America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era : The Great Courses: Modern History

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Edward T. O'Donnell, PhD
  • Series: The Great Courses: Modern History
  • 11 hrs and 52 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

America stands at a dramatic crossroads: Massive corporations wield disturbing power. The huge income gap between the one percent and the other 99 percent grows wider. Astounding new technologies are changing American lives.
Sound familiar? These and other issues that characterize the early 21st century were also the hallmarks of the transformative periods known as the Gilded Age (1865-1900) and the Progressive Era (1900-1920). Before the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, America was a developing nation, with a largely agrarian economy and virtually no role in global affairs. Yet by 1900, within 35 years, the US had emerged as the world's greatest industrial power.
Explore these tumultuous times in America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Over decades marked by economic, political, social, and technological upheavals, the US went from an agrarian, isolationist country to the world's greatest industrial power and a nascent geopolitical superpower. In a time rife with staggering excess, social unrest, and strident calls for reform, these and other remarkable events created the country that we know today: industrialization gave rise to a huge American middle class; voluminous waves of immigration added new material to the "melting pot" of US society; the phenomenon of big business led to the formation of labor unions and the adoption of consumer protections; electricity, cars, and other technologies forever changed the landscape of American life.
In taking the measure of six dramatically innovative decades, you'll investigate the economic, political, and social upheavals that marked these years, as well as the details of daily life and the cultural thinking of the times. In the process, you'll meet robber barons, industrialists, socialites, reformers, inventors, conservationists, women's suffragists, civil rights activists, and passionate progressives, who together forged a new United States.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Another great course by Professor O'Donnell

Professor O'Donnell's first series Turning Points in American History ranks among the best of the many The Great Courses series I have listened to, so I couldn't wait to tackle this new series by Professor O'Donnell which takes a deeper dive into the period from the mid 19th to the early 20th century.

I was tempted to get the video version because this time period is so rich with historical photographs, documents and political cartoons. However I had an Audible credit and and I knew from his previous course that Professor O'Donnell would be very highly organized and easy to listen to. I have no regrets.

In the end I have to rate this series just a notch below "Turning Points." That series was absolutely loaded with new insights and "aha" moments, whereas this one felt more like an entertaining race through time ( then again, it could be that I feel that way only because I recently listened to the outstanding Great Courses series on the Industrial Revolution and it covered much of the same time period).

Bottom line: I recommend it highly. If you are really looking to seriously study this era, then I might first get a global perspective from Professor Bucholz's Foundations of Western Civilization II," then move to this series, and then to Professor Allitt's The Industrial Revolution.

If you are looking for a broader view of major milestones in American history, then listen to Professor O'Donnell's "Turning Points" followed by Professor Stoler's Skeptics Guide to American History.
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- Quaker

The Past is Prolog

What made the experience of listening to America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era the most enjoyable?

The realization that so little has changed after over a hundred years.


Any additional comments?

"What's past is prologue"
--> William Shakespeare
"The Tempest", Act 2, Scene I George Santayana (1863 - 1952) <--

The lectures presented in "America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era" provide much food for thought, and it will not take long for the 'reader' to start comparing and contrasting events happening today.

That a few individuals, like John D. Rockefeller (Oil), Andrew Carnegie (Steel) and J.P. Morgan (Finance), just to mention a few, actually built the great industrial and financial power of the United States almost single-handidly is beyond question. There are good reasons these men, and others, are often called the 'Captains of Industry and Finance', and a like number of good reasons they are referred to as 'Robber Barons' in the same breath.

Laissez-faire economics, Capitalism, Mercantilism or 'Free Market' economy all have the same basic goal: A few individuals will be 'successful', everybody else will be a 'loser'. The more money the successful make, the more they want. There is no such thing as 'enough' money, only 'more' money. The 'Wealth Race' between Rockefeller and Carnegie is a perfect example. Money means Power, and the more money, the more power, until such vast fortunes are amassed that they can start dictating the 'rules of the road' to the government either by influence (called 'lobbyists') or out-and-out purchase (of key Congressmen through 'campaign financing'), and always to their advantage. This is exactly what happened during the 'Gilded Age'. It is also exactly what is happening today. Methodology has changed somewhat, but the Goal is the same.

Yesterday (during the Gilded age), The 'movers and shakers' of Industry and Finance formed vast 'Trusts'. Railroads, Steel, Financial Groups, even the meat packing industry, nearly every industry in the US became part of one 'Trust' or another. The word 'Trust' sounds so much better than 'Monopoly', but means exactly the same thing. When the Trusts became big enough, they were 'allowed' to buy up the competition, or drive them out of the market by underselling them (until they got what they wanted). The Methodology has changed somewhat today. Now, we have 'Leveraged Buyouts', 'Hostile Takeovers', and 'Corporate Mergers', which are, in reality, the same thing as a Trust. Back then, the Progressives became pretty good at 'Trust Busting', starting with Teddy Roosevelt, and limited at least some of their power. They (the Trusts) never went away entirely.

Who became the 'Losers' in this system? The usual suspects; the Third Estate, the Workers, the Middle-Class, anyone not rich enough to write the rules. During the 'Gilded Age', the work force had virtually no power, so 'they' started forming Unions to try to get 'management' to see their plight. If management refused to listen, they would simply walk off the job, refuse to work and even seize the factory (called a 'lockout') to prevent 'Scab' workers from being brought in. Management's answer was usually the same - Call in the Pinkertons (actually a private army), or the National Guard, or even the military to break up the strike, then hire new help that may be happy working a 16 hour day, 6 day week, for half-pay (as at Carnegie's Homestead Steel plant). The Progressive Movement was part of the push for unions, finally culminating in the 'Wagner Act' during FDR's presidency.

For a time, business was stymied by the Unions; they're here, and they're going to stay. What to do? It took awhile, but business finally found a solution: Globalization. Want to get rid of Unions? Simply pack up your production plant, and send it all to China, where Unions are not allowed (being a Communist country). Union problems solved! Now the workers can earn 39 cents/hour for a 12 hour day, six day week. That's what the happy workers at Apple's plant make for putting your iPhone together.

Hopefully, by 'reading' "America in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era", some of us 'may' learn from History. As long as America lives by 'The Golden Rule', not a lot can be done about it, even by the Progressives. What is 'The Golden Rule'? "He who has the Gold, makes the Rules". Indeed, The Past is Prolog.

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- Charles Stembridge "Proteus"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-01-2015
  • Publisher: The Great Courses