowing” party decides the country must be. Frequently, its results are antithetical to past Progressive theory. As in Stalinist Russia, school is the indoctrination route for its man-made "theory of everything”. One must therefore closely consider the stupendous power of school boards. L23 surmises: “One (reason) for…the relative obscurity of John Adams, his son, and George Marshall today is their refusal to allow personal political ambition to…violate their sense of what was right and wrong.” ENDING ON A HAPPY NOTE (L8): The Supreme Court ruled income tax unconstitutional in the 1890s.
Date published: 2023-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Illustrates many common historical misconceptions and how they have led to a misunderstanding of much of U. S. history.
Date published: 2023-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellence on Three Fronts! I deeply appreciative this course taught by Dr. Mark A. Stoler, particularly for three reasons: * Even though I had studied US history before, I benefitted from the many new insights provided, gaps filled in, and dubious assumptions challenged. * Woven throughout Dr. Stoler’s 24 lectures was an ongoing revelation of how academic historians proceed with their work. * I now understand that skepticism, in its fullest and best senses, means far more than merely being a critic; it includes the asking of probing (even Socratic-style) questions to track down less-than-obvious connections between events of different times, plus the advocacy of suspended judgment when the consequences of actions or events are still evolving. I wish that I’d had instructors of Dr. Stoler’s caliber when I was in high school and university decades ago. I consider him a brilliant teacher, one of the best among the Great Courses faculty; and my opinion is based on having studied over 100 of their lecture series.
Date published: 2022-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from informative, but mis-titled Prof Stoler is excellent - knowledgeable, presents well, makes the course very interesting. I would have rated this a 5, were it not woefully mistitled. It's perhaps a "skeptics" guide if you're borderline ignorant of US history. Otherwise, it's a very interesting, & enjoyably somewhat unorthodox trip thru US history. the closing 2 lectures are weak. #23 could have illustrated far more meritorious choices (as well as it unfairly suggested that the 2 Adams presidents are kind of barely recognized); & #24 simply didn't belong - it felt like it was there as filler. Nevertheless, excellently done.
Date published: 2022-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Unbiased This history course was the best I've ever watched, seen, or heard. It was completely unbiased yet asked hard questions and provided the necessary facts, terms, and context needed to understand the concepts presented. The lecturer is not an actor or entertainer, nor does he try to be, he is a teacher and does so perfectly.
Date published: 2022-07-16
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Sorting through misconceptions, myths, and half-truths about America's past is a chance to revisit some of the country's greatest episodes, figures, and themes from a fresh perspective and an opportunity to hone the way you think about and interpret the past, the present, and even the future. The Skeptic's Guide to American History examines many commonly held myths and half-truths about American history and prompts you to think about what really happened in the nation's past-as opposed to what many believe happened.


Mark A. Stoler

History is an interpretive discipline in which we try to understand not only the past, but also the present by looking into the past.


The University of Vermont

Dr. Mark Stoler, who holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin, is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Vermont. An expert in U.S. foreign relations and military history, as well as the origins of the cold war, Professor Stoler has also held teaching positions at the United States Military Academy, the Army Military History Institute, the Naval War College, and-as a Fulbright Professor-the University of Haifa, Israel. He is the recipient of the University of Vermont's Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, the George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award, and the University Scholar Award, as well as the Dean's Lecture Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Teaching, awarded by the university's College of Arts and Sciences. Professor Stoler also has been honored as an author when his Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and U.S. Strategy in World War II received the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award for 2002. The book is one of several he has written or cowritten, including Allies in War: Britain and America Against the Axis Powers, 1940-1945; Debating Franklin D. Roosevelt's Foreign Policies, 1933-1945; Major Problems in the History of World War II; George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century; and The Politics of the Second Front: American Military Planning and Diplomacy in Coalition Warfare, 1941-1943.

By This Professor

The Skeptic's Guide to American History
The Skeptic's Guide to American History


Religious Toleration in Colonial America?

01: Religious Toleration in Colonial America?

Learn the key elements of a broadened approach to the study of history with this fast-moving examination of the origins of religious and racial tolerance in America. Grasp how the assumptions you've long held can differ dramatically from historical reality....

31 min
Neither American nor Revolutionary?

02: Neither American nor Revolutionary?

Continue this new approach to understanding history with a look at efforts of the colonists to defend their "rights as Englishmen" and the ironic role played by European tyrannies in helping establish the nation that would forever change the definition of liberty....

30 min
The Constitution Did Not Create a Democracy

03: The Constitution Did Not Create a Democracy

Gain a nuanced understanding of what the Founders' "original intent" really was and how so many of the questions they grappled with divided them for their entire lives-ultimately being bequeathed to their successors and persisting even to this day....

32 min
Washington-Failures and Real Accomplishments

04: Washington-Failures and Real Accomplishments

Set aside the hagiography that helped shape George Washington's image and undertake a balanced examination that measures his military and presidential failings against his numerous successes. See how some of the least known of those successes may have been his most important contributions to American history....

28 min
Confusions about Jefferson and Hamilton

05: Confusions about Jefferson and Hamilton

Jefferson and Hamilton held sharply differing views on policy and constitutional interpretation. Learn how their conflict-often thought of in terms of our contemporary understanding of liberalism and conservatism-is actually relevant to us in very different ways from those we imagine....

29 min
Andrew Jackson-An Odd Symbol of Democracy

06: Andrew Jackson-An Odd Symbol of Democracy

Andrew Jackson's election ushered in an era marked by much democratic reform. Ironically, as you'll learn, the man who would be seen as the symbol of such reform actually opposed much of it and championed many policies that few today would call democratic....

31 min
The Second Great Awakening-Enduring Impacts

07: The Second Great Awakening-Enduring Impacts

Grasp how the links between religion and politics that today inspire such powerful positive and negative emotions are nothing new. See how issues born out of the 19th-century's evangelical upheaval-from prison reform to women's suffrage-still engage us today....

29 min
Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?

08: Did Slavery Really Cause the Civil War?

By analyzing this question and the different answers posed by generations of historians, you begin to understand "historiography"-the study of the writing of history-and take a key step in your understanding of history itself....

30 min
The Civil War's Actual Turning Points

09: The Civil War's Actual Turning Points

Discover how perceptions of Gettysburg as the Civil War's "turning point" are inaccurate. Here, examine three battles that were arguably more important and gain new insights into what determines-in any war-how meaningful a battle really was....

29 min
The Myth of Laissez-Faire

10: The Myth of Laissez-Faire

The great age of post-Civil War industrialization and the enormous levels of national and personal wealth it generated (for some) have often been attributed to a governmental attitude of "hands-off" toward business. Discover that such an attitude did not exist in the United States and that, in fact, it never had....

29 min
Misconceptions about the Original Populists

11: Misconceptions about the Original Populists

Is a reference to someone as a "populist" praise or criticism? Does it have any reference to where a person stands on the political spectrum? This lecture analyzes the nation's original populist movement and what links-if any-it has to contemporary namesakes....

31 min
Labor in America-A Strange History

12: Labor in America-A Strange History

Although often seen as a dramatic reversal of historical government support for labor, today's efforts to scale back collective bargaining rights are actually a reassertion of policy with a long precedent. Learn that the pro-union policies of the New Deal represent the real break with the past....

30 min
Myths about American Isolation and Empire

13: Myths about American Isolation and Empire

Was the United States ever as isolationist and opposed to imperialism as is commonly believed? Explore the myth and reality surrounding our historical self-image and learn how America's expansionist history might appear from the perspectives of other nations....

28 min
Early Progressives Were Not Liberals

14: Early Progressives Were Not Liberals

Many liberals see the roots of their philosophy in progressivism, but this is misleading. Learn how progressivism also included many ideas-such as eugenics, limits on free speech, and restrictions on immigration-that would have outraged modern liberals....

27 min
Woodrow Wilson and the Rating of Presidents

15: Woodrow Wilson and the Rating of Presidents

How, exactly, should past presidents be judged? A provocative examination of Woodrow Wilson's presidency-judged a great success by some and a profound failure by others-provides an opportunity to explore the broader issues of presidential ratings in general....

29 min
The Roaring Twenties Reconsidered

16: The Roaring Twenties Reconsidered

Were the 1920s really a return to isolationism and the values of the late 19th century? Uncover a decade far more complex than is generally believed, as you learn how much of the change begun during the progressive era continued-in many ways setting the stage for contemporary America....

30 min
Hoover and the Great Depression Revisited

17: Hoover and the Great Depression Revisited

Herbert Hoover came to the White House regarded as both a skilled manager and great humanitarian, yet left the presidency perceived as just the opposite. Gain an understanding of how this could happen through a detailed examination of both his forgotten accomplishments and his often misunderstood failures....

30 min
What Did Roosevelt's New Deal Really Do?

18: What Did Roosevelt's New Deal Really Do?

FDR was simultaneously one of the most beloved and most hated of U.S. presidents. Explore what the New Deal attempted and accomplished-as well as its intended and unintended consequences-as you grasp its role in creating the economic and political systems of today's America....

33 min
World War II Misconceptions and Myths

19: World War II Misconceptions and Myths

Is our understanding of "the Good War" correct? Grasp how our reliance on a national mythology makes for not only inaccurate history but a misconceived future because of the long-term effects that myths about the war have had on American policy since 1945....

30 min
Was the Cold War Inevitable?

20: Was the Cold War Inevitable?

Professor Stoler holds that the cold war was not necessarily destined to happen. In this lecture, he leads you in an analysis of why it took place and lasted so long, with examination along the way of several additional myths regarding this long and dangerous Soviet-Amer...

33 min
The Real Blunders of the Vietnam War

21: The Real Blunders of the Vietnam War

Why did America fail in Vietnam? Was it flawed military strategy? Political micromanagement? America's domestic antiwar movement? You not only learn the answer to this fundamental question, but you also gain a more nuanced understanding of why the debate has raged to this day....

31 min
Myths about American Wars

22: Myths about American Wars

Vietnam is far from America's only misunderstood war. This lecture delves into the common myths and misunderstandings shared by many Americans about why the nation's wars have been fought and how the results have been judged....

30 min
Who Matters in American History?

23: Who Matters in American History?

Who in history do we choose to remember, and why? Take in the extraordinary accomplishments of several Americans-including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and George C. Marshall-whose achievements and influence may well have exceeded those of many of the great figures more vividly remembered....

30 min
History Did Not Begin with Us

24: History Did Not Begin with Us

Conclude the course with an appreciation that history did not begin with the events of our own lifetime. Explore the antecedents of the civil rights, antiwar, and women's rights movements and the tendency to pronounce any era's major technological advances as the most important in history....

36 min