8 Free and Discounted Virtual American History Experiences

Immerse yourself in the past from the comfort of your couch. 


I miss going to museums. I miss live events and the energy of the crowd.

And while I realize my family has been lucky compared to many, this is still such a bizarre period of history for everyone to be living through. It can be nice to escape into the past sometimes.

Even though it’s hard to beat the power of a real in-person experience, I’ve found a few online history learning experiences to feed my intellectual curiosity from the safety of our chaotic little hermitage. And some of these, I could argue, are even better than an in-person experience.

Lectures from Popular Professors

#1. One Day University

A few years ago, my father-in-law took me to an event he read about in the LA Times – a One Day University lecture by Professor Louis Masur called Hamilton vs. Jefferson: The Rivalry That Shaped America. It was a fantastic birthday present that forever shaped how I view these founders.

For 15 years, One Day University has been bringing popular top-tier professors to venues across the US to deliver some of their best lectures outside of the classroom. Now, they have successfully moved to 100% online events, and for $7.95 a month you can access their video library of over 200 lectures and get invitations to special events with professors and discounts to live events.

Their library includes lectures by professors like Masur and Yale University professor of American history Joanne Freeman, a host of the Backstory podcast and author of Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic which led to her consulting Lin-Manuel Miranda on duel commandments. (Like most things, it all comes back to Hamilton.)

One Day University has been kind enough to offer my readers their first month free – just use the promo code PLODDING when you check out.

Click HERE for more information.

#2. American Revolution Open Yale Course with Joanne Freeman

Speaking of Joanne Freeman – if you’re looking for a deep dive into American history, you can experience her ENTIRE Yale University course on the American Revolution through Open Yale Courses for free. All twenty-five 50-minute lectures, recorded for Open Yale Courses in Spring 2010 complete with the syllabus and course pages.

These experiences offer a serious advantage over in-person learning – you can watch expert professors speaking passionately about their subjects on your own schedule with the ability to pause, rewind, or fast forward.

Click HERE for the class.


Read All The Articles

#3. Free JSTOR Article Access

This list is all about experiences, and reading is an experience, right? JSTOR is the home of millions of academic journal articles and more, and you usually need to be a student or educator to access this treasure trove. Now, they’re offering everyone 100 free articles to read online each month. This has already been helpful in my research for Season 2 of the Plodding podcast.

Articles are great because they can be so much more specific than books – type in a topic and see what’s out there!

Click HERE to register for JSTOR free.


Virtual Tours

Many historic homes and museums are still off limits – at least their interiors – but you can explore the inner nooks and crannies of some great sites through virtual tours and videos.

#4. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

I’ve never been to Monticello, but their free virtual tour makes me feel like I’m right there, exploring room by room. In some ways it exceeds what you’d get in person, because you get to linger, click on objects to get descriptions, and access special areas like “the Cuddy” – an unfinished little attic room one of his granddaughters called a “fairy palace.” Seriously… navigate to the Third Floor and The Cuddy – you won’t regret it.

If you would prefer a guided tour by a real human, Monticello also offers live guided video tours for $10.

Click HERE for the virtual tour.

#5. Chicago Museum Field Trips

I miss the field trips of my childhood to some of Chicago’s greatest museums – the Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum. It’s a treat to watch these free virtual field trip experiences with Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot created for the “Stay Home. Hit Play” campaign.

In addition to the museums I know, we get great inside looks at other museums like the DuSable Museum of African American History – the nation’s oldest, independent black museum – and the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Click HERE for the virtual field trips.

#6. Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution opened in Philadelphia in 2017 and I’ve always wanted to check it out. With their free virtual tour, I can peruse its exhibits at my leisure.

They also offer a free virtual field trip option perfect for students.

Click HERE for the virtual tour.

#7. George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Like Monticello, Mount Vernon has a similar free virtual tour offering that gives you access to parts of the house you’d be extremely lucky to see otherwise – including a majestic 360 degree view from inside the cupola at the top of the mansion.

Click HERE for the virtual tour.

#8. Winchester Mystery House

This is a far cry from the Founders’ homes on the East Coast, but the owner’s dedication to construction is even more obsessive than Washington’s or Jefferson’s.

Built in San Jose, California by Sarah Winchester, this house was constantly under construction from 1886 to Winchester’s death 36 years later in 1922. Her bizarre passion project was, according to legend, an effort to confuse the restless spirits of victims of her husband William Winchester’s rifle company. There are stairs leading to nowhere, doors that open into walls, 160 rooms, and 10,000 windows.

For $8.99 you can get unlimited forever-access to an immersive virtual tour through the entire mansion, including areas that are usually off limits to in-person tours.

I’ve always wanted to go to the Winchester Mystery House, and I’ll be saving this experience for closer to Halloween.

Click HERE for the immersive virtual tour.


Do you have a favorite online learning experience or virtual tour you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!



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