Closer Readings Commentary

Teaching about U.S History in a Global Context

Kelly Granito holds a degree in Secondary Education at Western Michigan University and an M.A. in American Studies from The George Washington University. She has taught English and Social Studies in New Orleans, and AP World History review courses at a public magnet school in Washington, DC. Kelly now works as a K–12 education policy research analyst in New York City.

Classroom nomenclature is a tricky thing. Because of the way we name courses—Chinese History, British Literature, American Government—we often inadvertently suggest that humanities subjects writ large are wholly separate from one another: compartmentalized cultures and histories that unfolded in a vacuum. When we do that, we send students the message that the disciplines are mutually exclusive.

While narrowing the curricular focus to one nation or group often makes sense given the reality of time constraints, this can cause teachers to miss the opportunity to connect what students are learning about in their classrooms with what students are learning in the classroom down the hall.

Connecting the content

Under the Common Core Standards teachers are increasingly being asked to collaborate with colleagues in other content areas to get students to think across classroom lines.

For U.S. History teachers in particular, this means going beyond covering U.S. foreign relations and America’s evolving role on the global stage. Instead, teachers can show students how to use their knowledge of what was happening in the U.S. at any given historical moment as a lens through which to understand what was happening in the world at that same moment. Conversely, students can use their knowledge of global history as a way of contextualizing the content put before them in their U.S history classes.

Luckily, EDSITEment has some fantastic resources to help illuminate these cross-content connections. By introducing the lessons described below, teachers can use content-rich nonfiction and primary sources to help their students build knowledge across disciplines.

America and empire

EDSITEment’s Empire and Identity in the Colonies draws on the Albany Conference of 1754 as a vehicle for facilitating students’ deep and broad understanding of colonization and settlement. By using primary and secondary sources to examine the interests of various factions in the colonies, students will enhance their understanding of the British imperial system in North America and can use this understanding to enrich their knowledge of the British Empire as an entity that extended beyond America and greatly influenced political and economic systems around the world.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.6: Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.9: Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Teachers can also introduce the concept of imperialism vis-á-vis America’s attempted foray into the expansionist movement in the late 19th century. Through EDSITEment’s unit plan, The Birth of an American Empire, students will not only learn about how obtaining the Philippines from Spain raised larger questions about the political identity of America in relation to that of its European counterparts, but will also come to understand how America’s commitment to the free and open market intersected with its emergence as a global power.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3: Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1.b: Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.

American music and global history

Teachers often spend time discussing the importance of jazz when teaching the history of the mid-20th century. You can enhance these discussions by helping students understand jazz music’s global importance, particularly during World War II. Start with EDSITEment’s lesson Jazz and World War II, which will expand classroom discussions of jazz by having students examine a variety of media and participate in critical group discussions about primary and secondary resources related to jazz history. The lesson includes material on the importance of this musical form to the morale of soldiers fighting abroad and will also help students learn how jazz became a means of resistance to the Nazi party.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.c: Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

Through these and other EDSITEment lessons teachers can create a cross-curricular feedback loop that will prepare students to learn about United States history in a truly global context. In the process, they will create classroom environments that are intellectually rigorous and Common Core-ready.