100+ Excellent Open Courses on American History, Politics, and Culture

Sep 15th, 2009

Whether you’re officially enrolled in an American studies program and want to find supplemental study materials, or you’d just like to learn more about the social issues, political history and culture of the country you live in, there’s no better way to learn about the history of the U.S. than from open courseware. These classes aren’t for credit, but all the outlines, reading lists and video or audio material is free. Check out this major list of 100 excellent open courses on American history, politics and culture.

American history

From the 13 colonies to the American Revolution to the Civil War to modern day consumer culture, learn about every development of American history here.

  1. American history to 1865: This course takes students through The Civil War, covering the colonies and American Revolution, Abraham Lincoln, and more. [MIT]
  2. The Conquest of America: You’ll learn how the Americas were colonized in this course, from Brazil to New England. [MIT]
  3. African American History II: This African American history course emphasizes the time after the Civil War to the 1980s. [Notre Dame]
  4. Technology and Gender in American History: Here you’ll study the intersection of gender with production and consumption in American history. [MIT]
  5. The Emergence of Modern America 1865-Present: This course takes students through changes in American politics, culture, and economics from the end of the Civil War through the present day. [MIT]
  6. Introduction to Asian American Studies: Literature, Culture and Historical Experience: Here you’ll study the Asian American experience from immigration in the 19th century to WWII to Asian American identity. [MIT]
  7. War and American Society: Discover how war has shaped the American psyche and pop culture in this course. [MIT]
  8. Intellectual and Cultural History of the United States, 1890-1945: This multi-part e-seminar considers "the crisis of Victorianism" and beyond as Americans adapt new attitudes in understanding gender, ethnic pluralism, economics, WWI and WWII, science and politics. [Columbia]
  9. America Since 1945: In another multi-part e-seminar series, you’ll learn how America changed socially, economically and politically after WWII. [Columbia]
  10. Technology and Change in Rural America: Learn how new methods of production and industrialization shaped rural America. [MIT]
  11. Technology and Nature in American History: Study the ways in which American industry and institutions have changed the ideas of and physical environment of "nature." [MIT]
  12. American Urban History I: This course examines how police departments, the courts, schools, prisons, public universities and other institutions evolved in American cities from the 1850 to the present. [MIT]
  13. Medicine and Public Health in American History: Consider the evolution of the medical profession in America in this course. [Notre Dame]
  14. Riots, Strikes and Conspiracies in American History: From the Boston Tea Party to the Lawrence textile workers’ strike, consider how American riots, strikes and conspiracies shaped history. [MIT]
  15. After Columbus: Study The New World in terms of race, economics and religion in this course. [MIT]
  16. American Studies, Examining U.S. Cultures in Time: This series of webcasts takes a look at American cultural history. [UC Berkeley]
  17. America in Depression and War: Consider how American identity changes during times of depression and war. [MIT]
  18. The Places of Migration in United States History: This immigration history and culture class considers regions and neighborhoods like San Francisco’s Chinatown, New York’s Lower East Side, Texas and Florida as places of migration. [MIT]
  19. The Civil War and Reconstruction: Study the Civl War in-depth in this course. [MIT]
  20. The American Revolution: Discover more about the birth of America in this course. [MIT]

Law and the Justice System

Learn about the beginnings of the American court system, the forming of the Constitution, modern day legal issues and more.

  1. Law and Society in US History: Study American constitutional law and the origins of the American legal system in this course. [MIT]
  2. Crime, Heredity and Insanity in American History: This course focuses on 19th century America and the beginnings of criminal behavior studies. [Notre Dame]
  3. Gender and the Law in U.S. History: This class asks students to examine the law as a gendered system. Topics covered include suffrage, gay marriage and more. [MIT]
  4. Studies in Women’s Life Narratives: Interrogating Marriage: Case Studies in American Law and Culture: This class questions how and why certain institutions have sought to control marriage and relationships. [MIT]
  5. Justice: This theory class covers utilitarianism, libertarianism and egalitarian liberalism. [MIT]
  6. The Supreme Court, Civil Liberties, and Civil Rights: Here you’ll examine the layout and development of the U.S. Supreme Court and its commitment to protect civil liberties and civil rights. [MIT]
  7. Reading Seminar in Social Science: Race, Crime, and Citizenship in American Law: Here you’ll learn about stereotyping, racial profiling and more. [MIT]
  8. Reading Seminar in Social Science: Intelligence and National Security: Discover U.S. policy, law and missions regarding counterrorism and more. [MIT]
  9. Ethics and the Law on the Electronic Frontier: Course materials cover the U.S. PATRIOT Act, the 4th Amendment and electronic surveillance, and more. [MIT]

Political Science and Policymaking

In this collection of open courses, you will learn about electoral colleges, American foreign policy, Congress, political history and beyond.

  1. America and the Muslim World: Study America’s relations with the Kurds, Syrians, Iranians, and beyond in this series. [Columbia]
  2. Iran: Revolution, U.S. Policy, and Cold War Politics: Take this e-seminar to study the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the Carter administration. [Columbia]
  3. Congress and the American Political System I: This introductory class will teach you about the roles of the House and Senate. [MIT]
  4. Modern Latin America: Study the relationship between Latin America and the U.S., covering topics like feminism, cultural politics, revolution and more. [MIT]
  5. Readings in American History Since 1877: Read nonfiction and fiction works like "Revisioning US Political History" and The Crucible as a way of studying American politics and history. [MIT]
  6. America in the Nuclear Age: This course covers American political growth from Pearl Harbor to the Cold War. [MIT]
  7. American Civilization: Study American political history from the New World and European arrival to the Constitution to the Civil War and Reconstruction to the 19th century and beyond. [College of Eastern Utah]
  8. American Foreign Policy: Theory and Method: Consider the major theories of American foreign policy and how they have been applied. [MIT]
  9. American Science: Ethical Conflicts and Political Choices: This course reveals how politics and other factors influence science in America. [MIT]
  10. American Foreign Policy: Past, Present and Future: Study 20th century American foreign policy, including human rights, democracy, Iraq and more. [MIT]
  11. American National Security Policy: Learn all about the issues and steps leading up to the creation of the American national security policies of the 21st century. [MIT]
  12. Cold War Science: Learn how science, technology foreign policy intersected during the Cold War. [MIT]
  13. Late nineteenth-century Britain and America: the people and the empire: Study British and American imperialism in this course. [The Open University]
  14. U.S. Social Policy: This course attempts to uncover the policymaking process for addressing social issues. [MIT]
  15. American Political Thought: Study the beginnings of the American political system, including federalism, republicanism, liberalism and more. [MIT]
  16. Public Opinion and American Democracy: Consider public opinion and its influence on elections and policymaking. [MIT]
  17. Introduction to the American Political Process: Learn about elections, electoral colleges and more. [MIT]


American literature boasts a unique collection of short story writers, novelists, dramatists and poets. Here you’ll study works by Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Faulkner, Henry James and others who documented the progression of American politics and society.

  1. American literature: Practice your own writing while studying great American authors Toni Morrison and more. [MIT]
  2. Forms of Democracy in Nineteenth-Cenutry U.S. Literature: This graduate-level course explores how this period in U.S. literature was influenced by democratic politics and how the literature could itself be considered democratic. [Notre Dame]
  3. Survey of American Literature: This survey course takes students through the American Revolution, The Great Awakening, Native American heritage, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman and the New England tradition. [Mountain View College]
  4. American Classics: Study all kinds of classic American texts that testify to the ever changing American sense of identity. [MIT]
  5. The American Novel: In The American Novel, you’ll examine the theme of "haunting" as you look at works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry James, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth and more. [MIT]
  6. Studies in Fiction: Rethinking the American Masterpiece: Here you’ll study works likeThe Scarlett Letter and Moby Dick in ways you never did in high school. [MIT]
  7. American Authors: American Women Authors: Read works by Rebecca Harding Davis, Fanny Fern, Nella Larsen, Toni Morrison, Susanna Rowson and Edith Wharton. [MIT]
  8. Twentieth and Twenty-first-Century Spanish-American Literature: This Spanish language course covers Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and beyond. [MIT]
  9. Studies in Fiction: Stowe, Twain and the Transformation of 19th-Century America: Discover how these authors helped evolve the American novel. [MIT]
  10. Introduction to Contemporary Hispanic Literature: Here you’ll read poetry, novels and other works by Hispanic authors Federico Garcia Lorca and others. [MIT]
  11. Technology and the Literary Imagination: Study literary responses to new technology trends and influences in the 19th and 20th centuries. [MIT]
  12. Writing About Race: Authors like William Faulkner, Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros and others are studied in this class about racial and ethnic identity in literature. [MIT]
  13. Race and Identity in American Literature: Keepin’ it Real Fake: Explore the portrayal of different races and ethnicities in American literature. [MIT]
  14. Masterworks in American Short Fiction: Read short stories by Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Eudora Welty, Julia Alvarez and Willa Cather, among others. [MIT]
  15. Writing Early American Lives: Gender, Race, Nation, Faith: Read works by Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Franklin as you study race and identity in early America. [MIT]


Study the American religious traditions of Latinos, African Americans, Southerners, Jews, and more.

  1. Faith and the African American Experience: Discover how the tradition of African American spirituality evolved during the American Diaspora. [Notre Dame]
  2. Nonviolent Power in Action: Martin Luther King Jr.: Learn how MLK Jr. was "an American Gandhi" in this e-seminar. [Columbia]
  3. Magic, Witchcraft and the Spirit World: Study European and American traditions of witchcraft and the occult. [MIT]
  4. Latino Theology and Christian Tradition: Study the unique Latino Christian tradition that incorporates evangelization, social justice and more. [Notre Dame]
  5. Politics and Religion: Here you will analyze the relationship between social issues, politics, ethics and religion. [MIT]
  6. Jewish History from Biblical to Modern Times: This course features a strong unit on Jews in the U.S. [MIT]
  7. Wesley: Study the story and theology of John Wesley in this course. [Religion-Online]
  8. Crucible of Pluralism: Religion in Modern America: Study religious culture in the U.S. since the 1960s. [Columbia]
  9. Black Churches: Learn about the culture and development of black churches in the U.S. [Religion-Online]

Pop Culture

From soap operas to pro wrestling, find out what makes American pop culture so addicting.

  1. Topics in Comparative Media: American Pro Wrestling: Explore the American pro wrestling phenomenon in this class. [MIT]
  2. Spanish for Bilingual Students: Students of Puerto Rican, Colombian, Mexican and Cuban heritage watch films, read literature and study politics and culture in this course. [MIT]
  3. American Soap Operas: Study the narratives and history of popular soap operas. [MIT]
  4. Understanding Television: Study American television as a technological development, system of storytelling, and a cultural practice. [MIT]

Modern Issues

Here you’ll study the issues affecting modern day America, including the environment, the healthcare system, racial stereotypes and more.

  1. Changing the Face of American Healthcare: Find out how and why the American healthcare system is changing. [Notre Dame]
  2. Energy and Environment in American History: Consider topics like consumption, water power, suburbanization, foreign policy and global warming as you study the energy crisis. [MIT]
  3. Race and Gender in Asian America: Consider Asian American stereotypes and beyond in this course. [MIT]
  4. Border Issues Seminar: Learn how Mexican immigration diversifies the U.S. and threatens it. [Notre Dame]
  5. The Contemporary American Family: Topics covered in this modern culture class include sexuality, ethnicity, divorce and family relationships, and more. [MIT]
  6. Food and Power in the 20th Century: Discover how food, science and technology disrupt the power structure of world economies. [MIT]
  7. American Dream: Exploring Class in the U.S.: Analyze the U.S. class system in this course. [MIT]
  8. Drugs, Politics and Culture: Capitalism, the global drug trade, recreational drugs and other topics are covered in this class. [MIT]
  9. Videogame Theory and Analysis: Learn how video games work and influence society. [MIT]
  10. Media in Cultural Context: Popular Readerships: Consider what dictates lowbrow or highbrow culture in this course. [MIT]

Art, Music and Drama

This collection of open courses addresses American folk music, hip hop, drama, dance and other art forms.

  1. Vocal Repertoire and Performance: African American Composers: Here you’ll study the personal backgrounds and stories of African American composers as well as their work. [MIT]
  2. Introduction to Anglo-American Folk Music: Here you’ll study American folk music as it has been influenced by the British Isles and African American music. [MIT]
  3. Theater and Cultural Diversity in the U.S.: Study contemporary American theater and how it portrays Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans and Chicano/Latinos. [MIT]
  4. Issues of Representation: Women, Representation, and Music in Selected Folk Traditions of the British Isles and North America: Consider how women are portrayed in British and American folk music. [MIT]
  5. Hip Hop: Study hip hop as an art form, a means of communication and a cultural phenomenon. [MIT]
  6. Studies in Drama: Too Hot to Handle: Forbidden Plays in Modern America: Find out why certain plays have been censored or considered taboo by American society. [MIT]
  7. 20th Century Art: Study 20th century art in relation to politics, postcolonialism, mass culture and more in Europe and the U.S. [MIT]
  8. Traditions in American Concert Dance: Gender and Autobiography: Explore the influences on American concert dance, including African American traditions and more. [MIT]
  9. Composing for Jazz Orchestra: This technical class pays homage to a uniquely American style. [MIT]
  10. Music Since 1960: Learn about different music forms and theories including music videos, rock’n'roll, new age and more. [MIT]

Economics and Business

From monopolies to regulation to the U.S. economy, learn all about American economics and business culture here.

  1. American Consumer Culture: Study the 20th century American attitude of consumption and luxury. [MIT]
  2. The Law of Corporate Finance and Finance Markets: Discover the delicate balance between the state of the U.S. economy and the health of large corporations in this course. [MIT]
  3. Capitalism and its Critics: Study the evolution of capitalism and the people who criticize it in this course. [MIT]
  4. Government Regulation of Industry: Topics covered here include modern market theory, market structure, monopolies, and more. [MIT]
  5. Strategic HR Management: Take this class to examine the typical work culture for most Americans. [MIT]


These American culture courses consider urban housing, the environment, health and more.

  1. Nature, Environment and Empire: Study U.S. and European attitudes towards the exploration and exploitation of nature in the 18th and 19th centuries. [MIT]
  2. Disease and Society in America: Topics covered in this class include mortality, healthcare ethics, research and more. [MIT]
  3. The Rise of Modern Science: This class focuses on European and American progressions in science, from psychology to biology and beyond. [MIT]
  4. Urban Housing: Paris, London and New York: This course tackles the culture of urban living, as well as economic and social factors. [MIT]