Social Studies » United States History

United States History

COURSE DESCRIPTION: United States History is a one-year social studies program divided into a sequence of two semester-long courses: U.S. History I, II. Their combined topical content spans U.S. History from the pre-colonial era to the present day. Upon successful completion of these two courses, the student will be prepared to take the state-mandated United States History and Government Regents examination which culminates the program. 

United States History is primarily a history program. But this history will be presented and explored not just in historical terms but also, necessarily, in terms of other social science disciplines, namely: 

  1. geography, topography, ecology—how the geography of the U.S. has affected 

the culture and history of the country as a whole, and how the geography of 

different regions has affected those regions. The course will examine 

American history through the five themes of geography: location, place, 

human-environment interaction, movements, and regions. 

  1. economics, economy—how Americans have been meeting their basic needs and 


  1. political science, law, government—how they have governed and been 


  1. culture—the aggregate of beliefs, ideas, values, and behaviors which endow a 

person, and concomitantly a people, with a particular perspective on life and 

living; the study of which would encompass the subject-matter of the three 

disciplines above, and include: religion, philosophy, and anthropology 

As the United States History program progresses, the students’ ability to identify and analyze the manifestation of certain historical/social science themes should be progressing as well. Drawing themes out of the topic content on a regular basis will give greater meaning, continuity, and cohesiveness to the flow of material being presented to or researched by the student. The themes should emerge naturally from each unit’s topical content. Some of the major historical/social science themes are: 

Continuity and change; Culture; Environment; Individual identity; Role of groups and institutions; Power, authority, and governance; Production, distribution, and consumption; Technology and its impact on the human experience; Civic ideals and practices 

COURSE RATIONALE: The objectives of the U.S. History program are two. The first objective is to develop and deepen the student’s conceptual understanding of how our society operates, and how he or she is a part of this society. The second objective is to cultivate certain skills and habits, so that students may achieve the first objective. This second objective, then, may be considered the root aim of the U.S. History program.

UNIT 1: Forming a Union: Colonial and Constitutional Foundations (1607 – ca. 1800) Overarching Question: What are American foundations for liberty and freedom? 

Major Topics: Settlement of America (Virginia and New England, House of Burgesses, Mayflower Compact); colonial culture (salutary neglect, Salem witch trials, Bacon’s Rebellion, conflict with Native Americans; indentured servitude and slavery); colonial discontent and revolution (mercantilism, French-Indian War, British taxation, Common Sense, Boston Massacre, Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War); formation of new nation (Articles of Confederation, Constitution [compromises, Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, structure and principles of document]); new government and political parties (Washington precedents, Whiskey Rebellion, Federalists and Republicans) 

Primary Sources: Winthrop “City upon a Hill”; Mayflower Compact; Bacon’s Declaration; Common Sense, Boston Massacre engraving; Declaration of Independence; Common Sense; excerpts from Articles of Confederation; Jefferson and Washington letters on Shays’ Rebellion; excerpts from Constitution; Federalist Papers; Washington farewell address; Jefferson and Hamilton documents on Bank of U.S. (strict vs. loose construction), French Revolution, etc. 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Founding Fathers Project; Thematic Essay: What actions by the British and American patriots led to the American Revolution?; Thematic Essay: How did founding fathers compromise in order to achieve ratification of the Constitution?; Thematic Essay: How does the Constitution remain a flexible document? 

UNIT 2: Expansion, Nationalism, and Sectionalism (1800 – 1865) 

Overarching Question: Was the Civil War inevitable? 

Major Topics: Jefferson shrinking of Federal government; Louisiana Purchase; War of 1812; Nationalism (Marshall Court, Monroe Doctrine) vs. Sectionalism (Slavery vs. Industry; Missouri Compromise); Jacksonian Democracy; Indian Removal and Trail of Tears; Antebellum Reform Movements (Temperance, Abolition, Women’s Rights); Manifest Destiny; Road to Civil War (Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, Dred Scott, John Brown, Lincoln); Civil War (Emancipation Proclamation) 

Primary Sources: Jefferson justifying Louisiana Purchase; excerpts from Marshall decisions; Monroe Doctrine; Southern justifications of slavery; Jackson Indian Removal Act and Native American pictures and narratives; Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments; Garrison The Liberator; Dred Scott decision; Lincoln, First and Second Inaugural addresses; Emancipation Proclamation 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Antebellum Newspaper project; Document Essay: What factors led to the outbreak of the Civil War? 

UNIT 3: Post-Civil War America Industrialization, Urbanization and the Progressive Movement (1865 – ca. 1900) 

Overarching Question: How was America’s response to the challenges of growth & progress aligned to its ideals of democracy?

Major Topics: Reconstruction (Presidential vs. Radical, 13th-15th Amendments, KKK Acts, sharecropping, Freedmen’s Bureaus and political participation of African Americans); Jim Crow South (KKK, literacy tests and poll taxes, Plessy v. Ferguson); Conquest of the Far West; Rise of major industry (robber barons, new business organization methods, working conditions, unionization); New immigration; Urbanization (tenements, living conditions); Progressive Era (muckrakers; movements: political participation, women’s suffrage, factory conditions, living conditions; results: 16th-19th Amendments, direct primary, secret ballot, Pure Food/Drug Act) 

Primary Sources: Lincoln 2ndInaugural; Booker T. Washington on Reconstruction; Plessy v. Ferguson decision and dissent, “American Progress” painting; Carnegie Gospel of Wealth; Survival of the Fittest docs; Chinese Exclusion Act; political cartoons on immigration; Jacob Riis How the Other Half Lives; Upton Sinclair The Jungle; other Progressive reformer docs 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Progressive reformer Project; Document Essay: how successful was Reconstruction in gaining rights for African Americans?; Document Essay: What methods did Progressive Reformers use to inform Americans about economic, political and societal problems? 

UNIT 4: Prosperity and Depression: At Home and Abroad (ca. 1890 – 1941) 

Overarching Question: How does a nation balance its own needs and interests with that of other nations? 

Major Topics: Spanish-American War; World War I (Wilson, neutrality, Lusitania, 14 Points, Treaty of Versaille, Schenck v. U.S.); Roaring 20’s (Flappers, Harlem Renaissance, Scopes Trial, Rise of “new” KKK, prohibition); Great Depression and New Deal; 

Primary Sources: McKinley justification of Spanish American War; documents for debate on American expansion; Wilson on entering war, 14 points; documents for debate on signing Treaty of Versailles; Harlem Renaissance documents, photos and music, letters from Great Depression, FDR first inauguration speech and fireside chats, Conservative critiques of New Deal 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Argumentative essay on American expansion during age of imperialism; Thematic essay on role of federal government during times of crisis; Document essay: U.S. intervention in international crises 

UNIT 5: World War II and the Cold War (1935 – 1990) 

Overarching Question: To what extent have America’s responses to foreign policy challenges been successful? 

Major Topics: Inter-war neutrality (Neutrality Acts, cash and carry, lend-lease acts); Dropping of atomic bomb; Cold War foreign policy (containment, Marshall Plan, Berlin airlift, Korean War, Truman Doctrine, Eisenhower doctrine, Vietnam War); Cold War domestic policy (loyalty oaths, HUAC, McCarthyism) 

Primary Sources: documents for debate on use of atomic bomb; Kennan Long Telegram excerpts; Cold War documents, photos, videos (“Duck and Cover”); documents for debating

Vietnam War; Eisenhower farewell address; Kennedy Berlin speech; Reagan “Tear Down this Wall” speech; McCarthy speech docs and video; Hollywood 10 testimony and articles 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Thematic essay: What actions did the government take to achieve our aims during the Cold War?; Document essay: How has the government restricted civil liberties in times of crisis? 

UNIT 6: Social and Economic Change: Domestic Issues (1945 – present) Overarching Question: Is there one America or many? 

Major Topics: 1950’s conformity; Beats and rock and roll; civil rights movement (civil disobedience movement – Brown v. Board of Education, MLK, bus boycott, Freedom Rides, Selma, Birmingham, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act; radicalization of movement – Malcolm X, Black Panthers; post-Civil Rights: economic inequality, affirmative action, Bakke case); 1970’s civil rights and beyond (women’s liberation, gay rights, persons with disabilities, American Indian Movement); Watergate and its effects; economic recession and Reaganomics (stagflation, trickle-down supply side economics); demographic changes (graying of America, internal migration, Latino immigration and population growth) 

Primary Sources: Michael Harrington The Other America; Beat poetry and rock and roll music; MLK Letter from Birmingham Jail; video of Selma and Birmingham marches and March on Washington; docs and video of radical movements; documents for comparing 1970s movements; Woodward and Bernstein articles; Carter “malaise speech”; Reagan speeches and campaign videos (first inauguration); Anti-immigration articles and speeches and immigrant narratives. 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Document essay: how have different groups achieved civil rights in the 20th century? Thematic Essay: How have government officials tried to take extraordinary power, and in what ways were they limited in their efforts? 

UNIT 7: The United States and Globalization (1990 – present) 

Overarching Question: Is the United States moving toward or away from its foundational ideals? 

Major Topics: Globalization (NAFTA, IMF and World Bank, American economic influence abroad); Post-Cold War foreign policy (first Gulf War, “New World Order”, US/NATO intervention in Somalia, Kosovo, Panama); 9/11 and its effects (wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, PATRIOT Act, anti-Muslim discrimination); America’s role in the world today (Neo-conservatism vs. Isolationism vs. Multi-nationalist responses) 

Primary Sources: G.H.W. Bush on war in Iraq; Clinton on NAFTA; first person accounts and video of 9/11; G.W. Bush address to Congress after 9/11; PATRIOT Act; Pat Buchanan isolationism vs. neo-conservative arguments for intervention 

Summative Assessment (one or more of the following): Unit Exam; Essay to answer Overarching Question; Document essay: How has the federal government limited civil liberties during times of crisis? Document essay: What were causes and effects of American intervention in world affairs?


Reading Standards for History/Social Studies 11–12

Standard Sample Assessments

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis 

Document-based essays; citing documents and 

of primary and secondary sources, connecting 

using analysis and synthesis to support essay 

insights gained from specific details to an 

argument. Sample: Reconstruction DBQ; 

understanding of the text as a whole. (R.11/12.1) 

documents show how Amendment rights were 

taken away by Jim Crow South.

2. Determine the main ideas or information of a 

Primary source analysis. Sample: Read excerpt 

primary or secondary source; provide a summary 

from The Jungle, analyze how Sinclair argues for 

that makes clear the relationships between the key 

intervention in meat packing industry by providing 

details and ideas. (R.11/12.2) 

details about work and food conditions in book.

3. Analyze how ideas and beliefs emerge, develop, 

Synthesize main ideas from texts, show influence 

and influence events, based on evidence in the text. 

on history. Sample: Read excerpt from Common 


Sense, show effect of pamphlet in colonial 


4. Interpret the meaning of words and phrases in a 

Focus on specific phrases within a document to 

text, including how an author uses and refines the 

show greater meaning. Sample: Understand how 

meaning of a key term over the course of a text 

Jefferson uses term inalienable rights in 

(e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist 

Declaration of Independence, then describes a 

No. 10 and No. 51). (R.11/12.4) 

government’s role vis a vis those rights, then 

provides examples of England’s transgressions. 

5. Analyze in detail how a complex primary source 

Break down larger texts into parts, understand the 

is structured, including how key sentences, 

purpose/meaning of each part. Sample: Students 

paragraphs, and larger portions of the text 

read excerpts from each section of the United 

contribute to the whole. (R.11/12.5) 

States Constitution, describe the importance of the 

Preamble, Articles that provide government power, 

and Bill of Rights, which limit government power. 

6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the 

Compare arguments from multiple documents. 

same historical event or issue by assessing the 

Sample: Read Charles Lindbergh’s argument for 

authors’ claims, evidence, and reasoning. 

isolation and the NY Times’ response, in the 


debate over whether U.S. should enter World War 


7. Synthesize ideas and data presented graphically 

Analyze charts and graphs, and utilize information 

and determine their relationship to the rest of a 

in relation to written text; document-based essays. 

print or digital text, noting discrepancies between 

Sample: Relate chart showing African Americans 

the graphics and other information in the text. 

elected to Congress from 1865-1970 to show how 


during Reconstruction African Americans won and 

then lost political rights.

8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and 

Comparing primary sources with other 

evidence by corroborating or challenging them 

primary/secondary sources. Sample: Read letters 

with other sources of information. (R.11/12.8) 

sent home by African Americans who traveled to 

North during Great Migration, and compare 

accounts with textbook description of time period.

9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both 

Document-based essays. Sample

primary and secondary, into a coherent 

Transcontinental Railroad DBQ, analyzing effects 

understanding of an idea or event, noting 

of railroad on different groups of people, 

discrepancies among sources. (R.11/12.9) 

comparing benefits to some groups (white settlers, 

businessmen) with hardships on others (Native 

Americans, Chinese)

10. Read informational text independently, 

Read challenging primary sources. Sample: Read 

proficiently, and fluently in the grades 11–12 text 

“Gettysburg Address,” using Declaration of 

complexity band; read “stretch” texts with 

Independence as comparison. Read “Letter from 

scaffolding as needed. (R.11/12.10) 

Birmingham Jail” and watch Eyes on the Prize to 

gain context information.

Writing Standards for History/Social Studies 11–12

Standard Sample Assessments

1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific 

Thematic essay writing. Sample: Essay on 

content in which they: 

Constitutional flexibility. Students must explain 

a. Introduce a substantive claim… 

why the Constitution needs to be flexible; describe 

b. Develop a claim thoroughly… 

the ways it maintains flexibility and provide 

c. Use precise words and phrases… 

specific historical examples in which they describe 

d. Sustain an objective style and tone… 

the reason for needing flexibility and the method in 

e. Provide a concluding statement … (W.11/12.1) 

which this need was met.

2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including 

First person accounts of historical events. Sample

the narration of historical events in which they: 

Civil War newspaper project, in which students 

a. Introduce a complex topic… 

describe events leading up the Civil War, from the 

b. Develop a complex topic that has historical … 

perspective of a Northerner or Southerner who is 

c. Use varied transitional devices and sentence 

directly affected and has a strong opinion about the 


events being described.

d. Use precise language… 

e. Provide a well-developed conclusion(W.11/12.2) 

3. Students’ narrative skills continue to grow in 

Biographies of important figures. Sample

these grades. The Standards require that students 

Founding Fathers project, in which students think 

be able to incorporate narrative elements 

of five in-depth questions that they would ask a 

effectively into arguments and informative/ 

founding father, then conduct research in order to 

explanatory texts. In history, students must be 

find appropriate answers for those questions.

able to write narrative accounts about individuals 

or events of historical import. (W.11/12.3) 

4. Produce writing in which the organization, 

Thematic essays and document-based essays. 

development, substance, and style are appropriate 

Students avoid using first-person language or 

to task, purpose, and audience. (W.11/12.4) 

personal opinions in these essays. 

5. Strengthen writing as needed by planning, 

Writing for multiple audiences. Sample: Students 

revising, editing, or trying a new approach, 

write a persuasive argument for declaring 

focusing on addressing what is most significant for 

Revolution from England, first aimed at elites in 

a specific purpose and audience. (W.11/12.5) 

colonists, then at working class.

6. Demonstrate command of technology, including 

Web portfolios. Sample: Students upload history 

the Internet, to produce, publish, and update work 

essays to electronic portfolio. In Senior year, they 

in response to ongoing feedback, including fresh 

reflect on improvement in essay writing over high 

arguments or new information. (W.11/12.6) 

school career.

7. Perform short, focused research projects and 

One research project every marking period. 

more sustained research; synthesize multiple 

Sample: Modern-day muckraker project, in which 

authoritative sources on a subject to answer a 

students must research a current societal problem, 

question or solve a problem. (W.11/12.7) 

and find organizations that are addressing that 


8. Gather relevant information from multiple print 

One research project every marking period. 

and digital sources; assess its credibility and 

Sample: Antebellum Newspaper Project, in which 

accuracy and its usefulness in terms of purpose, 

students must conduct research on major events 

task, and audience; and integrate selected 

leading up to Civil War, then put that information 

information into the text, avoiding overreliance on 

into a first-person account, which forces students to 

any one source, avoiding plagiarism, and following 

put information in their own words. Standard APA 

a standard format for citation. (W.11/12.8) 

format for citations for all projects.

9. Write in response to informational sources, 

Document-based essays; projects. Sample

drawing on textual evidence to support analysis 

Immigration project, in which students interview 

and reflection as well as to describe what they have 

two immigrants, then reflect on what they learned 

learned. (W.11/12.9) 

from interviews and how that relates to knowledge 

acquired in class about immigration.

10. Write routinely over extended time frames 

Written assignment take multiple forms: short 

(time for reflection and revision) and shorter time 

answer within class that answers Aim question; 

frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range 

essay writing to answer weekly essential question; 

of tasks, purposes, and audiences. (W.11/12.10) 

extended research projects.

INSTRUCTIONAL FORMAT: The operational concept here is student-centered, i.e., teaching with special regard for the student and his particular learning processes. An approach which stimulates the student to be intellectually active on a daily basis is the ideal. This section will provide you with an overview of instructional strategies to keep in mind as you plan your curriculum. Then, it will give you an introduction to the Workshop Model, which is the recommended methodology for implementing these strategies. 

The four fundamental instructional strategies described below are recommended for actively engaging your students. 

  1. Consistent bilateral social interaction, among all in the classroom in every combination possible. Through dialogue students can share their knowledge and experiences with each other for the intellectual and affective enhancement of all, and can develop their social skills. 
  2. Lesson-matter must be made meaningful to the students by placing it in its appropriate thematic, disciplinary, and life contexts. Encourage them to see the big picture behind whatever it is they are learning, and analogize the material to the students’ own everyday experiences. Given a frame of reference or a specific context to which they can experientially or logically relate, the students will be more motivated to learn. 
  3. Take a project-oriented approach. For each unit, assign projects individually or in groups, or have one ongoing project that lasts the whole semester. Projects keep students active, they give greater meaning to the content being presented, serve as an effective means of assessing a student’s intellectual and affective progress, and they offer ample opportunity for the student to exercise a whole repertoire of skills. The advantages of this approach are numerous. Sample projects: producing historical news-pages; the research paper; a video production; an oral presentation; etc. 
  4. The heavy use of visual materials such as photos, drawings, slides, political cartoons, films, videos, filmstrips, and art prints will make up for the inadequacy of words for reviving the past and for describing foreign lands and peoples. Images, moreover, serve well as knowledge-structuring and knowledge-recall devices because of the deep imprint they can leave on the mind especially when accompanied by verbal or written descriptions. For example, once having seen video clips and slides of life in India, all of the data relating to India which they subsequently encounter will have an image-memory on which to accrue. Images can be seen as the fertile soil from which conceptual understandings may germinate, and grow. Choose and present your images thoughtfully. 

The 5-30-10 Model is an effective means for implementing these four strategies. This Model breaks the lesson into three segments: 

  1. (Teacher) 5 minutes: Homework Review and Launch of Lesson with (Rigor) high level open ended question (s) that can be student-generated 
  2. (Students) 10 minutes: Close Reading of a variety of texts (written texts, primary and secondary sources, non-fiction, fiction, videos, experiments, math problems, images, pictures, dialogue, of varying complexity and at varying reading levels, in various languages (Access) using reading strategies that aid in analysis and comprehension of text such as annotation, questioning, vocabulary to develop the habits of highly effective readers with rubrics for guidance. 
  3. (Students) 10 minutes: Text/Evidence Based Discussion using specific protocols in small groups or whole class. Debates, Socratic Seminar, Philosophical Chairs, Turn and Talk, Think Pair Share Write, etc. with rubrics for guidance (3b and 3c)
  4. (Students) 10 minutes: Writing from Sources using evidence from the reading/discussion with rubrics for guidance. 
  5. (Students) 10 minutes: Self and Peer Assessment with feedback and next steps (3d) PS: The Reading, Discussion, Writing and Assessment can all take place in the same period or be spread across periods. Extended reading, in preparation for class can be done at home. Similarly, extended writing can be done at home as an offshoot of the lesson, or in preparation for the lesson. 

ASSESSMENT: How much a student has progressed during each U.S. History course will be determined by regularly observing his performance in the following areas: 

Formative Assessment: Classwork and Participation (30%) 

Formative Assessment: Homework (30%) 

Summative Assessment: Quizzes and Exams (20%) 

Summative Assessment: Essays and Projects (20%) 


  • Main textbooks: 

o Cayton, A., Perry, E. I., Reed, L., & Winkler, A. M. (2003). America: Pathways to the Present. Needham, MA: Prentice Hall.