• Lesson 6: On the Road with Marco Polo: Sea Voyage to India

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    After spending 17 years in China, Marco Polo and his father and uncle finally had an opportunity to return home to Venice. Student follow their homeward journey starting with a sea voyage to India.

  • Lesson 4: On the Road with Marco Polo: Crossing the Deserts of China

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    After resting up and replenishing their supplies in the trading city of Kashgar, Marco Polo and his father and uncle continued eastward on their journey from Venice to China.

  • Lesson 2: On the Road with Marco Polo: From Venice to Hormuz

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    Marco Polo's father and uncle returned to Venice when he was 15 years old. Two years later, when they set off again for China, they decided to take Marco with them. Students will take a “virtual” trip with Marco Polo from Venice to China and back. The first leg of the journey ends at Hormuz.

  • Lesson 3: On the Road with Marco Polo: From Hormuz to Kashgar

    A map of Marco Polo's route to and from China.

    The Polos were so concerned about the seaworthiness of the ships they found at Hormuz that they changed their plans and decided instead to follow a series of trade routes across Asia to China. Students will "accompany" them on this leg og the trip, from Hormuz to Kashgar.

  • Morality "Tails" East and West: European Fables and Buddhist Jataka Tales

    Malaysian Buddha figurine.

    Fables, such as those attributed to Aesop, are short narratives populated by animals who behave like humans, and which convey lessons to the listener. Jataka Tales are often short narratives which tell the stories of the lives of the Buddha before he reached Enlightenment. In this lesson students will be introduced to both Aesop’s fables and to a few of the Jataka Tales, and through these stories will gain an understanding of one genre of storytelling: morality tales.

  • George Orwell's Essay on his Life in Burma: "Shooting An Elephant"

    George Orwell confronted an Asian elephant like this one in the story recounted  for this lesson plan.

    Eric A. Blair, better known by his pen name, George Orwell, is today best known for his last two novels, the anti-totalitarian works Animal Farm and 1984. He was also an accomplished and experienced essayist, writing on topics as diverse as anti-Semitism in England, Rudyard Kipling, Salvador Dali, and nationalism. Among his most powerful essays is the 1931 autobiographical essay "Shooting an Elephant," which Orwell based on his experience as a police officer in colonial Burma.

  • Lessons of the Indian Epics: The Ramayana

    Lessons of the Indian Epics image

    The Ramayana (ram-EYE-ya-na) and the Mahabharata (ma-ha-BA-ra-ta), the great Indian epics, are among the most important works of literature in South Asia. Both contain important lessons on wisdom, behavior and morality, and have been used for centuries not only as entertainment, but also as a way of instructing both children and adults in the exemplary behavior toward which they are urged to strive and the immoral behavior they are urged to shun. In this lesson, students will read an abridged version of the Ramayana, and will explore the ways in which the story of Rama contains elements, such as the Epic Hero Cycle, that place it within the epic poetry tradition.

  • Being in the Noh: An Introduction to Japanese Noh Plays

    "Floating Bridge of Dreams," from a chapter of the Tale of Genjii

    Noh, the oldest surviving Japanese dramatic form, combines elements of dance, drama, music, and poetry into a highly stylized, aesthetic retelling of a well-known story from Japanese literature, such as The Tale of Genji or The Tale of the Heike. This lesson provides an introduction to the elements of Noh plays and to the text of two plays, and provides opportunities for students to compare the conventions of the Noh play with other dramatic forms with which they may already be familiar, such as the ancient Greek dramas of Sophocles. By reading classic examples of Noh plays, such as Atsumori, students will learn to identify the structure, characters, style, and stories typical to this form of drama. Students will expand their grasp of these conventions by using them to write the introduction to a Noh play of their own.

  • 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae: Herodotus's Real History

    “Μολον Λαωε!”

    Students may be familiar with this famous battle from its depiction in Zack Snyder's movie 300, based on Frank Miller's graphic novel. In this lesson students learn about the historical background to the battle and are asked to ponder some of its legacy, including how history is reported and interpreted from different perspectives.

    Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12
    Curriculum Unit

    From Neutrality to War: The United States and Europe, 1921–1941 (4 Lessons)

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    The Unit

    Overview

    In the years after World War I Americans quickly reached the conclusion that their country's participation in that war had been a disastrous mistake, one which should never be repeated again. During the 1920s and 1930s, therefore, they pursued a number of strategies aimed at preventing war.

    At first the major players in this effort were American peace societies, many of which were part of larger international movements. Their agenda called for large-scale disarmament and an international treaty to abolish war. Their efforts bore fruit, as 1922 saw the signing of a major agreement among the great powers to reduce their numbers of battleships. Six years later most of the world's nations signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, in which the signatories pledged never again to go to war with one another.

    However, events in the early- to mid-1930s led many Americans to believe that such agreements were insufficient. After all, they did not deter Japan from occupying Manchuria in 1931, nor four years later did they stop the German government from authorizing a huge new arms buildup, or Italy from invading Ethiopia. The U.S. Congress responded by passing the Neutrality Acts, a series of laws banning arms sales and loans to countries at war, in the hope that this would remove any potential reason that the United States might have for entering a European conflict.

    When in 1939 war did break out between Germany on the one hand, and Britain and France on the other, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dutifully invoked the Neutrality Acts. However, he believed that this was a fundamentally different war from World War I. Germany, he believed (and most Americans agreed with him) was in this case a clear aggressor. Roosevelt therefore sought to provide assistance for the Allies, while still keeping the United States out of the war. He began by asking Congress to amend the neutrality laws to allow arms sales to the Allies. Later on, after German forces overran France, the president asked Congress for a massive program of direct military aid to Great Britain—an initiative that Roosevelt dubbed "Lend-Lease." In both cases the legislature agreed to FDR's proposals, but only after intense debate.

    The question of how involved the United States should become in the European war deeply divided the country. On the one hand, Roosevelt and the so-called "internationalists" claimed that a program of aid to Great Britain and other countries fighting against Germany would make actual U.S. participation in the war unnecessary. On the other side stood those who were called "isolationists," who believed that the president's policies were making it increasingly likely that the country would end up in another disastrous foreign war. This debate was still raging when Japanese aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. At this point it was clear that, like it or not, the United States would be a full participant in the Second World War.

    Guiding Questions

    • How did Americans' disillusionment with World War I help to shape U.S. foreign policy during the 1920s?
    • Did the neutrality laws of the 1930s represent an effective U.S. response to world affairs?
    • How did the American conception of "neutrality" change during the first fifteen months of World War II in Europe? Was this change a positive or a negative development?
    • Which side offered the better approach to U.S. foreign relations—the "internationalists" or the "isolationists"?

    Learning Objectives

    • List the main reasons for the growth of antiwar sentiment after World War I.
    • Identify the U.S. foreign policy initiatives of the 1920s that aimed toward the prevention of war.
    • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Five-Power Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact as means of preventing war.
    • Explain the "Merchants of Death" thesis and how it shaped the U.S. approach to neutrality.
    • List the main terms of the neutrality laws passed during the 1930s.
    • Identify the major events of European history between 1935 and 1941, and how they shaped the debate over U.S. neutrality.
    • Assess the overall effectiveness of U.S. neutrality policy during this period.
    • Explain Roosevelt's concept of neutrality in the context of the European war.
    • Articulate how Roosevelt sought to revise the neutrality laws in line with this understanding.
    • Explain the arguments both for and against Roosevelt's decision in late 1940 to extend military aid to Great Britain.
    • Articulate the main arguments used in 1941 for and against greater U.S. involvement in the European war.
    • List the Roosevelt administration's major foreign policy initiatives regarding the war in Europe, and explain the significance of each.
    • Assess the strengths and weaknesses of the "internationalist" and "isolationist" positions, and advance an argument as to which was the better approach.
    • Identify on a blank map the locations of the major events in Europe from 1935 to 1941.

    Preparation Instructions

    • Review the lesson plans in the unit. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and links from EDSITEment-reviewed websites used in these lessons. Download and print out selected documents and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Alternatively, excerpted versions of these documents are available as part of the downloadable PDFs.
    • Download the Text Documents for the lessons, available as PDFs. These files contain excerpted versions of the documents used in all each lesson, as well as questions for students to answer. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of the handouts you plan to use in class.
    • Finally, familiarize yourself with the interactive timeline "America on the Sidelines: The United States and World Affairs, 1931-1941" that accompanies this lesson. This timeline will, through text and maps, guide students through the major events in Europe from 1933 to 1941, and will ask students for each event to identify (choosing from among a menu of options) how the United States responded to it.
    Analyzing primary sources

    If your students lack experience in dealing with primary sources, you might use one or more preliminary exercises to help them develop these skills. The Learning Page at the American Memory Project of the Library of Congress includes a set of such activities. Another useful resource is the Digital Classroom of the National Archives, which features a set of Document Analysis Worksheets.

    The Lessons

    • Lesson 1: Postwar Disillusionment and the Quest for Peace, 1921–1929

      Senator William E. Borah, (R-Idaho), was a prominent American isolationist who  gave a speech on "outlawing war" in 1924.

      Although antiwar organizations existed even before World War I, it was during the interwar period that pacifism became the fastest-growing movement in America. Numerous American politicians, businessmen, journalists, and activists made proposals for multilateral agreements on arms control and collective security. Through an examination of memoirs, photographs, and other primary source documents, students examine the rise of antiwar sentiment in the United States, as well as some of the concrete measures taken during the 1920s to prevent the outbreak of future wars.

    • Lesson 2: Legislating Neutrality, 1934–1939

      President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to keep the U.S. out of World War II as  long as possible.

      Americans in the mid nineteen thirties turned increasingly pessimistic about the possibility of preventing the outbreak of wars through international cooperation and instead moved toward measures designed to prevent the United States from intervening in any foreign war that might occur. In this lesson students examine a series of primary source documents that will help them understand why these laws were passed, and how they were applied in the mid- to late-1930s.

    • Lesson 3: U.S. Neutrality and the War in Europe, 1939–1940

      Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh

      The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 posed a serious challenge to U.S. neutrality. On the one hand, Americans' sympathies lay overwhelmingly with Great Britain and its allies; on the other hand, public sentiment overwhelmingly favored staying out of the war. Through a study of contemporary documents, students learn about the difficult choices faced by the Roosevelt administration during the first fifteen months of World War II, culminating in the decision to provide direct military aid to Great Britain.

    • Lesson 4: The Great Debate: Internationalists vs. Isolationists

      Senator James Byrnes of South Carolina defended the U.S.'s aiding of Great  Britain prior to America's entry into World War II.

      President Roosevelt's proposal to provide direct military aid to Great Britain launched a nationwide debate over foreign policy that lasted through most of 1941. Should the United States observe its traditional policy of non-involvement in European affairs (to which World War I had been a notable exception), or should the United States take whatever steps were necessary (up to and, perhaps, including direct involvement in the war) to prevent a German victory?In this lesson students are introduced to the main arguments used by both sides in this great debate. Through the use of an interactive map and primary source documents, students trace the events of 1941, and think critically about what foreign policy would have best served national interests.

    The Basics

    Grade Level

    9-12

    Subject Areas
    • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
    • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
    • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945)
    • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
    Skills
    • Compare and contrast
    • Critical analysis
    • Critical thinking
    • Debate
    • Evaluating arguments
    • Historical analysis
    • Interpretation
    • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
    • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
    • Textual analysis
    • Using primary sources
    • Writing skills