5 Free, Fun, and Fascinating Ways to Learn American History Online

The fascinating history of America is now more engaging and entertaining than ever before. Learn the best of American history through free YouTube channels, podcasts, and virtual museums.

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American flag

The debate around Indigenous People’s Day or Columbus Day casts a spotlight on American history. What do we choose to celebrate and remember? They say history is written by the winner, but increasingly, the values of today’s culture dictate how the past is viewed. The first step then is to actually look at the past in its entirety, by learning about all of American history, not just the McNuggets.

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The Green Brothers, John and Hank, created the Crash Course series 10 years ago, and the US History segment remains popular and relevant to date. The idea is to learn about history through entertaining and humorous videos, in bite-sized segments.

The whole crash course is a series of 47 videos, each running for about 10 to 15 minutes. The Green Brothers have their own unique video style which mixes John talking on camera, animated segments, and real-world pictures and clips. It all comes together in a slick package with a rib-tickling brand of humor that doesn’t take anything too seriously.

If you always found history lessons to be stuffy and boring, you’ll love this fresh and light-hearted take on it. Go through the course in order to learn about everything from Columbus and the Spaniards coming to America, and go all the way to the Obama administration.

Crash Course is based on the American school curriculum, but takes its own liberties where apt and isn’t academic. If you want an actual university-level course, search for the best free online courses.

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Online Learning and MOOC Search

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American History Tellers is an excellent podcast for fresh perspectives on US history

It sounds ridiculous to say that there is a history podcast that’s full of energy and vitality, but somehow, American History Tellers pulls it off. Host Lindsay Graham dives deep into the big points and events of US history, but always makes it personal and adds a fresh perspective.

All too often, you hear of history through the eyes of changemakers and big personalities. Instead, Graham finds others in the room who were part of the historic event. It’s about something you’ve heard of before but now it’s told through a new set of eyes. From wars and revolutions to the space race, it’s the American history you didn’t hear about.

A lot of the podcast’s charm comes down to Graham’s unique narrative style. He has a pleasing, soothing voice that also adds vibrancy to the story it tells. With academic historians researching the podcast, they’re able to find connections and context that you won’t read in history books.

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The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian hosts fascinating online exhibits to learn about native Americans and indigenous people

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) preserves and celebrates the history of Native Americans. Taking a step into the digital age, it now hosts a series of fascinating online exhibitions and small shows in partnership with Google’s Arts and Cultures lab.

Currently, you can visit 12 online exhibitions on topics like the horse’s influence on Native American culture, the origins and culture of the Inca empire, and the impact of Native American imagery in modern times. Each exhibit is an interactive multimedia experience with a cool browsing pattern.

The NMAI-Google Arts collaboration is a little different. Think of it more as an online show or presentation than an exhibition. It celebrates varied aspects of Native American cultural artifacts, like talking in code and how it influenced modern war or the art of the cradleboard to carry babies. They’re short slideshows, each taking about 5-10 minutes to finish. Things like this is why Google Arts is one of the best apps to learn history in a fresh way.

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The Museum of the American Revolutions offers one of the internet's best virtual tours to learn about the Revolutionary war

To learn about the American Revolutionary War, there is no better place than the Museum of the American Revolution. And if you can’t visit in person, it hosts one of the best online virtual tours you’ll ever experience.

If you haven’t tried a virtual tour before, go through the tour guide at the start. Otherwise, skip to the tour directly, it’s pretty intuitive. The entire tour is presented as 360-degree panoramas of the actual museum, with loads of interactive elements overlaid.

For example, click icons of photos, sounds, and documents to play them. Certain objects and artifacts in the museum are virtually highlighted, and you can click these to view the exhibit in detail.

The museum and the virtual tour split the revolution into four sections: Becoming Revolutionaries, The Darkest Hour, Revolutionary War, and A New Nation. Each section has more elements and segments in it, for an experience that lasts over an hour in total. It’s one of the best interactive ways to learn history online.

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Track the four voyages of Columbus to America through this interactive map

Columbus’s journey to sail westward in search of India, and eventually finding America, changed the world. It’s one of the historical events you can’t ignore, and you can see the route on this fascinating interactive map by the Mariner’s Museum and Park.

In total, Columbus made four voyages from Spain to America, landing in the Caribbean, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. This user-made map overlay on top of Google Maps charts every voyage’s important points, with a short description for each.

If it seems like too much information at first, switch on the layers one by one. Go through the events slowly and learn about this epic route.

6. The 1619 Project: Black American History by The New York Times

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NYT's 1619 Project seeks to reframe American history with the influence of black Americans and African slaves

The 1619 Project wants to reframe the discussion of American history based on the contributions and consequences of slavery and black Americans. Why 1619? Because that’s the year enslaved Africans were first brought to mainland America.

The interactive website includes articles, essays, and photo essays that talk about how the many aspects of the USA today were shaped due to the influence of black Americans. For example, what does a traffic jam in Atlanta have to do with segregation? Check the project to find out.

Since its first creation, the project’s scope has expanded. It now includes a podcast, streamed talks, and fascinating reader responses.

History Is More Interesting Than Ever Before

The celebration of Christopher Columbus’s voyage is a controversial topic because he is viewed in two ways: an intrepid explorer and a ruthless colonialist. In a short TED video, Alex Gendler explains the argument against Columbus. Meanwhile, the Knowing Better channel has multiple videos about demystifying Columbus in the modern context.

The main point of many historians, and that of this article, is to learn the whole history of a big event. Today, the new ways to learn history on the internet make it more interesting and entertaining than ever before. All you need to do is access these free resources and form your own opinions.

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5 New Ways to Learn History on the Internet

History can be boring, especially if it’s not told right. And that’s where these apps and storytellers differ.

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