Lecture 1: History and Mythistory


The lecture provides a working definition of History and a rationale for its study. It also lays out a model, or interpretation, for application to subjects studied throughout the course. Warning: students often tend to disregard introductory lectures such as this because they are heavy on theory and light on facts. Don’t make this mistake. Ideas and terms from this lecture will be used and tested.


Outline of Lecture


Most people say they hated History in school, but public interest in History is abundant and growing.

What Is History?

We’re dealing with History as as subject, as an academic discipline. It is one of those disciplines called the Humanities. The Humanities study the human condition through texts, or documents. In History we try to understand human events by examining their origins.

What Is History Good for?

History, simply put, is experience. Experience, History, is important first as a tool for making decisions, for judgment. It has another important purpose, too: identity. History tells us who we are.

Themes for the Course

What is an American? In this course we look for the origins of American nationhood. They lie in the American people(s), the American environment, and the American constitution.

Download Lecture 1




Professor Isern’s remarks about reading and discussing Tocqueville – background and initial questions

Tocqueville online – review introductory and background material on this classic text


Uses and Applications of History, Prof. Isern’s page, which ties closely to lecture content

Film Review

No film recommendations pertaining to this lecture.

Book Review

Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me

Have some fun with this—figure out all the stuff we’re teaching you wrong in the course!

Thelen, Presence of the Past

These four books are recommended only for History majors or people with a serious interest in the state of History, because they deal with matters of theory and the profession rather than with the story of American history.

McNeill, Mythistory

Krieger, Ranke: The Meaning of History

Becker, Everyman His Own Historian

Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer

A classic in the literature of the early republic, Crevecoeur’s Letters are cited here because they furnish the big question for the course: “What is this American, this new man?”

Cross, Justin Smith Morrill

A sound and recent biography of the founder of America’s land-grant universities.