Relive the most groundbreaking moments in the story of the United States of America with Turning Points in American History. These 48 lectures by masterful historian and Professor Edward T. O'Donnell offer a different perspective on the sweeping narrative of U.S. history. Spanning the arrival of the first English colonists to the chaos of the Civil War to the birth of the computer age and beyond, this course is a captivating tour of those moments in the story of America after which the nation would never be the same again.
Turning Points in American History
Dr. Edward T. O'Donnell is Associate Professor of History at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. He earned his Ph.D. in American History from Columbia University. Since 2002 Professor O'Donnell has worked extensively with the federal U.S. Department of Education program Teaching American History. He has served as the lead historian for several grants and has led hundreds of workshops and seminars and delivered multimedia lectures designed to help teachers devise innovative methods for teaching American history. Active in the field of public history, Professor O'Donnell has curated major museum exhibits on American history and has appeared in several historical documentaries. He has also provided historical commentary and insight for The History Channel, ABC, PBS, the BBC, and the Discovery Channel. A popular public speaker, he has delivered more than 100 invited talks and conducted more than 2,000 walking tours of various historical American neighborhoods. Professor O'Donnell is the author and coauthor of several works dealing with a broad range of American history, including Visions of America: A History of the United States and 1001 Things Everyone Should Know about Irish American History.
01: 1617 The Great Epidemic
Discover why the North American continent was never the same after the Great Epidemic of 1617, which wiped out an estimated 90% of Native Americans and allowed British colonization to proceed virtually unchallenged. Then, take a step back and look at the defining characteristics of a historical "turning point."
02: 1619 Land of the Free? Slavery Begins
One of history's most troubling questions: How and why did a democratic America become a slaveholding society? Explore this paradox from its origins in 1619—with the arrival of slaves at Jamestown—to the influence of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676 to the expansion of slavery throughout the South in the 1800s.
03: 1636 Freedom of Worship—Roger Williams
Here, Professor O'Donnell discusses Roger Williams's efforts to establish freedom of religion, a somewhat forgotten story from early colonial America. Focus on religious life in the early Massachusetts settlements (especially in the colony of Rhode Island), Williams's life and controversial ideas, his long-term influence on religious freedom in America, and more.
04: 1654 Yearning to Breathe Free—Immigration
One of the most symbolic expressions of the idea that all are welcome in America took place in 1654, when the Dutch West India Company allowed Jews from Brazil to settle in New Amsterdam. Learn why this seemingly unlikely turning point is a gateway to understanding immigration as a central theme in American history.
05: 1676 Near Disaster—King Philip's War
In terms of per capita civilian losses, King Philip's War (1675–1676) was the deadliest war in American history. See how this unfamiliar war was critical in shattering the relationship between colonists and Native Americans and in uniting the British colonies in a shared American identity.
06: 1735 Freedom of the Press—The Zenger Trial
How did the idea of a free press become a central principle of American democracy? The answer lies in the 1735 arrest and trial of New York printer John Peter Zenger, which, you learn, radically changed the political culture of the colonies and went on to shape the language of the Bill of Rights.
07: 1773 Liberty! The Boston Tea Party
Leap forward in time to the 1770s, in the first of three lectures on turning points in the American Revolution. In the first of these lectures, Professor O'Donnell makes the powerful case that the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was the real spark that ignited the American Revolution.
08: 1776 We're Outta Here—Declaring Independence
The creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 is one of the most important turning points in American history. Focus on why the colonies decided to separate from Great Britain, how the Declaration evolved from a work of little significance into a central American document, and much more.
09: 1777 Game Changer—The Battle of Saratoga
Relive the 1777 Battle of Saratoga, a game-changing conflict between the American colonists and the British that became a turning point in the American Revolution for two reasons: It helped persuade France to join the colonial cause, and it convinced the colonists themselves that they could defeat the British Empire.
10: 1786 Toward a Constitution—Shays's Rebellion
Who was Daniel Shays? What political and economic dilemmas led to this famous farmer's rebellion of 1786? Most important: How did this event pave the way for a reconsideration of the Articles of Confederation and the creation of the U. S. Constitution? Find out here.
11: 1789 Samuel Slater—The Industrial Revolution
Few people remember Samuel Slater as an important figure in U. S. history, but his introduction of cotton mill technology in 1789 unleashed the Industrial Revolution. Explore how this turning point came about and some of the many ways it reshaped virtually every aspect of American society.
12: 1800 Peaceful Transfer—The Election of 1800
One of the dirtiest presidential elections in U. S. history was the election of 1800, which involved a struggle between Republicans and Federalists and a tie vote between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Investigate how this dramatic crisis led to the first peaceful transfer of power between rival political parties in modern history.
13: 1803 Supreme Authority—Marbury v. Madison
Marbury v. Madison, which established the principle of judicial review, is a landmark case in constitutional history. Explore the political dispute that led to this case, the Supreme Court's role in the early republic, how Chief Justice John Marshall crafted his famous decision, and how this principle has influenced the nation.
14: 1807 On the Move—Transportation Revolution
Robert Fulton's steamboat trip up the Hudson River in 1807 announced a revolution in American transportation. In this lecture, learn how three key innovations in transportation—steamboats, canals, and railroads—helped Americans overcome obstacles impeding the nation's economic development and led to changes in politics, society, and more.
15: 1816 One Man, One Vote—Expanding Suffrage
Take a closer look at how early 19th-century Americans expanded the definition of democracy by dropping most restrictions on voting for white men. How did this important turning point lead to significant changes such as the rise of mass politics, the use of ballots, the potential for political corruption, and more?
16: 1821 Reborn—The Second Great Awakening
This lecture focuses on the Second Great Awakening, the powerful evangelical revival movement started in 1821 by the preacher Charles Grandison Finney. Two of the important impacts of this turning point you consider are the democratization of religion and the rise of social reform movements (specifically, the temperance movement).
17: 1831 The Righteous Crusade—Abolition
Both William Lloyd Garrison's entry into abolitionism and Nat Turner's violent slave rebellion made 1831 a pivotal year in the growing national conflict over the issue of slavery. Learn how the abolitionist crusade made slavery the central question in American politics from the 1830s until the Civil War.
18: 1844 What's New? The Communication Revolution
An often overlooked turning point in American history is the communication revolution. Here, discover how widespread literacy and an expansive post office network aided advances in communication; explore three key technological breakthroughs at the heart of the revolution; examine its effects on politics, economics, and society; and more.
19: 1845 The Ultimate American Game—Baseball
Go back to the year 1845 and the birth of the quintessential American sport: baseball. What are baseball's origins? How did it evolve from a gentlemen's sport into a professional enterprise? What about baseball makes it the nation's ultimate game? And how has it both reflected and shaped American culture?
20: 1846 Land and Gold—The Mexican War
What were the underlying roots of the Mexican-American War? Why was there so much controversy surrounding newly acquired territories? How did the discovery of gold in 1848 force Congress to confront once again the contentious issue of slavery? Learn the answers to these and other questions in this lecture.
21: 1862 Go West, Young Man! The Homestead Act
Professor O'Donnell dispels myths about one of the federal government's most extraordinary programs: the Homestead Act of 1862. This landmark event sparked the largest wave of migration in U. S. history and played a major role in the birth of the American West as a central aspect of America's identity.
22: 1862 Terrible Reality—The Battle of Antietam
Go into the heat of one of the Civil War's most important battles: the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Investigate how this Union victory underscored the need for capable military leadership, allowed Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, diminished chances of foreign support for the Confederacy, and announced the arrival of modern war.
23: 1868 Equal Protection—The 14th Amendment
Many legal scholars and historians have argued that the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under the laws, is the most important addition to the Constitution after the Bill of Rights. Here, Professor O'Donnell retells the fascinating story of how this amendment was ratified in 1868—and its turbulent history in the 20th and 21st centuries.
24: 1872 Open Spaces—The National Parks
In the 1870s, amid the wave of American industrialization, a movement emerged to preserve for all time large sections of wilderness as national parks—the first time this had been done in history. Investigate the political struggle to protect the nation's natural wonders in places such as Yosemite Valley and Yellowstone.
25: 1873 Bloody Sunday—Ending Reconstruction
Make sense of the complexities of Reconstruction with this lecture on the period's bloodiest incident, the Colfax Massacre of 1873. Why is this particular period the turning point of the "counter-revolutionary" period of Reconstruction? And how did it pave the way for the rise of the Jim Crow South?
26: 1876 How the West Was Won and Lost—Custer
Follow the story of 1876's Battle of Little Big Horn, one of the most devastating defeats ever suffered by the U. S. military. Despite a Sioux and Cheyenne warrior victory, this turning point marked the beginning of the end of Native American military resistance—and to much of the traditional Native American way of life.
27: 1886 The First Red Scare—Haymarket
This lecture deals with the 1886 Haymarket bombing of a Chicago workers' rally. Look at the state of Gilded Age America in the 1880s, examine how the American labor movement emerged, experience the events of this tragic attack, and survey the event's larger impact on the rapidly industrializing nation and its politics.
28: 1898 The End of Isolation—War with Spain
American isolationist foreign policy ended in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. Discover how this turning point—spurred by lurid journalism and intense political pressure—transformed a nation long committed to isolationism into a grand imperial power determined to take a more aggressive role in world affairs.
29: 1900 The Promised Land—The Great Migration
The movement of around 7 million African Americans into northern cities. A flourishing of African American culture that brought about the Harlem Renaissance. The rise of activist organizations fighting harder than ever for civil rights. These are some of the effects of the "Great Migration" of the early 1900s, which you learn more about here.
30: 1901 That Damned Cowboy! Theodore Roosevelt
The presidency of Theodore Roosevelt—the youngest man to assume the presidency—left a powerful mark on the office and, more important, brought the ideals of the emerging Progressive movement to the national stage. Among the ones you explore here: trust busting, labor rights, and conservation.
31: 1903 The Second Transportation Revolution
Automobiles and airplanes—two innovations that ushered in a new era in American transportation. Place these revolutionary vehicles in the context of the year 1903, when the Ford Motor Company made automobiles affordable and accessible, and when the Wright brothers performed their successful flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
32: 1909 The Scourge of the South—Hookworm
Even diseases can instigate historical turning points. Discover how the hookworm parasite—which caused a debilitating disease that affected millions of Americans—was destroyed through the efforts of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission and other public health initiatives—efforts that helped transform and improve life in the American South.
33: 1917 Votes for Women! The 19th Amendment
In 1917, after decades of struggle, a group of radical women decided to do the unthinkable: picket the White House to demand the right to vote. Three years and many protests later, American women finally won the right to vote. Get a fresh perspective on the origins of the suffrage movement and the profound impact it had on American politics.
34: 1919 Strikes and Bombs—The Year of Upheaval
Why was 1919 such a chaotic year in American history? Find out the answer by investigating three key events that led to the "Red Scare": a series of massive labor strikes, growing fears about the international spread of Russian Communism, and a surge of anarchist bombings and race riots.
35: 1933 Bold Experimentation—The New Deal
During his first 100 days, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set out on a massive, whirlwind project of legislative activity and policymaking—the New Deal—to save the nation from the worst ravages of the Great Depression. Learn why this period was such a breakthrough moment in the role of government in the American economy.
36: 1939 Einstein's Letter—The Manhattan Project
The origins of the atomic bomb go back to 1939, when scientists and military leaders undertook an operation to create the world's first successful atomic weapon before the Nazis could. Investigate how the Manhattan Project began, and follow its legacy through the bombing of two Japanese cities that ended World War II.
37: 1942 Surprise—The Battle of Midway
What is the most critical battle in World War II? The Battle of the Bulge? D-Day? Here, Professor O'Donnell makes the case for the Battle of Midway as the critical battle—specifically because it ended major Japanese offensive operations in the Pacific and allowed America to focus on defeating Nazi Germany.
38: 1945 The Land of Lawns—Suburbanization
This lecture covers an overlooked turning point in American history, post–World War II suburbanization. Look at the origins of the "suburban ideal," examine early versions of suburbanization, learn about the five federal policy initiatives that led to the extraordinary housing boom, meet the "Henry Ford of middle-class housing," and more.
39: 1948 The Berlin Airlift and the Cold War
The year 1948 signaled the dawn of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Discover how this epic geopolitical conflict spurred a dramatic militarization of the United States, promoted a culture of fear over Communist spies and nuclear war, and reaffirmed the nation's commitment to internationalism.
40: 1950 Tuning In—The Birth of Television
Television was first thought to be just a fad—but by the 1950s it had exploded into a pervasive cultural force with the power to help politicians win elections, support national sports franchises, bring the violence of war into people's living rooms, and create shared national experiences. Find out how here.
41: 1960 The Power to Choose—The Pill
Grasp the historical significance of the birth control pill in American society by considering the central role played by women in its development and subsequent FDA approval in 1960. Also, follow the heated public debate that emerged over the ethics and morality of "the Pill."
42: 1963 Showdown in Birmingham—Civil Rights
Turn now to 1963, a critical year in the civil rights movement. First, look at the status of African Americans in the early 1950s and the early stages of this human rights struggle. Then, examine the protests and violence that rocked Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
43: 1968 Losing Vietnam—The Tet Offensive
Why did America get involved in the affairs of Vietnam and eventually commit to massive military escalation in the mid-1960s? Why, after a huge buildup, did the United States suddenly pull out? Uncover the answers to these provocative questions by looking at the 1968 Tet Offensive—the turning point of this controversial war.
44: 1969 Disaster—The Birth of Environmentalism
Investigate how a disastrous oil spill in Santa Barbara and a dramatic fire on Ohio's Cuyahoga River in 1969 led to the modern environmental movement in America. The subsequent wave of legislation would lead to two major accomplishments: a cleaner environment and improved public efforts to combat pollution nationwide.
45: 1974 An Age of Crisis—Watergate
The Watergate scandal of 1974 is one of the most notorious examples of political corruption in modern American politics. Experience the flurry of paranoia, political intrigue, and investigative reporting from this momentous event, and witness it forever shake the confidence of the American people in their political leaders.
46: 1975 The Digital Age—The Personal Computer
The world's first personal computers undoubtedly revolutionized America's social, political, and cultural landscape. As you explore the three stages of this turning point in U. S. history—the hobbyist phase, the mass production phase, and the user-friendly phase—you see just how essential these machines are in 21st-century life.
47: 1989 Collapse—The End of the Cold War
Go back to November 9, 1989, when the whole world watched as the Berlin Wall fell, bringing the cold war—and later the Soviet Union itself—to an end. While this epic moment changed the landscape of Europe, it also had several ripple effects on American life and politics as well.
48: 2001 The Age of Terror—The 9/11 Attacks
In this final lecture, investigate the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the dawn of the "age of terror." While the implications of this recent turning point may not be clear for years to come, Professor O'Donnell helps you put this traumatic event in a larger national—and even international—context.