Eric Foner on the Civil War and Reconstruction Part Two

Here’s the second part of the course.  This section has 56 videos, again most of them around 10 to 11 minutes long.

Professor Foner is most definitely not a military historian, and this section, which supposedly covers the war, is notable for the paucity of discussion of battles and military factors of the war.  If you’re looking to be able to have a framework for understanding the battles, strategy, and tactics, you’re not going to get that from this section; however, you’ll get a good overview of the political factors affecting the war.

You can see this section’s hangout with Professor Foner answering questions here:

He talks about the question of whether Lincoln was a dictator here:

He discusses whether Lincoln was the greatest politician here:

In this conversation he talks about the coming of Emancipation:

Here he talks about Lincoln and the Radicals, as well as politics in the confederacy:

This conversation deals with what the Republicans did as the majority in Congress:

Here he talks about riots in both the loyal states and the confederacy:

This is a conversation about the structural transformation that led to the end of slavery:

In this conversation, Professor Foner talks about what he learned in researching and writing about Lincoln:

He has a session with his teaching assistants discussing black enlistment here:

There’s a conversation with Professor Foner on how the Civil War is taught in schools:

Professor Foner has a message for teachers here:



  1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    So what is the problem with the second course of the series? He did not focus on the military history. A course on military history would be nice, but it didn’t fit in with Foner’s objectives for the course. A MOOC would be a great way to transmit military history by the way. In fact, it might be a way for the MOOC to actually make money and reach a large audience because it would not be aimed at an academic audience.
    Something to consider there, Al.

    1. We are talking about a war, Jimmy. I think if you’re giving a course on the history of a war you ought to include the war itself in that course. I don’t expect him to get into the details of every battle, but someone who took this course could be forgiven for thinking no battles were fought in the war.

      1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

        When it comes to teaching it is always a matter of what to put in and what to leave out. My survey course is so full of stuff that I only mention a few battles because there are far more important things the students need to know than the names of a bunch of battles. They get a few key ones and that’s it. In Foner’s course he had a lot of information to transfer to the students. The military details would fit better in a course designed to teach them.

        What should he have taken out to out what in? As an instructor I realize that I will never satisfy everyone and I’m sure Foner with his vast experience realized that too. I think he did perfectly fine. He focused on the big picture and the course series reflected that from beginning to end.

        1. I think if a student is in a class that purports to be about the Civil War, they should leave the class with an idea of the chronology of the war, and that includes the battles. They should have an idea of who the major commanders were. They should have an idea of what armies fought the war. They should have some sense that this was a war, and that a war demands sacrifices. The price is paid in blood and tears, and a student should leave the class with some understanding of that. The class I took in college gave us that sense. Gary Gallagher’s class gives us that sense. Neither are military history classes, but they both recognize that we’re talking about a war. If you’re not going to talk about the war, then your class is not about the Civil War. By calling it “The Civil War,” you’re just lying to the students. Perhaps this section of the MOOC would be better titled “The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.” Rather than leaving the military details for a nonexistent military history class, how about leaving some of the political details for a political and social history of the era?

          Note: I’m using a generic “you,” not referring to you, personally, Jimmy.

          1. Jimmy Dick · ·

            I went through that course and never blinked an eye about its content. From what I recall neither did anyone else. I am going through the videos right now and I see Ft. Sumter, Bull Run, McClellan and the Peninsular Campaign, Gettyburg, Vicksburg, Atlanta and Sherman’s March and the end of the War. Each lesson of the course had a theme and they dealt with the military side of the conflict in some cases. The role of black soldiers was highlighted. The reasons the Confederacy lost were highlighted.

            I think he did a very good job. He focused on the issues and why things turned out the way they did. What happens on the battlefield is important, but so is what happens off of it. The Civil War was won on both accounts, but without the ability to sustain its forces south of the Rappahannock River in Virginia and the armies in the West, the Union would not have won the war. The CSA could not sustain its forces north of the Potomac or on any offense. Understanding the reasons behind that are key to understanding why the war occurred as it did.

            Does Gallagher have a MOOC? I’m avoiding Coursera and EdX right now because I really need to focus on my doctoral study instead of watching their videos which are so fun to watch. I had to struggle to make time for Foner’s courses which absolutely wonderful.

          2. I didn’t say he did a terrible job, just that his coverage of the military aspects was too light, in my opinion. He barely mentioned the military aspects. Gallagher has a class in the Great Courses series from The Teaching Company.

  2. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    I respect your opinion, Al. We all have our perspectives on what should be in a course or not. I hear the comments all the time from students along with other people who think everything should be in a survey course, including other instructors. That’s one thing about being an instructor. I can’t please everyone, but then that is not my job. It is to teach students. No two instructors are the same and that is not a bad thing really.

    I will have to look at the Teaching Company later. My study and development of Mobile Learning Technology is sucking up all of my spare time for the next eight months.

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