Native Peoples of North America : The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Daniel M. Cobb
  • Series: The Great Courses: Civilization & Culture
  • 12 hrs and 34 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

History, for all its facts and figures, names and dates, is ultimately subjective. You learn the points of view your teachers provide, the perspectives that books offer, and the conclusions you draw yourself based on the facts you were given. Hearing different angles on historical events gives you a more insightful, accurate, and rewarding understanding of events - especially when a new viewpoint challenges the story you thought you knew.
Now the Great Courses has partnered with Smithsonian to bring you a course that will greatly expand your understanding of American history. This course, Native Peoples of North America, pairs the unmatched resources and expertise of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian with the unparalleled knowledge of Professor Daniel M. Cobb of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to provide a multidisciplinary view of American history, revealing new perspectives on the historical and contemporary experiences of indigenous peoples and their impact on the history of our country.
This insightful and unique 24-lecture course helps disprove myths and stereotypes that many people take as fact. Professor Cobb presents a different account of the Seven Years' War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Gold Rush, the Transcontinental Railroad, and beyond, providing the stories of the American Indian people who fought and negotiated to preserve their ancestral lands.
Native Peoples of North America recounts an epic story of resistance and accommodation, persistence and adaption, extraordinary hardship and survival across more than 500 years of colonial encounter. As the Smithsonian curators stated, "The past never changes. But the way we understand it, learn about it, and know about it changes all the time." Be prepared - this course is going to change how you understand American history. And no matter how much you know about this subject, you will be surprised.

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Customer Reviews

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Worthwhile, but frustrating

Any additional comments?

The last half of the course is much better than the first, since it recounts more recent history and Native Americans are allowed to speak for themselves through their writings. In the first half, Prof. Cobb too frequently ascribes thoughts, feelings and intentions to Native historical figures who left no records on which to base such conclusions. In Lecture 4, for example, he somehow intuits Matoaka’s motives in assisting the Virginia colony, and divines that her actions were orchestrated by her father, Powhatan. No evidence is cited to support this interpretation of events, and the PDF Course Guide contains no documentation other than a thin suggested reading list. Prof. Cobb may be right, but it would be nice if readers could somehow follow the path which led him to his often revisionist view of history.

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- Mark

Needs To Be Re-Thought

Gets off to a bad start with a homily insinuating that many of the things we take for granted today are actually the result of Native American contact with the Europeans. Of course, if one has chosen to listen to this course, it is because he or she already has a bit of an inkling of the Native American perspective being overlooked. This would be fine except that the preaching continues at least throughout the next 2/3rds of the course (I haven't made it to the last third yet). In every instance, the noble Native Americans are taken advantage of by the wily Europeans. Which probably is the case. However, when a teacher takes a side in the history course, portraying their favored side as the only one you should have any sympathy for, then it is hard to trust that this retelling of history is valid.

One of the greatest crimes in history-telling is presuming that you are supposed to cheer for one side over another. History is a complicated thing, made more complex by the morales of the time. Progressives of one time were not as progressive as those of today, but to blame them for this supposed short-sightedness is rather snobbish (as the professor does whenever a European steps forward to try to be a good samaritan to the Native Peoples.)

A more useful and respectful history of the Native People would be to not romanticize them as a people who meant no harm and got run over by greedy Europeans, but to recognize that this was a culture clash in which both cultures had their reasons for seeing the world as they saw it, and this is just the way it was. Europe, for instance, happened to have developed technologies and materials the Peoples of the Americas did not have, and along with these Powers came vices, as they always do. And to presume that Native Americans, had they had the same or greater technologies than Europe, would not have done something similar to Europe, had the shoe been on the other foot, is an impossible thing to argue. It's a blind argument with no fair answer. If the Native Americans had had the same awesome military technology as the Europeans and yet chose to withhold it in the name of Peace, then you could perhaps fairly take sides in history and say, "Look what awful things happened to this culture." But, as the professor shows, the Native People also had their wars, and even though he goes on to put a positive spin on their wars (with the Orwellian spin that the Native American wars against each other weren't destructive but constructive because they sought to replenish their own tribe with prisoners), it doesn't take away from the bigger question: If Native Americans had developed the kind of technology that the Europeans had, would they have suffered from the same vices? And in the absence of these technologies, military or otherwise (read Guns, Germs, and Steel if you're interested in this subject) to tempt them to conquer, does it really mean they were always the good guys no matter what the instance?

As always, even mis-performed history has its lessons to teach, and there are a few nuggets here and there, but one comes away with a scattershot history of the Native People. I came him hoping to get a taste of what daily life was like and what a year amongst them would entail, but mostly we're given a vague representation of how life was in America with the Native People and almost no sense that there was any dissension or disagreement among them. When there is, we're given the impression that its only because the Europeans have forced a wedge between them.

All in all, there has got to be a better history of the Native People out there, somehow somewhere. Though there seem to be no written sources (since the Native People didn't develop a written word until the supposedly evil Europeans came up with a system in order to trick them into preserving the beautiful history) :) -- one would hope there would be a way to put together a day in the life of the native people, flaws and all.
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- SZ

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-21-2016
  • Publisher: The Great Courses