American Heroes and Villains

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Course Description

Just as there have been famous and infamous personalities that have arisen on the world stage throughout the ages, America has had its share of notable personalities--ranging from the very good to the very, very bad.  While not always at the forefront of people's minds, it would seem unlikely that America would be what it is today without its "good guys" and, yes, even its "bad guys."

So what makes a person a national hero or villain?  What set of circumstances in a person's life and in the history of a nation need to coalesce in order to bring a person from obscurity to the level of fame or infamy where they are recognized by name?  Why is George Washington famous?  Why is Charles Manson?  How about Jesse James or Linus Pauling?  What makes each of them unique to such an extent that they are now household names?

This course will provide a brief biographical overview of many of America's most notable heroes and villains, along with an analysis of why each one is well-known in our history.  Furthermore, it will provide criteria for better understanding why and how each of these persons became who they are in our collective lives.


Parameters for the Course

There are entire fields of study that deal with the psychology of what makes people rise above accepted levels of normalcy to attain fame as either a very good person or a social pariah. This is not that course. Rather, here we will attempt to briefly examine some of the factors that might be involved in shaping who these people were and how they came to be well known to the general public.

Since a comprehensive examination of these factors (especially the effects of a person's name, historical surroundings, and psychology) would literally fill volumes and even shelves in a library, it is well beyond the scope of this course to attempt such a feat here. Rather, we will attempt to scratch the surface of these areas and show how they might be relevant to the material presented in later chapters, a departure point for further studies, if you will.

How the Course is Structured 

This course will provide a brief biographical sketch of a number of individuals who have become famous in American history as either heroes (those who have won popular favor and have a strong identity with societal and national values) or villains (those who flagrantly broke the law, the public trust, or otherwise alienated themselves from society).

In some rare cases, certain people cannot be easily classified as either, or are classified as both hero and villain depending on whether or not there is a widespread divergence in public opinion regarding the achievements in their life. For example, Aaron Burr may have been a hero to some, but a villain to others based on the events in his life. These ambiguous personalities will be placed in their own separate section at the end of each lesson, where applicable.

Each lesson that follows will be organized by era of American history. For the purposes of this course, we will divide the timeline as follows, Early America, Colonial America, Revolutionary America, The Young Republic, Expansion and Reform Era, Civil War and Reconstruction, The Wild West and the Second Industrial Revolution, World War I, World War II and the Korean war, Post War to the End of the Century, and The New Millennium.

Each entry within each historical era will appear as follows.

Name. The name of the person highlighted.

Role. Hero or Villain (or It Depends).

Area. This is the area of society that this individual pertains to, industry, politics, military, entertainment, and so on. An example of categories used here are Political Leader, Entertainer, Industrialist, Terrorist, and others.

Bio. The main section of each person's entry will contain biographical and historical data related to that person. This section basically tells why he or she is considered a hero or a villain with regards to the United States.

Trivia. On occasion, a tidbit of interesting information will be featured here. There may not be a trivia section for all the people referenced in the course, however.

Quotes. Famous (or infamous) quotes either spoken by the person at hand or about them are provided here. This is to give a more complete sense of who this person is or was, using their own words. Not every person will have a quote from or about them.

What's in a Name?

There is a great deal of debate regarding whether or not a person's name has any effect on their personality. If a person is named Patience, does that mean they will be more patient (or guarantee they will be impatient)? If Adolf Hitler were called Bob Hitler, would that have made any significant impact on his legacy of evil? While there are studies to support the case and those that deny it, the jury is still out on this aspect of human life. However, a few facts seem germane to our study here, namely,

Carpe Diem: A Note about the Times

The times in which a person lives is an important component of shaping how they live their lives and, ultimately, creating who they will become. For example, Alexander Graham Bell could not have invented the telephone without the prior inventions and discoveries that had gone before him. He, of course, could not have invented it after it had already been invented, either, so the window of opportunity for distinguishing himself could only be found in a very narrow historical time period.

The Psychology of Greatness

According to Friedrich Nietzsche, there are certain people in our world who are born for greatness. He called these individuals Übermensch (or "over men"), and claimed that they were imbued with certain qualities that propelled them to greatness above the masses. Whether or not this philosophical position is entirely true still remains a matter for debate. What is not debatable, however, is that some people do seem predisposed to distinguish themselves in one way or another, far more so than their contemporaries. Those who do so in positive ways are considered heroes; those who do so in evil or socially unacceptable ways are forever branded as villains.

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  • 6 Months to Complete
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  • Universal Class is an IACET Accredited Provider

    Course Lessons

    Average Lesson Rating:
    4.6 / 5 Stars (Average Rating)
    "Extraordinarily Helpful"
    (897 votes)

    Lesson 1. An Introduction to America's Heroes and Villains

    This lesson will establish the basic learning parameters for the course. 34 Total Points
    • Lesson 1 Video A
    • Lesson 1 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: Top 100 Comic Book Villains; 50 Greatest Literature Villains
    • Take Poll: Heros and Villains
    • Take Survey: Reasons for Taking this Course
    • Complete: Lesson 1 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 1: An Introduction to America’s Heroes and Villains

    Lesson 2. Early America

    We will concern ourselves here with the period of history after Europeans first discovered the New World beginning, of course, in 1492 AD. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 2 Video A
    • Lesson 2 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: Christopher Columbus; John Cabot
    • Complete: Lesson 2 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 2: Early America

    Lesson 3. Colonial America

    Once the European powers decided that the New World was more valuable as a resource in and of itself, they slowed their search for a route to Asia and began to establish colonies in the lands that they had discovered. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 3 Video A
    • Lesson 3 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review Article: Bartholomew Roberts
    • Complete: Lesson 3 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 3: Colonial America

    Lesson 4. Revolutionary America, Part I

    The Revolutionary Period of American history is the point in history where America begins to gain an identity of its own. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 4 Video A
    • Lesson 4 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: Benedict Arnold; Benjamin Franklin
    • Complete: Lesson 4 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 4: Revolutionary America, Part I

    Lesson 5. Revolutionary America, Part II

    This lesson continues the overview of American heroes and villains from the Revolutionary War period that lasted from 1763 to 1783 AD. 34 Total Points
    • Lesson 5 Video A
    • Lesson 5 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: John Adams; The Execution of Nathan Hale
    • Complete: Lesson 5 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 5: Revolutionary America, Part II

    Lesson 6. The Young Republic

    Following the Revolutionary War, America was still searching for its identity as a nation and trying to stabilize after a lengthy military conflict with the British Empire. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 6 Video A
    • Lesson 6 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review Article: Thomas Jefferson
    • Take Poll: Historical Era
    • Complete: Lesson 6 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 6: The Young Republic

    Lesson 7. Expansion and Reform Era

    As the country fended off the British again in the War of 1812, it became apparent that no further threats would be coming from Europe in the ensuing years. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 7 Video A
    • Lesson 7 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: John Brown; Nat Turner
    • Complete: Lesson 7 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 7: Expansion and Reform Era

    Lesson 8. Civil War and Reconstruction

    As the years wore on the country seemed on an inescapable path toward Civil War, and it was. 34 Total Points
    • Lesson 8 Video A
    • Lesson 8 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review Article: William T. Sherman
    • Complete: Lesson 8 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 8: Civil War and Reconstruction

    Lesson 9. The Wild West and the Second Industrial Revolution

    Following the Civil War and the Reconstruction period of American history, a new wave of industrialization swept across the land. 55 Total Points
    • Lesson 9 Video A
    • Lesson 9 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 3 Articles: Wild Bill Hickok; Mark Twain; Henry Ford Anti-Semitic
    • Complete: Lesson 9 Assignment
    • Complete Assignment: Henry Ford Racist?
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 9: The Wild West and the Second Industrial Revolution

    Lesson 10. World War I

    With Europe erupting into a full scale war, the United States reluctantly joined the fray toward the end of the Great War or World War I, as it later came to be called. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 10 Video A
    • Lesson 10 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review Article: Ernest Hemingway
    • Complete: Lesson 10 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 10: World War I

    Lesson 11. World War II and Korea

    World War II was a difficult time in America. Fighting a major war in two theatres (Europe and the Pacific), Americans were desperate for heroes, and villains who they could blame all the fighting on. 34 Total Points
    • Lesson 11 Video A
    • Lesson 11 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: J. Edgar Hoover; George S. Patton
    • Complete: Lesson 11 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 11: World War II and Korea

    Lesson 12. Post War to the End of the Century, Part I

    Following the conclusion of World War II, America underwent the longest peace time boom of any nation on Earth. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 12 Video A
    • Lesson 12 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review Article: SI's 10 Facts about Miracle on Ice
    • Complete: Lesson 12 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 12: Post War to the End of the Century, Part I

    Lesson 13. Post War to the End of the Century, Part II

    This lesson is a continuation of the heroes and villains from the end of World War II to the end of the twentieth century. 35 Total Points
    • Lesson 13 Video A
    • Lesson 13 Video B : Lesson Discussion
    • Review 2 Articles: Ted Bundy; Neil Armstrong
    • Complete: Lesson 13 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 13: Post War to the End of the Century, Part II

    Lesson 14. The New Millennium

    The New Millennium brings with it a number of challenges that have never been faced before in human history. 33 Total Points
    • Lesson 14 Video
    • Review Article: Bernie Madoff
    • Take Poll: Hero
    • Take Poll: Villain
    • Take Survey: Program Evaluation Follow-up Survey (End of Course)
    • Complete: Lesson 14 Assignment
    • Complete Exam: Lesson 14: The New Millennium
    Total Course Points

    Learning Outcomes

    By successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
    • Define what it means to be considered an American hero or villain.
    • Summarize American heroes and villains in early America.
    • Summarize American heroes and villains in the Expansion and Reform Era.
    • Summarize American heroes and villains in the Civil War and Reconstruction.
    • Summarize American heroes and villains in The Wild West and the Second Industrial Revolution.
    • Summarize American heroes and villains in World War I, World War II and the Korean War
    • Summarize American heroes and villains in Post War to the End of the Century
    • Post War to the End of the Century, Part I, and
    • Demonstrate mastery of lesson content at levels of 70% or higher.

    Additional Course Information

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    Document Your CEUs on Your Resume
    Course Title: American Heroes and Villains
    Course Number: 8900124
    Course Requirements: View Course Requirements
    Lessons Rating: 4.6 / 5 Stars (897 votes)
    Languages: English - United States, Canada and other English speaking countries
    Course Type: General Education (Self-Paced, Online Class)
    CEU Value: 0.8 IACET CEUs (Continuing Education Units)
    CE Accreditation: Universal Class, Inc. has been accredited as an Authorized Provider by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).
    Grading Policy: Earn a final grade of 70% or higher to receive an online/downloadable CEU Certification documenting CEUs earned.
    Assessment Method: Lesson assignments and review exams
    Instructor: C. Michael McKenna
    Syllabus: View Syllabus
    Duration: Continuous: Enroll anytime!
    Course Fee: $65.00 (no CEU Certification) || with Online CEU Certification: $90.00

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    Student Testimonials

    • "This was a FANTASTIC course! I learned so much that I didn't even know I was interested in. The best part was being able to pick which hero or villain you could write about. In figuring out which one to write about, I learned a tremendous amount about the other people in the assignments." -- Donna N.
    • "Instructor McKenna was well equipped to handle questions I had" -- Randall M.
    • "Mac was an excellent instructor, very interactive. I hope to run into him again." -- L T.