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The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy

Discover what the Wild West was really like as acclaimed Professor Patrick N. Allitt reveals the truth behind our cherished stories.
The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 168.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vastly Exceeded My Expectations I had taken five previous courses by Professor Alitt and on average I found thought them to be....well average. So when I learned of this course's release and decided to sample some lectures on the Great Courses Plus app prior to making a decision on purchasing, I entered with very tempered expectations. It didn't take long for the course's excellence to hit me over the head like a punishment for my doubts. I was blown away by just how interesting each and every lecture was regardless of my personal interest in the topic. This is by far his best course in my opinion. The professor provides a fascinating study of the regions of the U.S. that were considered the “west” from Spanish explorations in the 1500s to the turn of the 20th century with a focus on how the west was settled (early part of the course focused on the lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains as the “west” including Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio before moving to the Louisiana purchase, Texas, Oregon, California, the great plains, and the southwest). The professor tackled all of the main topics that are synonymous with the American west from cowboys to violence to Native American relocation to gold rushes to ghost towns to national parks but each lecture had such interesting information that it was like I was learning them all anew. I can’t see how he could have covered these topics better. I was learning something new in every lecture even when the professor discussed topics I thought I knew well. Professor Allitt's description of events places you right in the action: you feel what it is like to travel the Oregon Trail or feel the pain Native Americans experienced being relocated. While it was hard to identify any serious glaring fault, there are three criticisms to call out: 1- Professor Allitt would repeat certain stories or tidbits in multiple lectures (one or two occurences of this can easily be overlooked but by the last lecture it had happened enough times to at least note it) 2- He spent little time comparing the myths we all have of the west (involving cowboys, bandits, duels, ghost towns, striking it rich or failure to do so, etc.) with the reality. This was surprising on two levels: 1- he would touch on these and other topics so expertly that it was odd he would leave out discussion on how the reality lines up with our myths and 2- the title of the course and of lecture 23 specifically certainly imply more analysis on the topic than was given. 3- While the lecture on how western territories became states was certainly interesting, a more chronological approach (state by state) vs. hopping around would have helped me put the big picture together better (or perhaps a map which would have shown how the land mass of US states progressed in the 1870’s-early 1900's). He noted how censuses in the 19th century reported a frontier map and how the line had moved but there was never any graphic of it! Additionally, I was hoping for some discussion on how the territories’ borders came about (i.e. what made western plots of land “Utah” vs “Nevada”?). Still without a doubt this is one of my favorite courses. I would love to see the professor tackle the southern US region in a future course. His coverage of the west was informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining. Anyone interested in US history would be well served to spend 12 hours with Professor Allitt that likely will go by too fast.
Date published: 2022-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Fun I thoroughly enjoyed these lectures. They gave me a new perspective on the American West.
Date published: 2022-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent but not quite balanced enough Like several other courses by Prof. Allitt that I've bought, this was a delight to listen to. He gives both the point of view of the Western settlers and that of the Native Americans. He judiciously uses primary sources - just enough to plump out the storytelling while keeping the flow going. I especially appreciated his lecture on myths about the West in a hundred years of movies. However, almost at the very end of the course he put forth an opinion that was so biased and unnecessary that it took my breath away. He said that on the whole, the settlers were justified in taking the West from the Indians. Quoting him: "The Americans were conquerors but they did infinitely more with the lands they conquered than their predecessors, transforming an underpopulated and poverty-stricken region into the heartland of the richest and most powerful nation in world history." Wow. In that view, nature is there for Man to exploit ("to do something with") and modern civilization with its technological and political power is unquestionably superior to a nomadic, spiritual way of life, according to Allitt. Although this soured me on the professor's historical judgment, I can still recommend the course as informative and entertaining.
Date published: 2022-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best one yet! I almost didn't buy this because it was more than I wanted to spend. It was well worth every dollar. I'VE watched it twice.
Date published: 2022-04-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Your course, my reality I grew up in the West...central Montana...and was curious about your course. You got the details right and presented a clear understanding of this part of America. This confirmed my view that the Great Courses present accurate summaries of their topics.
Date published: 2022-04-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The American West I have already read the "Course Guidebook" and I have watched the first DVD. The information is much different than all of the "Hollywood" versions. Professor Allit does follow many of the biographer versions. The pictures help keep a persons attention.
Date published: 2022-03-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A pleasure to watch An informative and thoroughly enjoyable course. I learned a lot and found Professor Allitt delightful to listen to. I would have been happy to watch even more lectures.
Date published: 2022-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great learning experience I bought this for me. History is one of my favorite subjects. Never too old to stop learning.
Date published: 2022-01-26
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Overview

Designed to shine a light on the American frontier, The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy reveals the grit and grandeur of an epic period in U.S. history. In 24 lectures, award-winning Professor Patrick N. Allitt uncovers new historical angles on everything from the last stand at the Alamo to the Oregon Trail to the creation of America's first national parks.

About

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.

INSTITUTION

Emory University

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.

By This Professor

The Industrial Revolution
854
The Art of Teaching: Best Practices from a Master Educator
854
The Great Tours: England, Scotland, and Wales
854
The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy
854
A History of the United States, 2nd Edition
854
America after the Cold War: The First 30 Years
854
The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy

Trailer

Westward the Course of Empire

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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