The American Mind

A few months ago I gave in and reactivated my Audible account. I never did all that much with it, just retrieve a freebie. Normally I would listen to all kinds of podcasts, but I find my interests have narrowed over the years. And even though there are more podcasts than ever right now, I still have a hard time finding productions that hit that sweet spot for me.

And it’s no wonder: my sweet spot is intellectual history. They’re not exactly lining up for that one. My favorite is Al Mohler’s Thinking in Public, but unfortunately there are only a few episodes released each year. Otherwise I’ve had to scrounge a little here and there, and rely on the few academic courses I could find for free.

I still listen to podcasts on other topics, but when it comes to this area of intellectual history I’ve given up and started supplementing with audiobooks.

What has me geeked this week is an audiobook I downloaded from The Teaching Company called The American Mind. (The author, Allen Guelzo, was actually interviewed on Mohler’s podcast a few years ago.) He’s an engaging speaker, and the subject matter could not be more interesting to me. So far he’s traced the history of the Puritans and the Enlightenment(s), and their influences on the first higher educational institutions in the New World.

I’m only a few lectures in, so I won’t attempt to treat the work as a whole, but I love that this series is sensitive to both the religious and Enlightenment influences on American thought.

By contrast, another excellent series on American intellectual history comes from one of those free courses I mentioned, specifically out of UC Berkeley.

(Quick aside: I was going to link to it for you, but I just found out that Berkeley was forced to pull all their free courses because of a ridiculous lawsuit. You can read about it here. They made lots of top-notch education available for free, and it’s incredibly sad that this is how they were repaid for their trouble! It sounds like there are ways to find copies, but I haven’t vetted them yet, so proceed with caution.)

I listened to this UC Berkeley course probably three or four times and learned something each time. It did a great job of drawing connections between political, social, and philosophical movements. It told the story of how we got from colonial life to the new liberal and conservative movements of the 20th century.

But it paid little to no attention to religious movements. What’s there is fantastic, but there are gaps in the story—there always are, no matter who is telling it.

So I’m thrilled to fill in some of these gaps with this lecture series. If I had been smart I would have set up some account to monetize a referral, but I didn’t. I just want you to know where the good stuff is. If you know of anything in this vein, I’m counting on you to reciprocate. We’re all in this together!

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