This is another of the courses we have listened to during our travels to become more familiar with American History. The title was a big reason I picked this one out. I am if anything a skeptical person. Not cynical mind you, but always questioning whether or not what I know or what someone else says is true. I am forever leaving the door open for doubt, at least on an intellectual level.
The preamble to this lecture does a beautiful job of calling any and all history into question. Professor Stoler describes the many ways in which popular conception of history can be mangled by those who record it, tell it, or craft it over the years. Further he speaks to how the perspective of both the teller of history and the reader of history alter the character of that history both in ways that are deceptive, and enlightening. He points out that there are both advantages and disadvantages to time. Distance from an event can actually be an advantage in understanding it. Many who live through history only have a pinhole view of things and the further you are the more context you can see, yet resolution can easily be lost.
One particular contention of the pre-amble I found challenging, and therefore delightful, was a rebuttal of the claim that “history repeats itself.” Professor Stoler’s view is that history almost never repeats itself. While human passions do tend to consistent patterns and yield historical events with familiar characteristics, he maintains that each moment in history is unique in circumstance, challenge, and outcome. While lessons can be taken from the past, trying to predict the future based on them is folly because of the many specific differences at play. Any statement beginning with “This is just like…” is almost certainly wrong.
With that in mind he launches into a grand sweep of American history from initial settlement by Europeans to the Vietnam War exploring popular conceptions of various pivotal moments vs contrary perspectives available to us through scholarship. I’m no great study of American history, at least not yet, but I have to say many of the “myths” were not views I had held or thought common. None the less the perspectives offered were often enlightening and thought provoking, providing many facts I certainly knew nothing about.
This was the second American history lecture we’d listened to and one thing that struck me along the theme of skepticism was that it really pays to listen to different sources. That is something I’d long held when it comes to contemporary events. When I read a news story and it intrigues me, I like to go digging for a another perspective or two before I draw any conclusions. I should have known history would be the same but it didn’t occur to me until this, my second lecture. While there were many similarities with the prior lecture, there were also differences in perspective and narrative focus. I am beginning to understand how history can become a consuming and compelling hobby.
It is still some time off, but I am more and more looking forward to our journey’s in the East, where so many of the events focused on in these lectures took place. I’ll now doubt view them with wider eyes when the time comes. At any rate I can’t recommend this lecture enough; it was both entertaining and educational in the extreme.
Presented by: The Great Courses
Narrated by: Professor Mark A. Stoler
Length: 12 hrs and 1 min
Series: The Great Courses: Modern History, Lecture
Publisher: The Great Courses
Amazon Buy Link: http://amzn.to/1modeW5