American History Webinar Series

American History, American Character

National Association of Scholars

Editor's Note: This page will be updated and republished when a new webinar is released.

This series brings together scholars to examine pivotal moments in American history and what those moments can tell us about our national character. This series will run through the summer of 2022. If you would like to register for future webinars in this series, you may find them here. If you'd like to view or share these from Youtube, be sure the check out our playlist!

Our past videos in the American History, American Character series:

In the mid-20th century, America and the USSR competed to launch first satellites, and then humans, into space. Despite an early lead by the USSR, American capabilities quickly overtook their competitors, culminating in the Apollo landings on the moon. President John F. Kennedy portrayed the Space Race as an exercise in national unity that would challenge fears of Soviet technological superiority. The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions captured the excitement of the nation, and marked one of the greatest achievements in human history with the landings on the moon.

What was the national attitude at the time towards the Space Race? How significant of a factor were fears of Soviet technological domination? What is the legacy of the Space Race today?

This webinar features Robert Poole, Professor of History at the University of Central Lancashire and author of Earthrise: How Man First Saw the EarthAndrew Jenks, Professor of History at California State University, Long Beach, and author of The Cosmonaut Who Couldn't Stop Smiling: The Life and Legend of Yuri Gagarin; and Leonard David, award-winning space journalist and author of Moon Rush: The New Space Race. You can find a list of their books for purchase by clicking here.

In the 1960s, concern over the expansion of Soviet ideology through its satellite states led the U.S. to escalate its involvement in the country of Vietnam. With the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, Congress authorized President Lyndon B. Johnson to increase the American military presence in Vietnam. This war would drag on for years, claiming the lives of over 58,000 American servicemen and wounding hundreds of thousands more. The Vietnam War led to fundamental shifts in American domestic life, including the rise of protest movements on college campuses.

What have been the long-term effects of the Vietnam War on the American psyche? Is the war remembered as a failure, a success, or something else? How did the war alter domestic life, both during its course and in its aftermath? How did the conclusion of the war alter U.S. foreign policy?

The webinar features Pierre Asselin, Professor of History and Dwight E. Stanford Chair in American Foreign Relations at San Diego State University; Larry Berman, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of California, Davis; and Mark Lawrence, Associate Professor of History at University of Texas at Austin. You find a list of their publications by clicking here.

In 1939, Hitler's Germany began its invasion of Poland, which set off a series of war declarations from other European powers. Within a short time the world was embroiled in what would prove to be the deadliest conflict in human history. Over seventy million people died in the conflict, including some six million Jews systematically murdered by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust.

What were some of the most important events of the war? How did WWII shape the history of the United States and its trajectory as an engaged world power?

This webinar features Robert Citino, Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at the National World War II Museum; Sean McMeekin, Francis Flournoy Professor of European History and Culture at Bard College; and Marc Wortman, author of 1941: Fighting the Shadow War: A Divided America in a World at War. All of their books are available for purchase here.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the collapse of the stock market led to a severe economic depression that lasted through most of the decade. Unemployment hit record highs, GDP dropped precipitously, and many industries ground to a halt.

What made the Great Depression such a difficult slump to climb out of? How did the Great Depression shape the character of those who lived through it? What effects did this have on political and economic life in the forthcoming decades?

This webinar features Alexander J. Field, Michel and Mary Orradre Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University; Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. You may find links to purchase their books by clicking here.

In the 1920s, life in the United States took a dramatic turn towards modernity. Cars, telephones, radios, and appliances began to see widespread use. Old traditions and cultural institutions began to give way to new forms of music, dance, lifestyle, and fashion. During this time, America saw the rise of Prohibition and the development of a new style of music that came to define the more free-wheeling style of the decade — jazz.

What was the dominant feeling in the nation during these years? How did jazz exemplify that feeling? How did Prohibition affect the counter-cultural ethos of the decade?

This event features Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher and Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age; Sean Beienburg, Assistant Professor in the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University; and Donald L. Miller, John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College. You can download a PDF with links to their books here.

In the early 1900s, a wave of social activism and political reform dedicated to correcting the problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, and corruption spread across the United States. Sweeping reforms that still reverberate down to our lives today found their start in the Progressive Era.

What role did the idea of scientific management play in the Progressive Era? How successful were efforts to root out corruption in business and politics? The Progressive Era saw some of the most damaging social movements of the modern era emerge, including, most notably, eugenics. How did an idea such as that gain such widespread cache?

This webinar features Mark Wahlgren Summers, Professor of History at the University of Kentucky; Bradley C. S. Watson, Professor of Politics and Co-Director of the Center for Political and Economic Thought at Saint Vincent College; and Steven J. Diner, Professor of History at Rutgers University-Newark.

You may find a pdf with links to all of their books here.

In June 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand tripped a diplomatic crisis that quickly spiraled towards war. A network of overlapping alliances, triggered by the hostilities, led one nation after another into the fray. By July, nearly all the great powers of Europe were at war.

How did the complex network of alliances arise in the first place? How did industrial and scientific advancements contribute to making this one of the bloodiest wars in human history? Could the war have been avoided?

This webinar features Joseph Loconte, Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation and Senior Fellow in Christianity and Culture at The King's College in New York City; Hew Strachan, Professor of International Relations at the University of St. Andrews and Emeritus Fellow at All Souls College; and Jay Winter, Charles J. Stille Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. You may find a list of their publications here.

In the late 1880s, the United States supported revolts in Cuba against Spanish colonial rule. Reports of concentration camps in Cuba inflamed American public opinion in the wake of tense war scares. Tensions were at an all-time high when an explosion rocked the USS Maine in Havana's harbor. Shortly after, the U.S. demanded a Spanish withdrawal from Cuba. Spain severed diplomatic relations in response. A blockade of Cuba and declarations of war from both nations quickly followed.

Was the Spanish-American War necessary? Could it have been avoided? What were general attitudes towards the war in the United States? What was the national mood in response to the acquisition of territories abroad, such as the Philippines, at the conclusion of the war?

This webinar features Paul McCartney, professor of political science at Towson University and author of Power and Progress: American National Identity, the War of 1898, and the Rise of American ImperialismBonnie M. Miller, Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts Boston and author of From Liberation to Conquest: The Visual and Popular Cultures of the Spanish-American War of 1898; and Louis Pérez, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. You may find their books here.

Following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency. A southerner and former slave-holder, Johnson advocated for the rapid reassimilation of the southern states into the Union. In pursuit of this, he pressed for southern states to be allowed to determine the rights of former slaves. His policies would come to characterize the Reconstruction Era, as the nation struggled to heal from its years of bitter war.

What were the long-term effects of Reconstruction on American unity?

This webinar event features William Barney, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Forrest Nabors, associate professor and chair of the department of political science at the University of Alaska, Anchorage; and Michael Les Benedict, professor of history emeritus at The Ohio State University. The discussion will be moderated by David Randall, director of research at the National Association of Scholars. 

On January 1, 1863, more than three and a half million enslaved blacks in the Confederate states became free when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet several years of bitter fighting lay ahead to make that proclamation a reality.

Why did Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation in the middle of the war after several years of fighting? How did it lay the groundwork for the passage of the 13th Amendment? What was the public reaction in the North at the time to the Emancipation Proclamation?

This webinar features Edna Greene Medford, professor of history and former chair of the Department of History at Howard University, and Jonathan White, associate professor of American studies at Christopher Newport University. The discussion is moderated by David Randall.

In this webinar, we ask: was the Civil War necessary? How did the "United" States fall into civil war less than a century after its founding? How did America's "peculiar institution" of slavery contribute to the outbreak of war, and what role did it play in the war's conclusion? Why is the Civil War considered the "rebirth of a nation"?

This webinar features Richard Carwardine, Rhodes Professor of American History emeritus at Oxford University and former president of Corpus Christi College; Brian Matthew Jordan, associate professor of history and chair of the Department of History at Sam Houston State University; and Joan Waugh, professor emeritus of history at UCLA. The discussion is moderated by David Randall.

Dred Scott was a slave to U.S. Army surgeon Dr. John Emerson. In 1846, Scott sued for his freedom and that of his family, arguing that since he had been brought into a free state, he should be a free man. The case wound its way through the courts before landing in front of Chief Justice Taney's Supreme Court, which ruled, infamously, that black people were not included in the Constitution's definition of "citizen."

What were the long-term effects of the Scott decision? Did it contribute to the outbreak of the Civil War? What was the view of the decision at that time by Americans in the North? in the South?

This event will feature Hadley Arkes, Edward N. Ney professor emeritus of American institutions and political science at Amherst College; Mark Graber, Jacob A. France professor of constitutionalism and regents professor at the University of Maryland; and David Tubbs, associate professor of politics at The King's College. The discussion will be moderated by Vincent Phillip Munoz, Tocqueville associate professor of political science and concurrent associate professor of law at the University of Notre Dame.

In 1845, the United States annexed Texas, a territory that rebelled against Mexico nine years earlier. The annexation of Mexican-claimed Texas led to border disputes that quickly unraveled into an armed conflict. These events mark the near climax of the patriotic fervor called "manifest destiny," the public will for westward expansion of the American republic.

What role did President Polk's commitment to Manifest Destiny play in the annexation of Texas and subsequent war? In what ways did the acquisition of Texas heighten tensions surrounding slave states and free states? Did the United States' victory in the war bolster the argument for Manifest Destiny?

This webinar features David Heidler, an award-winning historian of the early American republic and author of Henry Clay: The Essential AmericanRobert Merry, former editor of The National Interest and author of A Country of Vast Designs; and John Pinheiro, professor of history at Aquinas College. The discussion is moderated by Michael Scott Van Wagenen, author, filmmaker, and associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University.

President Andrew Jackson's political ideology forms the underpinnings of what is now the Democratic Party. Jackson was instrumental in expanding political suffrage, limiting the monopoly power of federal banks, and advocating for a laissez-faire economic policy. The ideas he championed continue to resonate today and shape many contemporary political questions within America's political parties.

What role did Jackson play in shaping the future of party politics in America? Did Jacksonian democracy in favor of "the common man"? To what extent did it advocate for the expansion of federal authority?

This event features Daniel Feller, professor emeritus of history at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville; Jason Opal, associate professor of history at McGill University; and Harry L. Watson, the Atlanta Distinguished Professor of Southern Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The discussion is moderated by Brad Birzer, professor of history at Hillsdale College.

In the early 19th century, a Protestant religious revival swept through the United States, bringing with it a rise in religious observance and several new denominations, as well as an increase in societies and organizations dedicated to biblical missions.

What sparked the Second Great Awakening? What effects did the Second Great Awakening have on the nation's culture? How did it strengthen the role of Protestant denominations in the political sphere?

Listen in as scholars from around the country answer these questions and others.

This event features Robert Caldwell, professor of church history for the school of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history and the James Vardaman Endowed Professor of History at Baylor University; and John Wigger, professor of History at the University of Missouri. The discussion was moderated by David Randall, director of research at the National Association of Scholars.

In 1823, President James Monroe delivered his seventh State of the Union Address to Congress. In this speech, he declared that the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Americas occupied separate spheres of influence, and that neither should meddle in the affairs of the other. Further, Monroe declared the United States' determination to view any European attempts to involve themselves in the Americas as a threat to the safety and peace of the United States. This doctrine laid the groundwork for future U.S. foreign policy in the Americas and around the globe.

Watch our webinar as scholars answer our questions: how was the Monroe Doctrine viewed in Europe at the time? Was it ever challenged by European powers? How has the Monroe Doctrine been used since its inception to inform U.S. foreign policy?

This event featured Brook Poston, associate professor of history at Stephen F. Austin State University; John Grant, associate professor and chairman of politics at Hillsdale College; and Jay Sexton, Rich and Nancy Kinder Chair in Constitutional Democracy and professor of History at the University of Missouri.

In 1820, under the Missouri Compromise, Missouri was admitted as a slave state in exchange for legislation that prohibited slavery in the United States above the 36°30′ parallel. For many decades, the Missouri Compromise was hailed as essential, and many historians believe it helped postpone the Civil War. Despite its importance in excluding slavery from some U.S. territories, the Missouri Compromise was bitterly disappointing to opponents of slavery and it further legitimized the institution of slavery in the South.

What is the legacy of the Missouri Compromise today? Was it a stark success? A necessary evil?

This webinar features John Craig Hammond, associate professor of history at Penn State University, New Kensington; Jeffrey Pasley, professor and associate director, Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, University of Michigan; and Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. The discussion was moderated by David Randall, NAS director of research. 

View and register for our upcoming webinars on American history and literature here.

In late December of 1814, British ships and soldiers sailed to New Orleans in an attempt to break through the American fortifications guarding the city. Despite overwhelming numbers, the British suffered a catastrophic loss, losing over 2,000 men while the Americans lost only a few hundred men. 

What made the Battle of New Orleans such a victory for the American forces? Why was it called "the miracle of New Orleans?" And what effects did the battle have on American international policy after the close of the war?

View the recording of our June 22nd webinar, "1815: The Miracle at New Orleans," to find out. 

This webinar features Donald Hickey, a professor of history at Wayne State College; Brian Kilmeade, author of Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny and co-host of Fox & Friends; and Joseph F. Stoltz, Director of the George Washington Leadership Institute at Mount Vernon and author of A Bloodless Victory.

In August 1803, Captain Meriweather Lewis and his close friend 2nd Lieutenant William Clark led a group of U.S. Army and civilian volunteers westward to explore the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase. Their expedition produced the first map of what would become the American West and brought back countless items of scientific and naturalistic significance. 

What did the Lewis and Clark expedition set out to accomplish? Did they succeed? What has been its most lasting effect?

View the recording of our June 8th webinar, "1803: Corps of Discovery: Lewis & Clark's Expedition West," to find out.

This event featured Harry Fritz, professor emeritus of history at the University of Montana; James Holmberg, Curator of the Filson Historical Society; and Robert J. Miller, professor of law at the Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law at Arizona State University.

After years of the Federalists maintaining power, the election of 1800 represented a stark shift. Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent John Adams and the United States underwent the first transition of power from one faction to another since its founding. Did the election of 1800 represent a "Second Revolution?" What were some of the tensions surrounding party transition at the time? What was the Federalist reaction to the loss?

View the recording of our May 27 webinar, "1800: Republicans, Federalists, and Party Transition," to find out.

This event featured Joseph Ellis, Professor Emeritus of History at Mount Holyoke College; Edward J. Larson, University Professor of History at Pepperdine University; and Peter S. Onuf, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Virginia. The discussion was moderated by David Randall, NAS director of research.

In the wake of the Revolutionary War, the fledgling federal government imposed a tax on domestic distilled spirits, the most common of which was whiskey. This “whiskey tax” was intended to help pay down the war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. However, farmers and planters in western regions resisted, believing that the tax was unjust. Many of these farmers were veterans of the revolutionary war and considered that they were fighting for the same principles in opposing the whiskey tax. Violence and protests broke out, and in response, George Washington sent a militia out to enforce the tax and suppress the rebellion.

George Washington arguably believed that the Whiskey Rebellion was the single most significant event in the history of the early United States. In his Proclamation authorizing the use of the militia to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, Washington said that "the very existence of government, and the fundamental principles of social order were involved in the issue." To what extent has this been borne out by history? What does the rebellion tell us about popular American attitudes at the time on taxation and centralized federal authority? How did Washington's response, by sending in the militia, accord or depart from the principles and ideals fought for during the American Revolution?

This event featured William Hogeland,  author of the narrative-history trilogy, Wild Early Republic  — The Whiskey RebellionDeclaration, and Autumn of the Black Snake; Terry Bouton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County; and Paul Douglas Newman, Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

In 1787, fifty-five delegates from the states met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to chart a new course for the nation. The Articles of Confederation were proving insufficient, and so the assembly debated a new structure of government, one that would divide federal authority between three branches of government and rely on checks and balances to ensure that no one branch of government became too powerful. This was not an easy task, nor one without controversy. Fierce debate raged over the “Virginia Plan” and how the states ought to be represented in this proposed new federal government. After months of debate, what would become the Constitution of the United States was adopted by the convention with 39 signatories and distributed to the states for ratification.

How did the Constitutional Convention’s product create an altered relationship between state governments and the new national government? What did the ratification of the Constitution mean for national unity?

This event featured Eric Nelson, Robert M. Beren Professor of Government at Harvard University; James Stoner, Hermann Moyse, Jr., Professor and Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute in the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University; Jack Rakove, William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and professor of political science at Stanford University. The discussion was moderated by Barry Shain, Associate Professor of Political Science at Colgate University.

In 1675, the Wampanoag chief Metacom (known as Philip), rejected the alliance that his father Massasoit had forged with the New England colonists. Wampanoag and Narragansett raiding parties attacked villages throughout New England, and Governor Josiah Winslow marshaled 1,000 men, one of the largest colonial armies seen up to that time, to fight back. Tensions rose to a fever pitch, and in less than a year nearly half the towns in New England had been attacked, with over a dozen towns destroyed. Plymouth and Rhode Island's economies were in free-fall, and the Wampanoags and Narragansetts were all but wiped out. Hundreds lost their lives, and the war is widely considered one of the deadliest in Colonial history.

What did this war mean for American identity? And why is it almost forgotten today?

This webinar features Lt. Col. Jason Warren, cybersecurity, defense, and information consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton’s defense business; Prof. Philip Ranlet, Associate Professor of History at Hunter College. He is also the author of The New York Loyalists and Enemies of the Bay Colony; and Mr. Michael Tougias, a New York Times Bestselling author and author of The Finest Hours, Ten Hours Until Dawn, and Fatal Forecast. The discussion was moderated by David Randall, Research Director at the National Association of Scholars.

There are many dates that vie for the year that America was truly founded: 1619, as the New York Times argues; 1620, as we discussed in our last webinar; 1789, the year of the Constitution’s adoption; and 1863, at the rebirth of a nation through a bloody civil war and the heavy words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But for most Americans, no date can contend with the actual date of America’s birth in the words penned by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

In 1776, a collection of unruly colonies stood up to their king, declared independence, and formed a new nation. Each year, we Americans celebrate this event on July 4th, our Independence Day.

But is 1776 truly America’s founding year? Europeans colonized the New World for nearly 200 years before the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence. Does marking the nation’s founding in 1776 remove part of the story of America?

Notably, the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution failed to provide equal rights for most inhabitants of America for nearly 200 years after King George sent a fleet to quash the foundling uprising. Does celebrating the year 1776 exclude those who were unable to receive equal rights?

This webinar features Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic; Bob Woodson, founder and president of the Woodson Center and 1776 Unites; and Jason Ross, associate professor and associate dean of Liberty University's Helms School of Government. The discussion was moderated by Bruce Gilley, Professor of Political Science at Portland State University and a member of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Scholars.

In 1620, a ship carrying 102 religious separatists and other settlers sailed from England to found a new home in the recently established Virginia colony. Storms pushed the ship off course, draining supplies and forcing those aboard the ship to make a decision: maintain their original course, risking starvation and praying the ship holds together long enough, or drop anchor and go ashore to settle this new land?

The occupants of the Mayflower picked their best option: drop anchor and settle a suitable spot of land nearest them. This decision made, another arose: who rules us now? With the new settlement far from the Virginia colony, the non-Pilgrims (“strangers”) aboard claimed that the charter they had signed with the Virginia Company was void. To promote social order in the new colony, and to prevent a mutiny that would destroy the effort in the New World before it began, the Pilgrims proposed a set of temporary laws to govern the colonists. This document, signed by the 41 adult men aboard the ship, became the first compact of self-government, voluntarily accepted, by settlers of what would become the United States of America.

The Mayflower Compact, as we know it today, produced a self-governing body to set laws and dispense justice.

Although this document’s importance is shrouded today by the likes of the 1619 Project and other polemical accounts of America’s founding, we argue that the year 1620 is a better fit for understanding the founding of the American republic. Self-determination and government brought about by social contract under a higher power define the American experience and its Constitution.

This webinar features Daniel Dreisbach, a professor of American legal culture at American University’s School of Public Affairs; Mark David Hall, the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics at George Fox University; and Peter W. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars and author of 1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project.


Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

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