The Skeptic's Guide to American History

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh To be clear, this course does not focus on myth-busting. Rather, it adds some nuance to the American history narrative. Of course, since it is only 12 hours long (24 lectures), it is itself a summary that can and should be nuanced. One does better by using the other American history courses offered by The Great Courses. Dr. Stoler states (30:15 in Lecture 22), “As our [i. e., American] power has grown, so has our hubris, our pride, our arrogance, and our ensuing blindness to our own history.” I think this is a fair indication of the perspective from which he lectures. I used the audio version. I don’t think that the video version would have added much.
Date published: 2021-01-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative The lectures are informative. Their presentation is neat and clear. The professor's historiography is, however, self-contradictory. We're told both that there's a "historical reality" to be studied and that the study of it is subjective. But if our study is subjective, we have no warrant in claims of reality. In any case, I learned some important facts about American history in this course.
Date published: 2020-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course, with a few caveats While I take serious issue with elements of three of the classes, and with most of a fourth, I still commend this course with 5 stars because of so much value overall. I am total buff of our three most important wars (Revolution, CW and WWII), and know a lot about our history overall. I concur with one reviewer that this course should be required as part of any high school or college-level American history course. It is far from comprehensive, but it covers relevant portions of almost all important periods and phases of our fascinating and variegated history. Examples of this include his coverage of Populism, and even more so of Progressivism, a more mixed bag than most realize. His course on the Roaring 20s pointed out many facets I either didn't know, or hadn't thought about, including that it contained a managerial revolution, and began the era of labor saving devices for the home based on the spread of electricity. His class on the New Deal had a characterization of FDR, that he was ultimately significantly more conservative than I ad thought. Hoover is also covered as more nuanced than I had realized--I never knew he could almost just as well have been a Democrat. In sum, there is a great deal to really like, and worth 5 stars despite what I am about to list as what I believe are shortcomings, errors of both omission and commission. First, his class on the shortcomings of George Washington needs correction on the following. Yes, Washington lost almost every battle, but Stoler overlooks what should be counted as his victory at Monmouth Junction--or what would surely have been his victory if he hadn't put Gen. Lee in charge in the morning. Second he fails to credit Washington's willingness to see opportunity and take it. And while Washington lost the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, he lost the former only because of one error, of not reconnoitering far enough upstream to find the ford the British used to outflank him. And at Germantown, victory was possible, but for a fog and one wrong decision to try to reduce one house that could have been bypassed. That he could come that close to victory matters in evaluating his battleground competence. And beyond that, he was a master of withdrawing in good order from Long Island, from Brandywine--even in eluding total defeat in his retreat across New Jersey. Also, he was a good learner from his own mistakes. And the reference to Gens. Gates and Lee fails to note that they proved themselves disaster as commanders, and had either been appointed in place of Washington, disaster would have ensued. Also, not so much in this lecture, but in the one near the end where evaluates several undersung personalities, focusing on John and John Quincy Adams and George Marshall, he leaves out someone who surely deserves mention in this category, Samuel Adams, without whose role there would have been no revolution, at least not when it occurred, and who also fails to get credit for being the person who pushed through the Articles of Confederation--the only luminary of the revolutionary period to stay in the Continental Congress to take care of the important business before it. Without the Articles, there would have been no context for ever convening the Constitutional Convention--13 weak nations would have been easy pickings for European powers. I find fault with his assessment that the Cold War didn't need to be, because he appears to evaluate Stalin in a way that I believe is naive. He credits Stalin for genuinely respecting Roosevelt, while not respecting Churchill. I doubt that, more likely the reverse. What Stalin clearly did at Tehran and Yalta was play Roosevelt off against a more astute Churchill, who better understood the realpolitik nature of Stalin. Interestingly, his evaluation of FDR in the New Deal lecture would suggest someone whom Stalin could easily manipulate, which I believe in fact that he did. Roosevelt perhaps had no alternative to accepting Russian domination of Eastern Europe which his troops liberated in order to secure agreement on the United Nations, but he should have had no illusions that Stalin did not intend friendship in the postwar. A more clear-minded Roosevelt might have had the Allied forces take Berlin, which probably would have lain down for them in preference to the Russians. But be that as it may, Edvard Rozinsky's biography of Stalin has very strong evidence that as soon as Stalin obtained the atomic bomb, that he began preparing for a ground invasion of Western Europe, to be conducted simultaneously with his own final solution for Russia's Jewry--and that these plans, plus his decision to purge Beria, surely led to his murder by Khruschov and Beria--yes, that he was murdered is all but certain. No, the Cold War inevitable and necessary. On Vietnam, his coverage is superficial, facts known to anyone who followed the war in real time (as I did from 1960 on). What he fails to mention is the irony that we could almost certainly have created a viable Republic of Vietnam had we done one thing--the think that McArthur did in Japan, Syngman Rhee in South Korea and Chiang Kai-Shek in Taiwan--genuine land reform. THAT's what the peasants wanted, not communist collectivized agriculture. McArthur was advised by Russian emigre Wolf Ladejinsky who oversaw the Japanese reform, within 3 months after which the Japan Communist Party shrunk to 1/5 its former membership. In Korea Rhee's reform laid the basis without which Park Chung-hee could never have industrialized as he did in the 1960s. Chiang bought out the landlords with stock in the new manufacturing companies, and the rest is history. Why these examples didn't inspire the same policy in South Vietnam is the mystery--but the creation of a stable South Vietnam was within our grasp in the 10 years after Dienbienphu--we just fluffed it. I found his single lecture on the Civil War to be pedestrian and to have missed most of the kind of myths he wonderfully uncovered in other periods of our history. He tendentiously tries to reduce the significance of Gettysburg to below that of Antietam, Vicksburg and the fall of Atlanta. While he may be correct that Antietam convinced the British not to support the confederacy, and that even had Gettysburg been won by Lee on Day 1 or 2 (as it could have been), the British would not have intervened (especially in light of Vicksburg the next day), I think that misses an important point, that northern morale would like have suffered terribly with a defeat at Gettysburg, with incalculable possible results. More importantly, he completely missed the opportunity to debunk perhaps the biggest myth of the war, if not of all of American history, namely, the quality of generalship of Sherman. And the fact that history has all but forgotten a much more competent general who made a huge, perhaps decisive difference in the western theater, George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga. But for his masterful stand at that battle, Johnston might have overrun Chattanooga, badly defeated the Federal forces, and made impossible any of what followed, including the capture of Atlanta (perhaps thereby dooming Lincoln's reelection) and the March to the Sea. And it was Thomas's well-trained troops who stormed the heights and won the Battle of Chattanooga and set up the movement into Georgia and toward Atlanta, while Sherman was no factor, having reconnoitered the terrain so poorly that he was on the wrong hill and could take no part in the battle. Nonetheless, Grant favored him over Thomas, in taking over the western theater and leading the march into Georgia. Stolin talks about how Johnston kept eluding Sherman, but Sherman had twice the forces of Johnston, and Sherman kept rejecting the recommendations of Thomas for how to destroy Johnson's army. And when Hood (replacing Johnston) abandoned Atlanta, rather than immediately turning to destroy Hood's army, he took Atlanta, let Hood escape, and then planned his very controversial and militarily trivial march to the sea, while he let Hood off scot free to return to Tennessee and threaten to go al the way into Ohio. He took Thomas's best troops to Atlanta (which he had no need of), leaving Thomas with a bunch of scattered units, and it was only by the skin of his teeth that Thomas didn't lose a third of his army, Schofield's troops, and was able to concentrate in Nashville, and then plan a masterful attack that destroyed Hood's forces for good in December, 1964. What a wonderful opportunity Stolin had to debunk one of the most monumental myths of American history and correct an enormous injustice to Thomas in the process.
Date published: 2020-11-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A different perspective I enjoyed the series and it expanded my view of U.S. history. In the final episode though when discussing other important inventions that changed life in the U.S., I thought that the television and silicon chips should have been mentioned. Both caused dramatic changes to lives and information. Overall, I would recommend this series.
Date published: 2020-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Course to Make You Think I loved this course. Not only did it touch upon important aspects in our nation's history, but it really made me think. I looked at new ways of seeing the history of our nation and its implications on our present day world.
Date published: 2020-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Enlightening Refresher on American History Throughout the lectures, I found myself recalling what I had learned and enthralled with a more in-depth learning of all the historical moments. Just plain fascinating viewing these events from different perspectives.
Date published: 2020-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and excellent content. Interesting and excellent content. Interesting and excellent content.
Date published: 2020-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting Series for a non-American I am Canadian so I found this overview to be quite interesting from the standpoint of someone in a different political system, with a different history. It confirmed a lot of what I already knew about U.S. history. The professor explains things in a calm and dignified manner. He does not denigrate anyone's beliefs, but he is not a rah-rah cheerleader either. I feel a lot of his explanations resonate with what is currently occurring in U.S. politics, and it explains a lot of what is happening, especially, as I said, to an outsider.
Date published: 2020-09-23
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The Skeptic's Guide to American History
Course Trailer
Religious Toleration in Colonial America?
1: 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?
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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?
8: 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
9: 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
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.

ALMA MATER

University of Wisconsin

INSTITUTION

The University of Vermont

About Mark A. Stoler

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.

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