From the Editor, Carol Berkin

The Gilder Lehrman Institute announces the launch of “History by Era,” an innovative and exciting new approach to our national history and one of the richest resources for the study and the teaching of American history we believe you will ever encounter. It has been designed for teachers who want to create their own effective and stimulating history curricula; for students who want to do independent research on a topic; and for lovers of history everywhere who believe that understanding our national past is the obligation and right of all citizens. 

We believe that “History by Era” is a unique web resource. The web is filled with useful material for the historian and the history lover, but the sites that offer this material often present it randomly, without a coherent narrative or an interpretive overview. “History by Era,” however, has been carefully designed to provide the reader with a framework that organizes the rich resources it offers. It does this by providing coherent coverage of the full sweep of American history, bibliographies, a wealth of primary sources, and, most importantly, highly readable interpretive essays by the most renowned scholars in the country.

“History by Era” is not an online textbook. From the beginning, we set ourselves the task of providing the reader with a far richer texture than a textbook can offer. At its core, “History by Era” is a collection of fifty individual essays written by some of the most distinguished scholars of our day. It thus speaks to the reader not in one voice, but in fifty different, unique voices as each of these renowned scholars interprets the important developments, people, events, and ideas of a particular era.

“History by Era” takes its structure from the most basic building blocks of American history: chronology and periodization. We have chosen ten chronological eras: The Americas to 1620; Colonization and Settlement, 15851763; American Revolution, 17631783; The New Nation, 17831815; National Expansion and Reform, 18151860; Civil War and Reconstruction, 18611877; Rise of Industrial America, 18771900; Progressive Era to New Era, 19001929; Great Depression and World War II, 19291945; and 1945 to the Present. We recognize that these ten divisions of our national history, like all historical divisions, are convenient constructs rather than rigid historical realities. They were selected because they are familiar signposts for most school history courses. We hope that you will see these eras as large containers, spacious enough to hold topics in political, social, economic, technological, diplomatic, and cultural history, yet compact enough to allow you to explore subjects in depth. Realizing that many key developments in our national history span several eras, we have added a final or eleventh “era” which we have called “Themes.”  “Themes” allows the reader to follow a subject such as African American History, Women’s History, or Immigration and Migration across the decades or centuries.

Each era follows the same pattern or template so that a reader can move easily from one era to another. An era begins with an overview essay by a distinguished historian. Next, there are sub-era essays that elaborate specific topics. For example, in Era I, The Americas to 1620, you will find an overview essay, followed by three sub-eras: American Indians, Imperial Rivalries, and Exploration. Under each of the sub-eras, you will find a historian’s introduction to that topic followed by a set of featured documents, or primary sources, including letters, government or legal documents, paintings, photographs, and songs, drawn from the extensive holdings of the Gilder Lehrman Collection. The historical essays set the context for understanding and interpreting these primary sources and together, essays and primary sources demonstrate how scholars, teachers, and students can use the raw materials of history to reconstruct the past. Each sub-era also has a timeline and key terms with basic, essential information; additional essays covering other aspects of the topic; podcasts of historians discussing this topic; teaching resources; interactive pieces; and a bibliography of recommended sources for further reading or viewing. 

We hope you will find this treasure trove of history and interpretation as exciting as those of us who have worked on creating it do.