Great Courses: Origins and Ideologies Of The American Revolution: Part Three, taught by Peter Mancall
Perhaps surprisingly, a course that talks about the origins and ideologies of the American Revolution spends little time talking about the revolution itself . It is to perhaps be expected that the professor would have little knowledge or interest in matters of military history. These matters are of immense popularity, to be sure, but are not areas that are popular to academics like this one. It is revealing that the author is so interested in ideologies, as they are matters that one can play word games with. One can discuss the thought process of the English in their various strategies to win the American Revolution, or talk about the way that the weakness of the Articles of Confederation were not all bad because they included one anti-slavery act, which the professor clearly revels in, but one can tell that he does not want to deal with issues of life or death importance that cannot be argued against with mere words. As a result, this particular part of the lecture was among the most disappointing one could imagine, since talking about war without having knowledge of or interest in military history removes a great deal of the pleasure or worth of one’s efforts.
The lectures in this part of the course begin with a discussion of the Declaration of Independence (25) and what was not included in it, before looking briefly at the war for New York and New Jersey (26) and the battles of Saratoga, the battles for Philadelphia, and the American experience at Valley Forge (27). The author is moving in talking about suffering soldiers and logistics but unskilled at talking about matters of tactics and operations. After that comes a look at the development of state constitution (28), Jefferson’s statute in Virginia for religious freedom, which the author is a bit too sanguine about (29), and the experience of Franklin in Paris as America’s chief diplomat there (30). Then there are discussions about the Articles of Confederation (31) before the author returns briefly to Yorktown and the end of the war (32). The rest of the lectures in this part of the class look at the Treaty of Paris, examining some of its notable provisions (33), the crises of the 1780s that led many Americans to despair over the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation (34), the African American experience in the Revolution (35), and the goings on and setup of the Constitutional convention (36).
It is testament to the author’s lack of expertise and lack of skill in talking about matters of great importance that he makes this compelling and deeply intriguing experience of American history seem almost boring. The author spends a great deal of time talking about what the British wanted to do with their failed pincer attack in 1777 that led to defeat at Saratoga and their failed Southern strategy, but fails to talk about the American response in any great detail–perhaps the instructor assumes that listeners will already know about the genius of Greene and others. Likewise, the author pooh poohs Shay’s rebellion as no big deal rather than looking at the seriousness of the problem of Congress’ inability to pay what was owed to veterans of the Revolution, a continuing area of trouble in American military history, and manages to spend a significant amount of time talking about hunting rights in America’s state constitutions, and how he could not believe those were about fundamental matters, which is at best a matter of tone deafness and a reminder that people should not talk about what they do not understand unless they are curious about knowing more about the importance of firearms and their fair use in American conceptions of liberty. All in all, this professor is not shrouding himself in glory with these lectures.
 See, for example: