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10 Great What-Ifs of American History

As you explore 10 alternate histories in this riveting course, imagine the United States that could have been if chance events had gone another way.

10 Great What-Ifs of American History is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 7.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Loved this series, especially the episode about World War 2. It was a real nuanced masterclass that should be taught to everyone.
Date published: 2024-04-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mildly Interesting This program falls far short of the mark from the usual superior academic quality of most Learning Company materials. It has a sort of amateurish quality about it, as if a group of undergraduates at a second tier rated college or university are sitting around the dorm room after attending American History 101 and musing "what if?". The last chapter - "What if JFK Survived?" - is so far off the mark that it casts doubt on much of the other nine chapters. By every historical analysis, if JFK had not been slain in Dallas, the Vietnam War would not have proceeded in the course adopted by Lyndon Johnson in 1965 - a massive infusion of ground troops into a undefined, unwinnable war in Vietnam. JFK was already looking for a way out prior to the Diem assassination on Nov. 1, 1963 and his own demise just three weeks later on November 22,1963. It was the assassination of JFK that paved the way for the ill-conceived and poorly managed ground war conducted by the Johnson administration, and not the civil rights legislation of the Johnson administration. The civil rights legislation would have taken place in due time, and very likely within the next Congress. If Goldwater had remained the 1964 Republican nominee, JFK would almost assuredly have trounced him and had the same or nearly equivalent level of Congressional support in the 1965 Congress. At that point, JFK would have had the Congressional votes needed that he was lacking in the 1962/63 term. There are a lot of other examples of half-baked ideas in this series. For example, what if Lewis and Clark had indeed vanished? So what? The next year the Jefferson administration would have mounted yet another expedition. The inexorable onslaught of settlement pushing West was not going to slow down. And what if Lee and Longstreet at Gettysburg on day two had broken through and seized Little Round Top? Would Lee have swept further southeast toward Washington? Probably not. Meade had already established a solid line of defense just twenty miles south at Pipe Creek, Maryland. We can pick apart each chapter, some more than most, but overall this entire program simply lacks substance. As stated, it comes across to the viewer as the overwrought imagination of a group of ill-informed undergraduate students.
Date published: 2024-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from If They Only Would Have.. Very interesting lecture set on 10 situations that could have changed our country and world significantly. With over 3 decades of chemical emergency planning at local, state and federal level, This writer has lived a life of 'What if's'! I greatly enjoyed this course and the twist and turns that could have altered everyday life. I was skeptical of how one would address key issues and do so in dynamic fashion, but, Professor Adam Jortner took command immediately with his high level energy and captivating delivery and was mesmerizing. Adam's description of the impact of weak situational awareness and unique cosmic synchronicity on each scenario, displayed how close the event came to being very different. I found the discussion of Gettysburg, World War II, JFK, and the Lewis and Clark expedition very thought provoking. All the scenarios were very interesting and worth the time to 'What if'. Adam and the supporting team were excellent in setting the stage for consideration of the sequence of events and the discussion of the research behind a turn of events. This was a fun, speculative course, supported with excellent data and lecturers. I recommend this course and look forward to Adam Jortner's future lecture sets.
Date published: 2024-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting This course didn't "grab" me the way most TGC/Wondrium courses do. Perhaps that's because I've been a "what if-er" for years. Because of this, I thought of just skipping it but curiosity got the better of me. Unfortunately, with one exception, it was a rehash of what I already knew. I must say, though, that the course was well done. It didn't resort to conspiracy theories, etc., which would have been very easy to do due to the subject matter. The experts who were peppered through the lectures were well worth listening to but I'm very disappointed that they were not given credit in the course guidebook. Of the ten lectures, numbers six through ten were the ones I enjoyed most, with number eight concerning the Salem Witch trials being my favorite. This was something I'd never considered and the lecture was intriguing. While the course guidebook gives a good synopsis of each lecture, I feel that providing some reference works would have been helpful. There is not an abundance of them, but they're out there nonetheless. Yes, you can find them on your own but at least pointing us in the right direction would have been appreciated. The course for me was a tad bit better than average, a 3.5/5; that not being available, I rounded up to 4/5. I recommend this course to those who have never dipped their foot in the "what if pool," as it is free from the "golly gee" approach; it's solid research and is very well presented.
Date published: 2024-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptionally Thought Provoking Of the scores of courses I have taken, this is now one of my very favorites. It really grabs your attention, makes you think and, in some cases, makes you shudder at the thought of what could have been. The selection and variety of the counter-factual historical events discussed in the course were excellent; and the lead and auxiliary instructors are extremely knowledgeable in their specific areas of expertise, superb in their deliveries of the material, and the diversity of presentation styles adds interest and quality to the course. This is an excellent course for group viewing and discussion. Because of the intrigue of the topics, I'll likely review most if not all of the lectures.
Date published: 2024-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Very Good Course. BUT! As a non-expert reader of history I have long been a big fan of so-called “counterfactual” or “what-if” history. That is, the exploration of the factors surrounding an historical event from the point of view of considering how the subsequent world would have been different if the outcome of that event been different. Now, it is important to be clear about what is meant here. That is, there has certainly been a lot of very silly science fiction written based on various, usually outrageous, “what-if-y” assumptions (for example, “What if the US had had a nuclear aircraft carrier at Pearl Harbor?”; “What if Genghis Khan had had machine guns?”; etc.) But serious counterfactual (or “what-if”) history, takes a much more serious, scholarly approach, primarily for pedagogical/educational reasons. That is, the goal is an attempt to achieve a clearer _understanding_ of the historical factors surrounding an event by carefully exploring what likely would have happened had the outcome been different. Now, clearly there is no way to know exactly what, with any certainty, _would_ have been the final outcome if (to use an example from the course) Lee had won at Gettysburg. And serious scholars of counterfactual history freely acknowledge this. But when such an approach is skillfully done (that is, by carefully examining the historical setting, and thoughtfully considering what might, reasonably, have been the outcome(s) of such a change) it is possible for the reader to obtain a much deeper insight into what was going on at the time. That is a fuller understanding of the historical background of event. And this is why I find this approach (when skillfully done) to be useful. (Likewise, another very important point that the course explorers is the recognizing of how close, in many cases, the results of an event almost _did_ come out differently.) Each individual lecture is presented by the main instructor (Adam Jortner) in conjunction with one or more additional lecturers who are experts in the event being discussed; Each of whom do an excellent job of presenting a discussion about these events in this way. So, in short the course (as it stands —see below) is quite good, and I recommend it. HOWEVER, that said, I feel it is also important to point out that the course, as published, has a VERY serious flaw. Namely, the course provides no (ZERO!) bibliographic or reference material. That is, in the past the accompanying course books for all classes from The Great Course have always included both “Further Reading” sections for each lecture (for readers who wish to further explore the specific topic covered in that lecture) and a separate, usually quite extensive, General Bibliography section at the end. However, the course book for this course has NONE of these (nor pointers to additional external source included in the body of the lectures). And for a course like this one, where the stated goal is a close understanding of the facts surrounding the events being discussed, this is a _very_ serious shortcoming. And as a result I feel I can only, in all honesty, give this course only four stars as opposed to the five that it (and it’s instructors) might otherwise deserve. Finally, what is even more problematic is that several recently released course from tGC have had this same shortcoming (I.e. the lack of any bibliographic materials). I have long been a great fan of (and subscriber to) tGC and Wondrium, and I hope that they will resume the practice of including these materials. But the current practice of not having these materials represents a very serious lessening of the quality, and of the usefulness, of these courses. And this is an especially sad prospect for an organization like tGC/Wondrium which has always been in the first rank of suppliers of educational materials.
Date published: 2024-03-30
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Overview

10 Great What-Ifs of American History offers you the chance to ponder some of the most captivating possibilities in the story of our nation. Over 10 eye-opening lectures, Professor Adam Jortner of Auburn University walks you through some of the most astonishing chance events in American history, from the signing of the Constitution to the defeat of the Soviets in the race to the moon.

About

Adam Jortner

One of the great privileges of being a historian is that I get to talk about 'what if.' I get to remind people that things are not foreordained, and even in stormy times, great things may happen.

INSTITUTION

Auburn University

Adam Jortner is the Goodwin-Philpott Eminent Professor of Religion in the Department of History at Auburn University. He received his PhD in History from the University of Virginia. He has written and lectured extensively on the history of religion and the imagination, and he has received grants and fellowships from many organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Antiquarian Society. His books include No Place for Saints, Blood from the Sky, and The Gods of Prophetstown, which won the James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize, awarded to new authors writing about the history of the early American republic.

By This Professor

10 Great What-Ifs of American History
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10 Great What-Ifs of American History

Trailer

What If Lee Won at Gettysburg?

01: What If Lee Won at Gettysburg?

Your course begins with one of the biggest what-ifs in American history: What would have changed if the Confederates had succeeded in taking Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle at Gettysburg? As you explore this introductory “counterfactual,” consider how history ripples across the ages.

27 min
What If Lewis and Clark Vanished?

02: What If Lewis and Clark Vanished?

America’s expansion has been called “manifest destiny,” but as you will see here, it was anything but destiny. After the Louisiana Purchase, Thomas Jefferson sent four expeditions westward—and only Lewis and Clark succeeded. Barely. See how one grizzly bear might have reshaped America, Texas, and the Lakota Nation.

26 min
What If the Allies Lost World War II?

03: What If the Allies Lost World War II?

World War II looms in recent American history, with President Roosevelt leading a country with isolationist leanings to a great triumph and a new role as the leader of the free world. But what if FDR had not been president? Delve into the wild politics of the 1920s and 1930s to explore a world that easily could have been.

27 min
What If the Soviets Got to the Moon First?

04: What If the Soviets Got to the Moon First?

The Apollo program is legendary for the way Americans beat the Soviets to the moon within a decade. As this lecture reveals, however, the space program’s success was as much about political will as technological advancement. Find out how a chance event with one Soviet scientist could have altered the history of space travel—and the future of two global superpowers.

25 min
What If the Constitution Did Not Pass?

05: What If the Constitution Did Not Pass?

It is hailed as the centerpiece of American government—but it almost didn’t happen! The US Constitution was highly controversial when it was written in 1787, and some states wanted to reject it! Find out how Federalists in New Hampshire (of all places) managed to save the Constitution and get it ratified with just a few changes to a schedule!

24 min
What If Columbus Never “Discovered” America?

06: What If Columbus Never “Discovered” America?

Contact between Old-World Europe and North America was a near-certainty, but Columbus’s voyage in 1492 relied on a number of improbabilities—beginning with his incorrect math about the size of the world. Imagine instead that the Aztecs had been able to consolidate power before the Portuguese made contact with them a few generations after Columbus had made landfall in the Americas.

25 min
What If Lincoln Never Issued the Emancipation Proclamation?

07: What If Lincoln Never Issued the Emancipation Proclamation?

We’re trained to believe the arc of history bends toward justice, and President Lincoln establishing freedom for the slaves in America is a critical step in this arc. However, Lincoln was not an abolitionist at the start of the Civil War. So, if the war had ended sooner, he might not have issued the Emancipation Proclamation. What then? Find out in this thought-provoking lecture.

25 min
What If the Salem Witch Trials Never Happened?

08: What If the Salem Witch Trials Never Happened?

At first, it might sound bizarre to imagine the United States having witch trials in the 20th century, but it didn’t happen because the Salem Witch Trials took the possibility off the table more than 300 years ago. Walk through the oddities of 1692 to see how the arguments of two ministers—and one legal loophole—created the worst witch hunt in American history.

22 min
What If Nat Turner Succeeded?

09: What If Nat Turner Succeeded?

In 1831, Nat Turner led an armed revolt across Virginia. A lengthy stopover slowed the group’s momentum and eventually the revolt was quelled. But what would have happened if Turner had not stopped? Could he and his cohorts have reached an arsenal in the nearby town of Jerusalem? What would history look like if his revolt had continued?

26 min
What If JFK Survived?

10: What If JFK Survived?

Round out the course with a look at President Kennedy’s assassination, an event that continues to inspire conspiracy theorists decades later. As Professor Jortner discusses, JFK almost didn’t make the trip to Dallas that ended in national tragedy. How would JFK’s survival have affected civil rights, the Cold War, and Vietnam? And how does asking counterfactuals help us understand the history that did happen?

27 min