2020 Online Teacher Seminars

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Thematic Seminars across Eras

African American History since Emancipation

Peniel Joseph, University of Texas at Austin

This seminar examines African American history from emancipation to the present, focusing on the struggle of African Americans to achieve full citizenship in the aftermath of legal slavery. In particular, it considers the promise and demise of citizenship represented by Reconstruction, the era of breathtaking anti-black violence and terror known as “Redemption,” and the Great Migrations of African Americans from the South to the North.

The seminar studies the rise of Jim Crow, the roots of black political organizing in the early twentieth century, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It concludes by exploring the transformative effect on American politics of the Black Power Movement and considers how an understanding of its importance compels us to rethink the civil rights era. The seminar also looks ahead to the decades since, when African Americans have continued to wage intense campaigns against racism and other forms of social injustice.

American Immigration History

Vincent J. Cannato, University of Massachusetts, Boston

This seminar explores the struggles and achievements of major groups who journeyed to a new home in the United States, including Irish, Italian, Jewish, Asian, and Latino Americans. Historian Vincent Cannato, author of the acclaimed American Passage: The History of Ellis Island, leads a consideration of questions involving exclusion and inclusion; patterns of settlement; questions of race, gender, and ethnicity; and the evolution of federal government policy.

American Indian History

Colin G. Calloway, Dartmouth College

This seminar guides participants through a broad and deep exploration of American Indian history through a series of case studies, including early encounters; the Lewis and Clark expedition; and persistence in the face of government expansion, removal, and assimilation policies. Historian Colin Calloway, Professor of History and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College, guides this broad and deep consideration of the earliest North Americans.

The American Presidency

Meg Jacobs, Princeton University, and
Julian E. Zelizer, Princeton University
Note: Q&As for this seminar will be led by Jeffrey A. Engel, Southern Methodist University

This seminar takes an in-depth look at the history and powers of the executive office through case studies of six twentieth- and twenty-first-century presidents:

  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Lyndon Johnson
  • Richard Nixon
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Barack Obama

Through the examination of these modern presidents, participants will develop an understanding of the evolution of presidential power in relation to other branches of government, and in the country more generally. Seminar materials include optional selected readings from a number of texts as well as archival audio and video. Lectures are organized in interview format, with two lectures devoted to each president.

Black Writers in American History

John Stauffer, Harvard University

Through exemplary works of literature, this seminar examines the writings of African American poets, novelists, and essayists, and considers how their perspectives have shaped history for all Americans. Professor John Stauffer of Harvard University introduces participants to literary works that stretch across American history, including (but not limited to) the writings of Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Conflict and Reform: The United States 1877–1920

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University

This seminar is about the history of the United States during a period of great social change and conflict. Over these four decades, the United States became a predominantly urban and industrial nation, a nation of immigrants and wage-earners, an imperial nation, and a nation where progressive reform was the order of the day—though its definition and aims were furiously contested. We will seek to understand how and why these tumultuous changes occurred—and who gained and who lost in the process.

The History of American Protest

John Stauffer, Harvard University

This interdisciplinary seminar examines the rich tradition of progressive protest literature in the United States from the American Revolution to the rise of globalization, hip-hop, and modern-day slavery. Using a broad definition of “protest literature,” we focus on the production and consumption of dissent as a site of social critique, using a wide variety of print, visual, and oral forms.

We examine the historical links between forms of protest, social change, and meanings of literature; and we explore how various expressions of dissent function as political, ideological, rhetorical, aesthetic, and performative texts within specific cultural contexts. Documents highlighted in this seminar range from novels and political pamphlets to photographs, music, sociology, and history.

How Literature Shaped History: Antislavery Writers 1688 to 1865

James G. Basker, Barnard College

Discover the antislavery writers and reformers of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries whose passionate words formed the vanguard of a global movement. Join Gilder Lehrman and James G. Basker of Barnard College in a study of the poetry, fiction, sermons, slave narratives, and songs that helped end American slavery and make human rights an expectation of people throughout the world.

Race and Rights in America

Lucas Morel, Washington & Lee University

This seminar will explore the diverse political philosophies of influential black Americans as they sought to secure their dignity as human beings and rights as citizens. What makes this story intriguing is that black Americans struggled to secure justice for themselves on the basis of principles white Americans professed to hold near and dear. Quite simply, black Americans asked that America be true to herself. As Frederick Douglass put it: “Not a Negro problem, not a race problem, but a national problem; whether the American people will ultimately administer equal justice to all the varieties of the human race in this Republic.” America answered by being true, to one extent or another, to the principle of consent. American blacks asked her to be true to that other American principle, equality. This seminar examines the fundamental tension between human equality and government by consent, a tension present at the birth of the American Union in 1776.

The tension between freedom and equality forms the context for the struggle of black Americans—nay, all Americans—to exercise their rights as citizens. A critical evaluation of leading black thinkers in American political thought helps one understand what it means to be both an American citizen and a civilized human being.

The South in American History

Edward L. Ayers, University of Richmond

The South has played a central role in American history from the first permanent English colony through the United States of today. Join Gilder Lehrman and Edward L. Ayers of the University of Richmond to look south for American history.

Trace the role of the South in American history across four centuries, exploring the creation of the largest and most powerful slave society of the modern world and the attempt to create a new independent nation to sustain that society charting the ending of slavery for four million people, the social transformations that followed in Reconstruction, and the upheavals of the first New South, and documenting the world of segregation in the twentieth century, the overthrow of that system, and the emergence of the complicated and sometimes conflicted South we know today The seminar includes a broad range of historical actors as active participants in the story, incorporating economics, politics, religion, and culture. Innovative digital tools and virtual tours will help participants see this history in new ways.

The Supreme Court and the Constitution in the 20th Century

Melvin I. Urofsky, Virginia Commonwealth University

The Constitution is the founding document of the United States. Yet ever since the process of ratification, the document’s meaning—and questions about who gets to decide its meaning—have spurred pitched political battles, campaigns for elected office and social change, and arguments among ordinary voters from all walks of life. Americans have debated the question of what the Constitution means in courtrooms and legislatures, at lunch counters and on picket lines, outside medical clinics and in schools. Studying the Constitution in the twentieth century means learning about how law, society, politics, and culture all interact.

Through examination of nine defining cases and themes, the seminar explores how regular people, social movement activists and organizations, politicians, scholars, lawyers, and judges have fought about what the Constitution should mean inside and outside of the courtroom:

  • Lochner v. New York (1905) and the Role of the Constitution in the Workplace and the Economy
  • Debs v. United States (1918), Schenck v. United States (1919), Abrams v. United States (1919), Whitney v. California (1927) and the Rise of Free Speech
  • Korematsu v. United States (1944) and Changing Ideas of Citizenship and Belonging
  • Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Struggle for Racial Equality
  • Roe v. Wade (1972), the Abortion Debate, and Women’s Rights
  • Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and the Gay Rights Movement

In the process of studying the meaning of the Constitution throughout the twentieth century, the seminar looks at how we remain integral parts of the process of constitutional change today.

Women and Gender in 19th-Century America

Stephanie McCurry, Columbia University
Note: Q&As for this seminar will be led by Catherine Clinton, University of Texas at Austin

This seminar provides the opportunity to engage with critical historical questions about the position and role of women in the new American republic and about the struggle to redefine relations of power between the genders. In ways that are not well understood, these matters of women and gender were central, not marginal, to the ongoing transformation of American life in the nineteenth century: to the emerging and highly contested sphere of democratic politics in the aftermath of the Revolution; to the imperial ambitions of the United States on the continent and abroad; to the struggle over slavery, emancipation, Civil War, and race that launched the second republic (as we might think of it); and to the new political economy and culture of industrializing America.

Using a combination of primary sources and key contributions to the secondary literature, the seminar focuses on six different moments in the nineteenth century when the matter of women and gender was tied up with fundamental struggles over the nature of the republic itself. The seminar adopts a view of the “long nineteenth century,” spanning roughly the period from the American Revolution to the early twentieth century. It will move between canonical subjects (Abigail Adams, Catherine Beecher, the Grimke sisters, and Ida B. Wells) and debates and other crucial but far less-studied examples. Throughout, there will be a focus on the theme of marriage and the way it functions both to set the normative identity of adult women (as wives) and as a foundational institution of political life, structuring the domestic polity and the international order alike.

Additionally, teachers should come out of the seminar with the knowledge and tools to integrate women’s history and gender into the K–12 curriculum and to move beyond any sense of women’s history as an extraneous, separate, or inessential subject.

Women and Politics in 20th-Century America

Linda Gordon, New York University
Note: Q&As for this seminar will be led by Lisa Tetrault, Carnegie Mellon University 

This seminar examines the struggles and successes of American women in fighting for equality in American politics, life, and culture, from the movement for suffrage through campaigns for fair wages.

Led by esteemed historian Linda Gordon, one of only three historians ever to win the Bancroft Prize twice, seminar participants study grassroots political activism, landmark court decisions, significant achievements in the arts, and the intersection of work on behalf of women’s rights in the United States with other galvanizing movements for equality at home and abroad. We also consider the evolving role of gender in mediating political discourse and social relations in the United States, and study important distinctions in activism and opportunity shaped by race, geography, economics, and marriage.

The World at War

Michael S. Neiberg, United States Army War College

The years 1914 to 1945 created the America we know. They established the United States as a world political and economic power, if a sometimes ambivalent one. They also shaped the social and economic patterns that characterized the country for decades afterward, sometimes in surprising and unanticipated ways.

Join Gilder Lehrman and professor Michael Neiberg in examining the role of the two world wars in shaping modern American history, and studying scholarly interpretations of what the years 1914 to 1945 meant both for America’s role in the world and for the changes to life inside the United States.

Colonization and Settlement, 1585–1763

Colonial North America

John Fea, Messiah College

Too often the history of the “American colonies” focuses on the thirteen British provinces that rebelled against the mother country in 1776 and formed what became known as the United States. While such an approach allows us to understand the British roots of our current national identity, it fails to do justice to those regions of North America (many of which eventually became part of the United States) and those people and groups that did not participate in the grand experiment of American independence.

Join the Gilder Lehrman Institute and Professor John Fea in examining North American history during the period of European colonization. Rather than thinking about this period as a necessary forerunner to the American Revolution or the birth of the United States, the seminar looks at colonial life on its own terms, and examines the British, French, Spanish, and Dutch colonial experiences.

The American Revolution, 1763–1783

The Age of Jefferson

Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia and Monticello

Join the Gilder Lehrman Institute and University of Virginia professor Peter Onuf to explore Jefferson’s career and thought, and discover the momentous developments that defined Jefferson’s Age, from the imperial crisis through his presidency. Jefferson’s eloquent writings illuminate the history of resistance, revolution, and nation-making that led once-loyal subjects of King George III to claim an independent place among “the powers of the earth.”

The Declaration of Independence articulates the fundamental principles on which the new American nation was founded. Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author, played a crucial role in the Revolution that destroyed the British Empire and in the creation of a new republican regime that he and his fellow founders hoped would initiate a “new order of the ages.”

Alexander Hamilton’s America

Carol Berkin, Baruch College, City University of New York

Alexander Hamilton is very much the man of the moment, but he was equally a man of his times. This seminar puts Hamilton in the context of the colonial and Revolutionary eras to help us fully understand both where he came from and the impact he had on American government and politics.

In the seminar, participants will come to appreciate the many ways in which Hamilton’s story opens up multiple perspectives on US history. From the close economic connections between the Caribbean and mainland colonies of the British empire, to the importance of cities in the developing nation, to the workings of gossip and innuendo in society, to the context for the writing of the US Constitution and the challenges the republic faced in the first decade of the federal government, Hamilton’s life has much to teach us. In each session, renowned historian Carol Berkin is joined by Founding Era scholars to deepen participants’ understanding of Hamilton’s transformative character, and the times in which he lived.

Revolutionary America

Denver Brunsman, George Washington University

The American Revolution is arguably the most significant event in U.S. history. Put simply, without the Revolution, the United States as we know it would not exist. And yet, the Revolution is also one of the events in American history most misunderstood by the general public. It is a much more complex, surprising event than most Americans realize. Participants will gain insight into new scholarly approaches to traditional subjects, including American resistance to British rule, the decision for independence, and America’s victory in the Revolutionary War.

In addition, participants will consider marginalized figures and groups, including loyalists, women, African Americans, and American Indians, who challenge conventional interpretations of the Revolution. Finally, the seminar examines how the Revolution gave birth to a new – and fractious – style of politics under the Articles of Confederation and US Constitution. In this seminar, participants will engage in a project as timeless as the Revolution itself: interpreting what exactly American independence meant for the inhabitants of North America and the world.

Women in the American Revolution

Carol Berkin, Baruch College, City University of New York

This seminar examines the many roles women played in the War for Independence, from the earliest protests and boycotts to the American victory at Yorktown. It also looks at the changing gender roles and ideal—from “notable housewife” to “Republican woman” spurred by women’s participation in the creation of the new republic. The seminar does not focus solely on white women who favored independence. It also looks at the impact on the course of the war of Native American, African American, and Loyalist women as well as the impact of the colonial victory on their communities and their lives. Over the course of these lectures you will encounter—probably for the first time—women propagandists, poets, and fund-raisers; thousands of women who traveled with the army; and the many spies, messengers, soldiers, and saboteurs who risked their lives to aid the political cause they embraced.

The New Nation, 1783–1815

Democracy in the Early Republic

Andrew W. Robertson, The Graduate Center and Lehman College, City University of New York

Explore the evolving concept of democracy in the Early American Republic from the 1790s to the eve of the Civil War, when the possibilities of the revolution were first explored and tested. Through primary source documents and virtual field trips, participants will examine how changes in presidential elections, popular press, and the emerging political issues of the period influenced the structure and values of American democracy.

Foundations of American Government

Denver Brunsman, George Washington University


This seminar, part of the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s new History Essentials series and geared to elementary teachers, examines the “why” and the “how” of American government through in-depth discussion of its history and workings. Professor Brunsman begins with the early trial and error of American government, detailing the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the flawed initial attempt at governance in the Articles of Confederation, and the debates over the US Constitution. The seminar continues with a practical examination of the three branches of government, focusing not only on the work that each branch does but the interaction between the branches. Finally, the seminar focuses on linkage institutions, including interest groups, political parties, and the media, that connect Americans with their government and influence their votes.

This online seminar is aligned with the needs of elementary school teachers. For more resources for elementary school teachers, visit our Elementary Curriculum I: Colonial America to Reconstruction to explore a timeline, lesson plans, student activity sheets, and interactive maps.

National Expansion and Reform, 1815–1860

The American West

Elliott West, University of Arkansas

The American West has played an enduring role in the popular culture of the nation and the world. The images are familiar: cowboys and cattle drives, Indian wars, wagon trains, rowdy mining towns, and homesteaders. All in fact were part of the story, but behind the color and drama of films, novels, and art were developments critical to the creation of the modern American nation and its rise as a global economic, political, and military power. The West was as well a showplace of the industrial, social, technological, and scientific forces remaking the world beyond America. This seminar will trace the expansion of the United States to the Pacific, the exploration of the West, the defeat and dispossession, and profound tragedy of its Native peoples, and environmental transformations matched at few if any other places on earth. Within all of this were compelling human stories that are part of our collective national identity.

Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861–1877

The American Civil War

Allen C. Guelzo, Princeton University

A four-year cataclysm that left in its wake more than six hundred thousand dead and two million refugees—and destroyed legal slavery in the United States—the Civil War sparked some of the most heroic and achingly dark moments in American history. Join Gilder Lehrman and Allen C. Guelzo of Gettysburg College in a study of the war’s strategy, tactics, and memory, and consider the legacy of the Civil War 150 years after its end.


James Oakes, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

The emancipation of four million slaves during the Civil War was the single most revolutionary social transformation in American history. This seminar considers the complex process that took several generations to complete, from the American Revolution to Reconstruction, including the “first emancipation” during the American Revolution, the growth of an antislavery movement committed to ending slavery through federal policies, the implementation of these policies and their aftermath during Reconstruction, and the social history of emancipation. This seminar considers not only the policymakers in Washington, but the role of slaves and Union soldiers in the wartime emancipation process, the obstacles to emancipation, and the postwar struggle to secure freedom and expand its meaning.

The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass

David W. Blight, Yale University

These twelve lectures, the readings, and the discussions probe the nature of the life, the work, and the thought of the nineteenth-century abolitionist, orator, and author Frederick Douglass. We will examine in depth the public and private sides of Douglass’s life, his importance as a thinker, and as a political activist in the great dramas of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

The Progressive Era to the New Era, 1900–1929

The Era of Theodore Roosevelt

Bruce Schulman, Boston University

This seminar examines how the era of Theodore Roosevelt, the final years of the nineteenth century and opening decades of the twentieth, gave birth to the modern United States.

As Americans knit together national markets for goods and national audiences for cultural products like film and recorded music, they created new instruments of governmental power, undertook a constitutional revolution (four amendments in a single decade) and fashioned a new role for the United States in the world.

At the same time, city growth and mass immigration changed the face, and the faces—of the nation, initiating conflicts over and efforts to deal with diversity that continue to shape American life.

The Great Depression and World War II, 1929–1945

World War II

Michael S. Neiberg, United States Army War College

This seminar aims to put context and nuance into the traditional American views of the Second World War. Although keeping the American experience at the center, it will always view that experience through a global lens. We will challenge some of the myths and half-truths that Hollywood has bequeathed to Americans about the war, while also bringing to light some arguments that have emerged from the latest scholarship on themes like the home front, the actual fighting of the war, and the processes of peacemaking. This is not the seminar to learn more about George Patton and his tanks; it is intended to be a serious, scholarly, and objective analysis of the interplay between American, world, and military history during the most destructive war ever.

1945 to the Present

Famous Trials in American History

Jack Ford, Yale University, and host of PBS’ Metrofocus

This seminar examines twelve of the most famous trials of the past century, focusing on the legal significance, historical and political context, social implications, and media coverage surrounding each case. Through a combination of lectures, court testimonies, newspaper articles, and more, participants will consider what role politics, race, gender, religion, and celebrity played in these explosive cases:

  • The Charles Lindbergh Jr. kidnapping case
  • The OJ Simpson trial
  • The murder trials of Dr. Sam Sheppard
  • The trial and lynching of Leo Frank
  • The Scopes "Monkey" trial
  • The Emmett Till murder case
  • The Scottsboro boys trial
  • The Rodney King assault case
  • The Rosenberg espionage case
  • The "Chicago Seven Conspiracy" trial
  • The impeachment of President William Clinton
  • The My Lai massacre court-martials

The Kennedy Presidency

Barbara A. Perry, University of Virginia Miller Center

More than 50 years after its tragic end, the presidency of John F. Kennedy continues to be the focus of scholars, educators, biographers, journalists, politicians, advertisers, students, and citizens of the nation and the world. Join Gilder Lehrman and Professor Barbara Perry of the University of Virginia to examine why a mere thousand-day presidency continues to attract such universal attention to this day.

Discover the strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures of the 35th president of the United States. This seminar examines JFK’s biography, career, rhetoric, and policies, including on the Cold War, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the Peace Corps, civil rights, the space race, and the arts, to gain both knowledge of and perspective on the Camelot era.

The Vietnam War

Fredrik Logevall, Harvard University

This seminar covers the long struggle for Vietnam, waged between 1940 and 1975, with particular attention to the period of direct American involvement. The events will be considered in their relationship to Vietnam’s history, to US politics and society, and to the concurrent Cold War.



Register for your Online Teacher Seminar-Seminars go live June 14