The Skeptic’s Guide to American History
by Great Courses / Professor Mark A. Stoler, Ph.D.
A lecture given by Professor Mark A. Stoler, Ph.D.
2012 / 12h 01m
This was my third Great Courses lecture – the final one on my e-shelves. I bought all 3 on sale and was quite happy with the first two after I got used to the reading style of a lecture rather than that of a book – they’re different. It’s taken me awhile to get through it but today, after Justice Redeemed it seemed like a good time.
Actually, I was bored for the first few chapters probably because I majored in US/European history a very long time ago and have kept reading it as a layman for over 40 years. So although the work is entitled “The Skeptic’s Guide” it’s *basically* the same info I’ve come across over the years. I suppose that would have been okay but Stoler gives the lecture as though what he’s saying should be an incredible surprise to his listeners – well maybe it is for folks who read American history for a mandated class 20 years ago and haven’t touched it since.
That said, the chapters got more interesting as they went along or when I knew less about the subjects and/or eras. There were some interesting tidbits I hadn’t picked up on in my classes and occasionally a point of view I hadn’t come across. The chapter on Andrew Jackson (banking, Indian removals, etc.) is a good for instance.
What I got from the chapter on The Second Great Awakening and the “Cult of True Womanhood” was the new info (to me) here. That movement negatively affected the whole idea of women’s rights for generations – possibly even now. It fits though – even to Darwinist thought. I knew quite a lot of it already but the extent was new – this happened in Europe – see Dickens’ ‘Angel of the House’ so it stands to reason, I suppose – fwiw, abortion was a valid method of birth control at the time.) The rhetoric of the Second and other Great Awakenings) continues today – Alexis de Toqueville emphasizes religion and American concepts of liberty – “all our politics are evangelical.”
So much was happening in the 19th century that after the Civil War and Westward Expansion, picking out the high points can be tricky – there tariffs and populist issues, immigration, and so on. Whole books have been written on parts of each of these broad subjects.
Chapter 8 – Did Slavery really cause the Civil War? – didn’t change my mind a bit – was it supposed to?
Chapter 14 – “Early Progressives were not liberals” strange combinations of ideas to us today – theirs were based in part on religious principles.
Chapter 17 – “Hoover and the great depression revisited” had some new tidbits – (some of which may be applicable today – like why are we so stock-happy and not so interested in the real investment of schools and new businesses?)
There’s a lot of military history here in the last quarter of the book – I’m not all that big on military history – it’s only a small part of the whole subject.
Ending chapter is interesting.