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Native Peoples of North America

Native Peoples of North America

Professor Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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Native Peoples of North America

In partnership with
Professor Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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4 out of 5
50 Reviews
72% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 8131
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  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for diagrams, illustrations, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. While the video version can be considered lightly illustrated, there are hundreds of graphics provided by the Smithsonian, hundreds of maps, 3-D animations, and text provided on the screen for tribal names and other key terms, which may help reinforce material for visual learners.
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • How Native Americans kept or lost their lands through treaties, war, and negotiations.
  • What it meant to walk the Trail of Tears and the impact of removal on tribal nations.
  • The impact of lesser-known activists such as Hunkpapa Gall, the Oglala Crazy Horse, and the Northern Cheyenne Wooden Leg.
  • The contemporary struggle, including gaming, repatriation, religious freedom, federal recognition, self-government, legal jurisdiction, and resource development.

Course Overview

History, for all its facts and figures, names and dates, is ultimately subjective. You learn the points of view your teachers provide, the perspectives that books offer, and the conclusions you draw yourself based on the facts you were given. Hearing different angles on historical events gives you a more insightful, more accurate, and more rewarding understanding of events – especially when a new viewpoint challenges the story you thought you knew.

Now, The Great Courses has partnered with Smithsonian to bring you a course that will greatly expand your understanding of American history. This course, Native Peoples of North America, pairs the unmatched resources and expertise of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian with the unparalleled knowledge of Professor Daniel M. Cobb of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to provide a multidisciplinary view of American history, revealing new perspectives on the historical and contemporary experiences of Indigenous peoples, and their significant impact on the history of our country. Professor Cobb brings his experience as an author and teacher to recount an absolutely fascinating, larger-than-life story across a timespan of more than 500 years.

This insightful and unique 24-lecture course is filled with images and rare artifacts from Smithsonian’s famed collections, and informed by fascinating insights from Smithsonian historians. The National Museum of the American Indian, headquartered on the National Mall and visited by millions of Americans every year, is dedicated to the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of the Native Americans of the Western Hemisphere. Museum input into this course—both in helping to shape the riveting curriculum as allowing use of their spectacular collections—has allowed us create a truly engaging course that will thoroughly change your understanding of American history.

Unlearn What You Thought You Knew

One of the first myths Professor Cobb dispels is the Eurocentric view of the “Old World” and the “New World.” Noting that this terminology is the root of many narrow views, he proceeds to challenge stereotypical representations of American Indian history in each lecture. Many of the topics he shares will initially appear familiar until he presents the components and perspectives you were likely not taught.

Showcasing rare, historic artifacts and images from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, National Anthropological Archives, National Portrait Gallery, American Art Museum and Smithsonian Institution Archives, every lecture of this fascinating course helps disprove myths and stereotypes that many people take as fact. Narrating along with these dazzling visuals, you’ll hear Professor Cobb present a different account—or some new perspectives on—the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, Cherokee removal, the Civil War, and the Indian Wars. You’ll delve into the seemingly familiar story of Westward Expansion—the pioneer trails, the Gold Rush, the Transcontinental Railroad—to discover the stories of the American Indian people who fought and negotiated to preserve their ancestral lands. Professor Cobb debunks many of the myths that you’ve taken as fact by providing the alternative side of the story:

  • You’ll learn that the impression many of us were given about European “discoverers” conquering and controlling the Native Americans was grossly exaggerated. Native Americans remained in positions of power from the beginning and through succeeding centuries.
  • You’ll hear the truth behind the many-times misinterpreted story of Pocahontas. She did not save John Smith’s life, nor did she and John Smith fall in love (and it is unclear whether she fell in love with her colonial husband John Rolfe). Professor Cobb dismisses these fairy tale versions and provides the (much more interesting) true story behind this supposedly well-known Native American heroine.
  • You’ll explore how Native Americans viewed, participated in, and used the Revolutionary War to form strategic alliances. Thought to be simply a clash between colonists and the British, Native American nations pushed back against a peace treaty that didn’t involve them in order to have a seat at the table.

The Impact of Colonization

The early colonial period introduced the Columbian Exchange, which created “new worlds for all” by transforming the lives of Indigenous peoples and Europeans alike. The Columbian Exchange refers to the transference of plants, animals, and diseases between the Americas and Eurasia and Africa that began with Christopher Columbus. It is quite an understatement to say the Columbian Exchange changed everything. In fact, the processes and consequences of this convergence are overwhelming in their complexity and their ramifications can still be felt today. Consider the following:

  • Coffee, pears, bananas, flour, queso, pilsners, peaches, apples, and cream are just a few of the staples we take for granted that wouldn’t become part of the modern American diet until they were introduced from abroad as a result of the Columbian Exchange.
  • On the flip side, Native Americans introduced colonials (and thus the world) to maize or corn, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, and manioc or cassava, as well as peanuts, tomatoes, cocoa, squash and pumpkins, pineapples, papaya, and avocados. These commodities then helped define the cuisines of other countries. As Professor Cobb asks, can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes?
  • Dandelions, sow thistle, shepherd’s purse, clover, and turf grass wouldn’t exist in North America unless the colonials had brought them. Without turf grass, football, soccer, and baseball and America’s lawns would be quite different.
  • When Columbus returned to the new world in 1493, he brought a host of animals that Indigenous people had never seen before, including donkeys, goats, sheep, chickens, pigs, cattle, and horses – none of which would exist in America otherwise. It may be surprising to discover that “Horse Nations,” such as the Lakota, Comanche, and Apache—portrayed as the stereotypical horse-riding Indians of the Plains—were a product of the Columbian Exchange.

This period of exchange was responsible for much of what we consider staple foods of America, as well as introducing the rest of the world to commodities they would never have accessed otherwise. As you journey through this course, you’ll be introduced to the many ramifications—both positive and negative—of a myriad of historical events that have long been told from only one side.

Discover the Unsung Heroes

There are countless stories of Native Americans whose achievements, sacrifices, or contributions have long been unacknowledged. With Professor Cobb’s knowledge and gift for storytelling, and aided by the hundreds of historical artworks and artifacts provided by the Smithsonian, you’ll get to know dozens of names and stories that previously went unrecognized. You’ll see that one of the marines in the iconic image of the American flag being lifted over Iwo Jima was Native American. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was a dominant football team by the early 20th century, routinely crushing such big-school opponents as Army, Navy, Penn, Harvard, Chicago, and Yale. The Choctaws used their language to great effect during the final campaign of World War I, creating an unbreakable code for military communications. Twenty-nine Navajo men were recruited to devise a way to send and receive coded messages, creating an unbreakable codebook of 200 Navajo words used during combat in World War II.

Throughout this course, your eyes will be opened to legendary historical figures such as Pontiac, Tecumseh, John Ross, Black Kettle, Sitting Bull, and Geronimo—individuals you may already be familiar with, but may be surprised to find out what you didn’t know as Professor Cobb delivers their detailed biographies. You’ll also hear about lesser-known Native Americans who made significant contributions to the America we know today, such as Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, or artists such as Wohaw and Fritz Scholder. And explore the role of women throughout Native American history, looking at the contributions of Laura Cornelius Kellogg, Sarah Winnemucca, Wilma Mankiller, Lili‘uokalani, Alberta Schenck, and Zitkala-Ša.

Going Beyond Wounded Knee

Native American history is often treated as though it ended in the late 19th century. Professor Cobb remedies this misconception by dedicating a full third of the course to the challenges and achievements of Native Americans in the late 19th and 20th centuries, as well as current events. Together, with evocative items and information straight from the collections and archives of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, you’ll hear the story of modern Native Americans, the people, challenges, and diverse cultures that came out of the 20th century and beyond. Professor Cobb unpacks well-known events and practices such as Wounded Knee and the Ghost Dance while also delving into the implications of lesser known incidents. For example, you’ll investigate the impact of World War I and World War II, reform movements such as the New Deal, and also many persistent issues including repatriation, gaming, religious rights, tribal jurisdiction, and more.

You’ll discover how in the 1960s and 1970s, Native American activism mirrored the mainstream protest movements of the era, first finding expression in literature, music, art, and higher education, and eventually making real change through legislative and judicial reform. Calling again on the Smithsonian’s exclusive archive of art, portraits, and artifacts, you’ll see key examples of how the counterculture both reflected and influenced the struggle for Native American recognition and rights.

Through these dazzling visuals, and Professor Cobb’s narration, you will come to understand that we are still in the midst of an era of Indigenous recovery and revitalization—one that has tested the limits of individual rights and tribal sovereignty. He’ll outline a few of the critical sites of contemporary struggle, including gaming, which has been the single most successful means of promoting economic development in reservation communities since it took off in the late 1980s. The first Native American operated casino opened in 1979 and shortly thereafter more than 120 tribes had followed suit. Although state governments reacted defensively, the concept of tribal sovereignty emerged victorious, which has not only helped the infrastructure of the Native American communities to grow and thrive, but has helped to revitalize depressed economies by providing jobs, business opportunities, and development.

Native Peoples of North America recounts an epic story of resistance and accommodation, persistence and adaption, extraordinary hardship and survival across more than 500 years of colonial encounter. As the Smithsonian curators stated, “The past never changes. But the way we understand it, learn about it, and know about it changes all the time.” Be prepared – this course is going to change how you understand American history. And no matter how much you know about this subject, at the conclusion, you will be surprised at how much you’ve learned.

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24 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Native America: A Story of Survival
    You'll begin by comparing the commonly held views of Native Americans to the realities of what was, and still is, a tapestry of rich and vibrant cultures. Professor Cobb will explain the pitfalls that occur when history doesn't provide this crucial viewpoint, and will break down the fallacies that result from the common mistake of consigning Native Americans to the past. x
  • 2
    The Columbian Exchange: New Worlds for All
    Explore the how the misleading dichotomy of Old World" and "New World" has impacted perceptions of Native Americans for decades. Delve into the "Columbian Exchange," which is the crux behind the creation of "new worlds for all" and learn about the enduring ramifications these processes had in shaping everything from the fauna and flora to the cuisines of the world." x
  • 3
    The Native South and Southwest in the 1600s
    You'll examine the cultures that existed prior to the Spanish Invasion, the struggle for power through Hernando de Soto's entrada through the Southeast, and the Pueblo War for Independence in the Southwest. Dr. Cobb introduces the Native American worlds that were born in the aftermath of these transformative events. x
  • 4
    Werowocomoco and Montaup in the 1600s
    Using common material objects as examples, Dr. Cobb demonstrates how connections were forged between Native Americans and newcomers as they incorporated each other into their worlds. In doing so, both cultures were transformed. You'll examine specific examples across the Northeastern Woodlands down to Werowocomoco, in present-day Virginia, to understand how the search for common ground began at first contact and still exists today. x
  • 5
    Iroquoia and Wendake in the 1600s
    Once Europeans arrived, the Native peoples of the Northeast were determined to maintain their autonomy, despite becoming more integrated with the newcomers. Focusing on the strategies and experiences of the Wendat and Iroquois, you'll understand how Native Americans transformed the European colonial project while preserving a measured separatism. x
  • 6
    Indian-European Encounters, 1700-1750
    Through an exploration of the Iroquois Confederacy and the Lenape-or Delaware-people in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region-called by the French the pays d'en haut-- and the Southeast, you'll learn how Native Americans kept or lost their lands through treaties, war, and negotiations. In many cases, the repercussions of these conflicts sometimes went beyond relocation, resulting in enslavement or near annihilation. x
  • 7
    The Seven Years' War in Indian Country
    The French and Indian War is often portrayed in history as a crucial turning point for Native nations in the East. In some cases, that is true. For some, it served as a victory, for others a defeat. And for a greater number still it had no immediate impact on their lives. This lecture will change the storyline you've heard by exploring the perspectives of Native people who experienced the era quite differently-tribal nations that deployed both time-tested and innovative strategies to survive between Europe's would-be empires. x
  • 8
    The American Revolution through Native Eyes
    Examine three ways Native Americans experienced the American Revolution: as allies, as participants in their own civil wars, and as neutral parties. For many Native Americans, the resolution of the American Revolution held little meaning: there would be no liberty for them under the rule of the colonists or the Crown. It was also a period that resulted in treaties and conflicts between Native American nations as different groups allied with or fought against the enemy. x
  • 9
    Indian Resistance in the Ohio Country
    Explore how the 1783 Treaty of Paris-which settled the American Revolutionary War between England and the colonists-brought no peace to Native Americans. Programs that were instituted during this period to help Native nations become self-sufficient-such as "expansion with honor" or establishing reservations-ultimately had the opposite effect. x
  • 10
    Indian Removal: Many Trails, Many Tears
    One of the most well-known and dramatic stories in American history is that of the Cherokee nation and the Trail of Tears. Professor Cobb reveals the story behind the story-one of two nations emerging and transforming, during which legal battles, political manipulations, and a clash between the ill-defined limits of federal and state jurisdiction and tribal sovereignty that eventually reached the United States Supreme Court. He'll share insights into what it meant to walk the Trail of Tears and the impact of removal on tribal nations. x
  • 11
    Native Transformations on the Great Plains
    From John Wayne to Dances with Wolves, we are presented a very distinct view of Native Americans in the West. Professor Cobb presents a profoundly different perspective on this story. From Lewis and Clark's discovery" of a West that was an established home for thousands of indigenous people to the three factors that drove more change than anything else in the transformation of Plains cultures-guns, horses, and disease-you'll hear a vastly different history than what is commonly understood." x
  • 12
    Indians, Manifest Destiny, and Uncivil Wars
    The Civil War is a turning point in American history, upholding the Constitutional promises of freedom for... some. One of the pivotal components of the decades leading up to the Civil War was expansion into the West under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, which drew non-Indians into the West and sparked innumerable conflicts with Native nations. Examine the role Native Americans played in the years leading up to the Civil War, the controversial war itself, and the repercussions of the conflict on Native nations. x
  • 13
    Native Resistance in the West, 1850s-1870s
    Delve deeper into the struggle for lands in the Plains between the 1850s and the 1870s. You'll meet the fighters you've heard of, such as Sitting Bull, as well as those you may not have heard about, such as the Hunkpapa Gall, the Oglala Crazy Horse, and the Northern Cheyenne Wooden Leg, who led successful battles and defeated General Custer. You'll also see the negative repercussions of the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. x
  • 14
    The Last Indian Wars?
    Focusing on the Far West, Southwest, and Plateau regions, Professor Cobb examines early laws put in place in California to control" Native Americans during the gold rush, including state funding to kill or enslave Native Americans. You'll also meet the "real" Geronimo and learn how he came to symbolize the Chiricahua Apache struggle to maintain independence, as well as Chief Joseph of the Nimi'ipuu or Nez Perce and his fight to preserve a home for his people on their ancestral lands." x
  • 15
    Challenging Assimilation and Allotment
    Reveal how Native Americans adjusted to or refused to give in to the extraordinary challenges and changes they faced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries-specifically the federal government's deliberate and multifaceted effort to dismantle tribal lands and obliterate tribal cultures through allotment and assimilation. Instead, Native people adopted innovative strategies that allowed them to determine their own futures on their own terms. x
  • 16
    American Indians and the Law, 1883-1903
    Violence and war were not the only options. Even after the alleged last Indian wars," Native Americans continued to fight for their rights and lands through the same legal system that had worked towards displacing them. You'll review three critical court cases, and meet leaders such as Standing Bear and Lone Wolf who stood up against "the courts of the conqueror" and continued to seek justice and defend tribal sovereignty." x
  • 17
    The Ghost Dance and the Peyote Road
    Professor Cobb explores how many Native people took matters into their own hands and gained a renewed sense of place, harmony, and balance through two religious movements: The Ghost Dance-often misperceived as the last gasp of resistance before the Indians' final vanishing act, and the Peyote Road-a critically important pathway to peace, reconciliation, and belonging. x
  • 18
    Native America in the Early 1900s
    Discover how Native Americans confounded the late 19th- and early 20th-century predictions about their inevitable disappearance by getting involved in very public arenas, becoming political actors and writers, artists, and athletes. Professor Cobb tells the stories of Native Americans who broke out of the stereotypes and examines their actions through four concepts: expectation, anomaly, the unexpected, and authenticity. x
  • 19
    American Indians and World War I
    Explore Native Americans' involvement in World War One and how it changed the meaning of citizenship and sovereignty in the beginning of the 20th century. Examine why Native soldiers fought in all of the major offensives after America's entry into the war, defending a country that was hostile to tribal sovereignty and also reluctant to extend U.S. citizenship to Native people. x
  • 20
    Making a New Deal in Native America
    Uncover some of the hidden histories of the period between the late 1920s and early 1940s as you learn how Native Americans set about making a New Deal for themselves and their communities during an era of uncertainty and convulsive change for the nation at large. You'll also get an introduction to the Indian New Deal, which helped open the door to greater self-government, economic development, and the protection of property rights. x
  • 21
    American Indians and World War II
    Move from World War I and the turbulent 30s to World War II to learn how the war and onset of the atomic age transformed the lives of Native Americans. While the challenges and opportunities faced by Native Americans paralleled the ones faced by many other Americans, you'll learn how the outcomes proved to be vastly different. And you'll discover Native American heroes of the War, often uncelebrated for their sacrifices to the country. x
  • 22
    Indian Termination or Self-Determination?
    Explore American Indian experiences during the early Cold War period, when loyalties were often questioned. Native Americans used the politics of the Cold War era to define freedom through the 1950s and 1960s. Nationalism and decolonization then surfaced as conflicts over fishing rights brought the struggle over Native American treaty rights back into the foreground of American consciousness. x
  • 23
    Native Radicalism and Reform, 1969-1978
    The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the efflorescence of American Indian militancy, beginning with the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969, through to the Trail of Broken Treaties in November 1972 and the Wounded Knee occupation in 1973. Professor Cobb will demonstrate how Native American activism intersected with the mainstream movements of the era through literature, music, art, and higher education, eventually making its way to legislative and judicial reforms. x
  • 24
    Reasserting Rights and Tribal Sovereignty
    Professor Cobb will reveal how tribal nations haven't settled for survival alone. We are still in the midst of an era of recovery and revitalization-one that has tested the limits of individual rights and tribal sovereignty. He'll follow a few of the critical sites of contemporary struggle, including gaming, repatriation, religious freedom, federal recognition, self-government, legal jurisdiction, and resource development. x

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Your professor

Daniel M. Cobb

About Your Professor

Daniel M. Cobb, Ph.D.
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Daniel Cobb is an Associate Professor of American Studies at The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He achieved a B.A. in History with a Sociology minor from Messiah College, where he graduated cum laude; a M.A. in History from the University of Wyoming; and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Oklahoma. He served as the assistant director of the Newberry Library’s D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indians...
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Reviews

Native Peoples of North America is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 50.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I'll think what I please "What do I want you to conclude from this?" After telling yet another story about a confrontation between the doomed Natives and US soldiers, the Professor ask this question. He then told me what I was to think about the one sided story he had just told me. Ironically it's probably my studies of history into such topics as the Athenian city state and the enlightenment and philosophy courses here at the Great Courses that caused a deep resentment to this question and the understanding that this instructor was attempting to tell me what I must believe and how I should think. I'm a student of the Great Courses I shall think for myself. Great Courses teach you how to think. They present facts and often give competing viewpoints with the instructor explaining why he believes a certain way of looking at history is the correct one. Shoot the Great Courses even has a course about the interpretation of history and the webpage for that course starts with the words "History is not Truth." This history of Native Americans is certainly not truth. There is a Great Course waiting to be made about North American Native Americans that covers both the rise of their society and their sad decline along with insight into how they lived their lives, their art and culture and all the other things one expects from a great history course. South and Central America already have such courses, but with the rise of 'studies' courses I doubt an objective course will ever be created for the North American Indians and frankly that's a disservice to them and to the students here at the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2017-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Improtant Lecture Series Every American should know this material! Great job!
Date published: 2017-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Native Peoples of North America I found the information in this course most helpful in my ministry with the Native American people. The sweep of history and the detail were informative and interesting. The presentation for the perspective of the Native Peoples was very enlightening. Thank you for this great resource.
Date published: 2017-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A major leap i my understanding This professor is among the very best. He brings vast knowledge and empathy to his subject. This matter, racism ; theft and abuse of the native population is almost beyond understanding and far worse than the Nazi holocaust. The survival of the native eoples in this context is herpic
Date published: 2017-04-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I find myself asking "what is balance?" When "a side" of history has been under-represented and under-taught as I believe the history of Native Americans has been, perhaps a clearly sympathetic and maybe even biased version of that history is adding balance. That said so many times as I was listening I found myself saying out loud "Is that the only side of the story?" "Really? Do you have evidence to back up that assertion/conclusion?" ... That is NOT a reaction I normally have to Teaching Company productions... I do not feel that my time or money was wasted, not at all, but a perspective listener should be aware that they are getting what seemed to me to be a very slanted presentation. I am not sure the state of scholarship and archaeology allows it, but I would have also liked more information and time spend on pre-Colombian Native America.
Date published: 2017-04-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative I like listening to the Great Courses in my car... I found this series to both reinforce some thoughts I had previously, but also very enlightening about the experience of the Native Peoples once Europeans came on the scene in North America. To understand where we are, one needs to know how we got here. Would definitely recommend.
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the title closely relates to the subject matter I purchased this course three weeks ago and completed the last four lectures today. the first 18 lectures covered ares that i was already familiar through books and studies that I previously read. The last 6 lectures covered areas of interest that I was not aware of, These lectures made the information I learned important to complete my knowledge of the indigeneous people of america. The lecturer Professor Daniel Cobb took a while to accept his method of lecturing. It came across as bland until I picked up his way of speaking and fully enjoyed his lectures. As my fraternal grandmother was a full blooded Chippewa Indian, I was very happy to fill in the parts of the native american history I lacked. Edmond
Date published: 2017-03-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Understanding and learning! Excellent information in providing the Native Peoples perspective and experiences. I am learning a lot. A suggestion for improvement: the format. The lecturer goes back and forth between two cameras, reading the material. This gets boring and even frustrating. The reading is directly from the Course Guidelines word for word. Consider showing more graphics or leaving the maps and pictures up longer, while the viewer listens to the voice of the lecturer.
Date published: 2017-03-27
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