Closer Readings Commentary

Advanced Placement U.S. History Lessons

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton December 26, 1776 by John Trumbull.
Photo caption

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton December 26, 1776 by John Trumbull.

EDSITEment brings online humanities resources directly to the classroom through exemplary lesson plans and student activities. EDSITEment develops AP level lessons based on primary source documents that cover the most frequently taught topics and themes in American history. Many of these lessons were developed by teachers and scholars associated with the City University of New York and Ashland University.

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Transatlantic Encounters and Colonial Beginnings

Magna Carta: Cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution—Magna Carta served to lay the foundation for the evolution of parliamentary government and subsequent declarations of rights in Great Britain and the United States. In attempting to establish checks on the king's powers, this document asserted the right of "due process" of law.

Images of the New World—How did the English picture the native peoples of America during the early phases of colonization of North America? This lesson plan enables students to interact with written and visual accounts of this critical formative period at the end of the 16th century, when the English view of the New World was being formulated, with consequences that we are still seeing today.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción and the Spanish Mission in the New World—In this Picturing America lesson, students explore the historical origins and organization of Spanish missions in the New World and discover the varied purposes these communities of faith served. Focusing on the daily life of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, the lesson asks students to relate the people of this community and their daily activities to the art and architecture of the mission.

Colonial North America

Colonizing the Bay—This lesson focuses on John Winthrop’s historic "Model of Christian Charity" sermon which is often referred to by its "City on a Hill" metaphor. Through a close reading of this admittedly difficult text, students will learn how it illuminates the beliefs, goals, and programs of the Puritans. The sermon sought to inspire and to motivate the Puritans by pointing out the distance they had to travel between an ideal community and their real-world situation.

Mapping Colonial New England: Looking at the Landscape of New England—The lesson focuses on two 17th century maps of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to trace how the Puritans took possession of the region, built towns, and established families on the land. Students learn how these New England settlers interacted with the Native Americans, and how to gain information about those relationships from primary sources such as maps.

William Penn’s Peaceable Kingdom—By juxtaposing the different promotional tracts of William Penn and David Pastorius, students understand the ethnic diversity of Pennsylvania along with the "pull” factors of migration in the 17th century English colonies.

Understanding the Salem Witch Trials—In 1691, a group of girls from Salem, Massachusetts accused an Indian slave named Tituba of witchcraft, igniting a hunt for witches that left 19 men and women hanged, one man pressed to death, and over 150 more people in prison awaiting a trial. In this lesson, students explore the characteristics of the Puritan community in Salem, learn about the Salem Witchcraft Trials, and try to understand how and why this event occurred.

American Revolutionary Era

Religion in 18th-Century America—This curriculum unit, through the use of primary documents, introduces students to the First Great Awakening, as well as to the ways in which religious-based arguments were used both in support of and against the American Revolution.

Common Sense: The Rhetoric of Popular Democracy—This lesson looks at Tom Paine and at some of the ideas presented in Common Sense, such as national unity, natural rights, the illegitimacy of the monarchy and of hereditary aristocracy, and the necessity for independence and the revolutionary struggle.

"An Expression of the American Mind”: Understanding the Declaration of Independence—This lesson plan looks at the major ideas in the Declaration of Independence, their origins, the Americans’ key grievances against the King and Parliament, their assertion of sovereignty, and the Declaration’s process of revision. Upon completion of the lesson, students will be familiar with the document’s origins, and the influences that produced Jefferson’s "expression of the American mind.”

The American War for Independence—The decision of Britain's North American colonies to rebel against the Mother Country was an extremely risky one. In this unit, consisting of three lesson plans, students learn about the diplomatic and military aspects of the American War for Independence.

What Made George Washington a Good Military Leader?—What combination of experience, strategy, and personal characteristics enabled Washington to succeed as a military leader? In this unit, students read the Continental Congress's resolutions granting powers to General Washington, and analyze some of Washington's wartime orders, dispatches, and correspondence in terms of his mission and the characteristics of a good general.

Slavery and the American Founding: The "Inconsistency not to be excused”—This lesson focuses on the views of the founders as expressed in primary documents from their own time and in their own words. Students see that many of the major founders opposed slavery as contrary to the principles of the American Revolution. Students gain a better understanding of the views of many founders, even those who owned slaves – including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – who looked forward to a time when slavery would no longer mar the American Republic.

Taking Up Arms and the Challenge of Slavery in the Revolutionary Era—Was the American Revolution inevitable? This lesson is designed to help students understand the transition to armed resistance and the contradiction in the Americans’ rhetoric about slavery through the examination of a series of documents.

Choosing Sides: The Native Americans' Role in the American Revolution—Native American groups had to choose the loyalist or patriot cause—or somehow maintain a neutral stance during the Revolutionary War. Students analyze maps, treaties, congressional records, first-hand accounts, and correspondence to determine the different roles assumed by Native Americans in the American Revolution and understand why the various groups formed the alliances they did.

Boycotting Baubles of Britain—This lesson looks at the changes in British colonial policies and the American resistance through the topic of tea, clothing, and other British goods. Students analyze and interpret key historical artifacts as well as visual and textual sources that shed light on how commodities such as tea became important symbols of personal and political identity during the years leading up to the formal Declaration of Independence in 1776.

The Early Republic

The Constitutional Convention of 1787—The delegates at the 1787 Convention faced a challenge as arduous as those who worked throughout the 1780s to initiate reforms to the American political system. In this unit, students examine the roles that key American founders played in creating the Constitution, and the challenges they faced in the process.

The Federalist and Anti-federalist Debates on Diversity and the Extended Republic—In this unit, students will examine some of the most important arguments of those opposing or supporting the Constitution. They will learn why Anti-federalists believed that a large nation could not long preserve liberty and self-government and why Federalists such as James Madison believed that a large nation was vital to promote justice and the security of rights for all citizens, majority and minority alike.

Ratifying the Constitution—This lesson introduces students to the vigorous debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution that took place in the state conventions.

The Creation of the Bill of Rights: "Retouching the Canvas"—This lesson will focus on the arguments either for or against the addition of a Bill of Rights between 1787 and 1789.

Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion—Students weigh the choices Washington faced in the nation’s first Constitutional crisis by following events through his private diary.

Certain Crimes Against the United States: The Sedition Act—As the end of the 18th century drew near, relations between the United States and France were deteriorating. In 1797 President Adams expressed his concern about the possibility of war with France and dissension at home caused by France and its supporters. At the same time, two opposing political parties were developing in the U.S., with Thomas Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans tending to sympathize with France in foreign policy. Their loyalty was called into question by the Federalists. It was a dangerous time both for the security of the young Republic and the freedoms its citizens enjoyed.

John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison and Judicial Review—How the Court Became Supreme—If James Madison was the "father" of the Constitution" John Marshall was the "father of the Supreme Court"—almost single-handedly clarifying its powers. This new lesson is designed to help students understand Marshall's brilliant strategy in issuing his decision on Marbury v. Madison, the significance of the concept of judicial review, and the language of this watershed case.

The First American Party System: Events, Issues, and Positions—Fear of factionalism and political parties was deeply rooted in Anglo-American political culture before the American Revolution. Leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson hoped their new government, founded on the Constitution, would be motivated instead by a common intent, a unity. But political parties did form in the United States, with their beginnings in Washington's cabinet.

James Madison: From Father of the Constitution to President—Even in its first 30 years of existence, the U.S. Constitution had to prove its durability and flexibility in a variety of disputes. More often than not, James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution," took part in the discussion.

Democracy in America: Alexis de Tocqueville's Introduction—(EDSITEment Feature) Tocqueville’s sojourn in America led to the writing of the reflection on equality and freedom known as Democracy in America. This great book remains arguably one of the two most important books on America political life, the Federalist Papers being the other one.

The Transformation of Politics in Antebellum America

The Monroe Doctrine: Origin and Early American Foreign Policy—Monroe brought a vision of an expanded America to his presidency—a vision that helped facilitate the formulation of what has become known as the Monroe Doctrine. In this unit, students review the Monroe Doctrine against a background of United States foreign relations in the early years of the republic.

The Election Is in the House: The Presidential Election of 1824—The presidential election of 1824 represents a watershed in American politics. The collapse of the Federalist Party and the illness of the "official candidate" of the Democratic-Republicans led to a slate of candidates who were all Democratic-Republicans. This led to the end of the Congressional Caucus system for nominating candidates, and eventually, the development of a new two-party system in the United States. In this unit, students read an account of the election from the Journal of the House of Representatives, analyze archival campaign materials, and use an interactive online activity to develop a better understanding of the election of 1824 and its significance.

The 1828 Campaign of Andrew Jackson and the Growth of Party Politics—Changes in voting qualifications and participation, the election of Andrew Jackson, and the formation of the Democratic Party—due largely to the organizational skills of Martin Van Buren—all contributed to making the election of 1828 and Jackson’s presidency a watershed in the evolution of the American political system. In this unit, students analyze changes in voter participation and regional power, and review archival campaign documents reflecting the dawn of politics as we know it during the critical years from 1824 to 1832.

The Campaign of 1840: William Henry Harrison and Tyler, Too—After the debacle of the one-party presidential campaign of 1824, a new two-party system began to emerge. Strong public reaction to perceived corruption in the vote in the House of Representatives, as well as the popularity of Andrew Jackson, allowed Martin Van Buren to organize a Democratic Party that resurrected a Jeffersonian philosophy of minimalism in the federal government. What issues were important to the presidential campaign of 1840? Why is the campaign of 1840 often cited as the first modern campaign?

The Transformation of the Economy and Society in Antebellum America

Was There an Industrial Revolution? Americans at Work Before the Civil War—In this lesson, students explore the First Industrial Revolution in early nineteenth-century America. By reading and comparing first-hand accounts of the lives of workers before the Civil War, students prepare for a series of guided role-playing activities designed to help them make an informed judgment as to whether the changes that took place in manufacturing and distribution during this period are best described as a 'revolution' or as a steady evolution over time.

Was There an Industrial Revolution? New Workplace, New Technology, New Consumers—In this lesson, students explore the First Industrial Revolution in early nineteenth-century America. Through simulation activities and the examination of primary historical materials, students learn how changes in the workplace and less expensive goods led to the transformation of American life.

Life in the North and South 1847–1861: Before Brother Fought Brother—Curriculum Unit overview. More Americans lost their lives in the Civil War than in any other conflict. How did the United States arrive at a point at which the South seceded and some families were so fractured that brother fought brother?

The Crisis of the Union

A House Dividing: The Growing Crisis of Sectionalism in Antebellum America—In this unit, students will trace the development of sectionalism in the United States as it was driven by the growing dependence upon, and defense of, black slavery in the southern states.

From Courage to Freedom—In 1845 Frederick Douglass published what was to be the first of his three autobiographies: the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself.

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?—A student activity. Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) was a former slave who became the greatest abolitionist orator of the antebellum period. During the Civil War he worked tirelessly for the emancipation of the four million enslaved African Americans.

The Civil War

The American Civil War: A "Terrible Swift Sword”—This curriculum unit introduces students to important questions pertaining to the war: strengths and weaknesses of each side at the start of the conflict; the two turning points of the war-the concurrent battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg—as well as the morality of the Union's use of "total war" tactics against the population of the South; Abraham Lincoln's wartime leadership.

Abraham Lincoln on the American Union: "A Word Fitly Spoken”—By examining Lincoln's three most famous speeches—the Gettysburg Address and the First and Second Inaugural Addresses—in addition to a little known fragment on the Constitution, union, and liberty, students trace what these documents say regarding the significance of union to the prospects for American self-government.

The Emancipation Proclamation: Freedom's First Steps—Why was the Emancipation Proclamation important? While the Civil War began as a war to restore the Union, not to end slavery, by 1862 President Abraham Lincoln came to believe that he could save the Union only by broadening the goals of the war. students can explore the obstacles and alternatives we faced in making the journey toward "a more perfect Union."

The Red Badge of Courage: A New Kind of Courage—In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane presents war through the eyes —and thoughts —of one soldier. The narrative’s altered point of view and stylistic innovations enable a heightened sense of realism while setting the work apart from war stories written essentially as tributes or propaganda.

Reconstruction

The Battle Over Reconstruction—This curriculum unit of three lessons examines the social, political and economic conditions of the southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War and shows how these factors helped to shape the Reconstruction debate as well as the subsequent history of American race relations.

Industrial America in the Late Nineteenth Century

Was There an Industrial Revolution? New Workplace, New Technology, New Consumers—In this lesson, students explore the First Industrial Revolution in early nineteenth-century America. Through simulation activities and the examination of primary historical materials, students learn how changes in the workplace and less expensive goods led to the transformation of American life.

The Industrial Age in America: Robber Barons or Captains of Industry?

The Industrial Age in America: Sweatshops, Steel Mills and Factories

The Emergence of America as a World Power

The Birth of an American Empire—America emerges as a world power after the Spanish American War and asserting itself on the world scene.

United States Entry into World War I: A Documentary Chronology—In this curriculum unit, students reconsider the events leading to U.S. entry into World War I through the lens of archival documents.

The United States and Europe: From Neutrality to War, 1921–1941—Over the two decades between World War I and World War II, Americans pursued strategies aimed at preventing another war. In this four lesson unit, students use primary sources and an interactive map to examine the rise of antiwar sentiment and legislation in the United States and the main arguments used by both sides as to whether the United States should enter the war or remain neutral.

African-American Soldiers in World War I: The 92nd and 93rd Divisions—Late in 1917, the War Department created two all-black infantry divisions. The 93rd Infantry Division received unanimous praise for its performance in combat, fighting as part of France’s 4th Army. In this lesson, students combine their research in a variety of sources, including firsthand accounts, to develop a hypothesis evaluating.

African-American Soldiers After World War I: Had Race Relations Changed?—In this lesson, students view archival photographs, combine their efforts to comb through a database of more than 2,000 archival newspaper accounts about race relations in the United States, and read newspaper articles written from different points of view about post-war riots in Chicago.

The Great War: Evaluating the Treaty of Versailles—Was the Treaty of Versailles, which formally concluded World War I, a legitimate attempt by the victorious powers to prevent further conflict, or did it place an unfair burden on Germany? This lesson helps students respond to the question in an informed manner. Activities involve primary sources, maps, and other supporting documents related to the peace process and its reception by the German public and German politicians.

The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations—American foreign policy continues to resonate with the issues surrounding the debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations—collective security versus national sovereignty, idealism versus pragmatism, the responsibilities of powerful nations, and the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals, the idea of America. Understanding the debate over the League and the consequences of its ultimate failure provides insight into international affairs in the years since the end of the Great War and beyond. In this lesson, students read the words and listen to the voices of some central participants in the debate over the League of Nations.

Woodrow Wilson and Foreign Policy—Curriculum Unit. The influence of President Woodrow Wilson on American foreign policy has been profound and lasting. Using a variety of primary sources, students analyze the origins of the ambitious foreign policy that came to be known as Wilsonianism and compare it with important alternative traditions in American foreign policy.

The Origins of "Wilsonianism”

"To Elect Good Men”: Woodrow Wilson and Latin America

Wilson and American Entry into World War I

Fighting for Peace: The Fate of Wilson's Fourteen Points

The New Era: 1920s

Birth of a Nation, the NAACP, and the Balancing of Rights—In this lesson students learn how Birth of a Nation reflected and influenced racial attitudes, and they analyze and evaluate the efforts of the NAACP to prohibit showing of the film

NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaigns: The Quest for Social Justice in the Interwar Years—Curriculum Unit Overview: During the years 1909 to 1939, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sought passage of anti-lynching legislation. Although this proposed legislation failed to become law, much can be learned by examining the NAACP's anti-lynching campaign about how Americans in the interwar period understood the federal system, interpreted the Constitution, and responded to calls for social justice.

FDR, The Great Depression, and the New Deal

FDR's Fireside Chats: The Power of Words—In this lesson which focuses on two of FDR's Fireside Chats, students gain a sense of the dramatic effect of FDR's voice on his audience, see the scope of what he was proposing in these initial speeches, and make an overall analysis of why the Fireside Chats were so successful.

The Social Security Act—This lesson engages students in the debate over the Social Security Act that engrossed the nation during the 1930s.

African-Americans and the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps—The Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal recovery and relief program provided more than a quarter of a million young black men with jobs during the Depression. By examining primary source documents students analyze the impact of this program on race relations in America and assess the role played by the New Deal in changing them.

FDR and the Lend-Lease Act—This lesson shows students how broadly the Lend-Lease Act of March 1941 empowered the federal government—particularly the President—and asks students to investigate how FDR promoted the program in speeches and then in photographs.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rise of Social Reform in the 1930s—This lesson asks students to explore the various roles that Eleanor Roosevelt a key figure in several of the most important social reform movements of the twentieth century took on, among them: First Lady, political activist for civil rights, newspaper columnist and author, and representative to the United Nations.

Worth a Thousand Words: Depression-Era Photographs—Spend a day with a model American family and the photographer who molded our view of their lives.

Freedom by the Fireside: The Legacy of FDR's "Four Freedoms" Speech—One of the most famous political speeches on freedom in the twentieth century was delivered by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union message to Congress.This lesson examines some of the nuances and ambiguities inherent in the rhetorical use of "freedom." The objective is to encourage students to glimpse the broad range of hopes and aspirations that are expressed in the call of—and for—freedom.

Dust Bowl Days—Students will be introduced to this dramatic era in our nation's history through photographs, songs and interviews with people who lived through the Dust Bowl.

NAACP Lesson 2: NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaign in the 1930s

From Neutrality to War: The United States and Europe, 1921–1941—Curiculum unit overview. Over the two decades between World War I and World War II, Americans pursued strategies aimed at preventing another war. In this four lesson unit, students use primary sources and an interactive map to examine the rise of antiwar sentiment and legislation in the United States and the main arguments used by both sides as to whether the United States should enter the war or remain neutral.

The Second World War

The Road to Pearl Harbor: The United States and East Asia, 1915-1941—Curiculum unit overview. Although most Americans were shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the outbreak of war between the two countries came as no surprise to most observers of international affairs. Using contemporary documents, students explore the rise of animosity between the United States and Japan from its origins in World War I and culminating two decades later in the Pearl Harbor attack.

"The Proper Application of Overwhelming Force”: The United States in World War II—After learning that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, thus ensuring that the United States would enter World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill breathed a sigh of relief. "Hitler's fate was sealed," he would later recall. "Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force." In this unit, students examine the role that the United States played in bringing about this victory.

American Diplomacy in World War II—This four-lesson curriculum unit examine the nature of what Winston Churchill called the "Grand Alliance" between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union in opposition to the aggression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

On the Home Front—Learning about World War II American efforts helps students gain some perspective regarding the U.S. response to the conflict generated by the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech—Know It When You See It—This lesson plan highlights the importance of First Amendment rights by examining Norman Rockwell’s painting of The Four Freedoms. Students discover the First Amendment in action as they explore their own community and country through newspapers, art, and role playing.

The Cold War

The Origins of the Cold War, 1945–1949—Since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Soviet leaders had been claiming that communism and capitalism could never peacefully coexist. Agreements regarding the postwar world were reached at Yalta and Potsdam, but the Soviets wasted no time in violating them. Harry Truman believed that the proper means of responding to an international bully was a credible threat of force.

Witch Hunt or Red Menace? Anticommunism in Postwar America, 1945–1954—Americans emerged from World War II as the only major combatant to avoid having its homeland ravaged by war, the U.S. economy was clearly the strongest in the world, and, of course, the United States was the only country in the world to possess that awesome new weapon, the atomic bomb. However, over the next five years relations between the United States and the Soviet Union went from alliance to Cold War.

Dramatizing History in Arthur Miller's The Crucible—By closely reading historical documents and attempting to interpret them, students consider how Arthur Miller interpreted the facts of the Salem witch trials and how he successfully dramatized them in his play, The Crucible. As they explore historical materials, such as the biographies of key players (the accused and the accusers) and transcripts of the Salem Witch trials themselves, students will be guided by aesthetic and dramatic concerns: In what ways do historical events lend themselves (or not) to dramatization? What makes a particular dramatization of history effective and memorable?

"Police Action”: The Korean War, 1950–1953—In 1950, North Korean forces, armed mainly with Soviet weapons, invaded South Korea in an effort to reunite the peninsula under communist rule. This lesson will introduce students to the conflict by having them read the most important administration documents related to it.

"The Missiles of October”: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962—Most historians agree that the world has never come closer to nuclear war than it did during a thirteen-day period in October 1962, after the revelation that the Soviet Union had stationed several medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba. This lesson examines how this crisis developed, how the Kennedy administration chose to respond, and how the situation was ultimately resolved.

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and Escalation of the Vietnam War—In August 1964, a small military engagement off the coast of North Vietnam helped escalate the involvement of the United States in Vietnam; the Vietnam War would become the longest military engagement in American history.

Building Suburbia: Highways and Housing in Postwar America—The postwar United States experienced a dramatic economic boom—and a dramatic reorientation of American ideals of the home.

The Turbulent 1960s

Competing Voices of the Civil Rights Movement—When most people think of the Civil Rights Movement in America, they think of Martin Luther King, Jr. Delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. But "the Movement" achieved its greatest results due to the competing strategies and agendas of diverse individuals. This unit presents the views of several important black leaders who shaped the debate over how to achieve freedom and equality in our nation.

Profiles in Courage: To Kill A Mockingbird and the Scottsboro Boys Trial—Students study select court transcripts and other primary source material from the second Scottsboro Boys Trial of 1933, a continuation of the first trial in which two young white women wrongfully accused nine African-American youths of rape.

JFK, LBJ, and the Fight for Equal Opportunity in the 1960s—This lesson provides students with an opportunity to study and analyze the innovative legislative efforts of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the social and economic context of the 1960s.

The Kennedy Administration and the Civil Rights Movement—Students learn how civil rights activists, state and local officials in the South, and the Administration of President Kennedy come into conflict during the early 1960s.

Freedom Riders and the Popular Music of the Civil Rights Era—The American civil rights movement incorporated a variety of cultural elements in their pursuit of political and legal equality under law. This lesson will highlight the role of music as a major influence through the use of audio recordings, photographs, and primary documents.

Twelve Angry Men: Trial by Jury as a Right and as a Political InstitutionTwelve Angry Men, originally written for television by Reginald Rose in 1954 and subsequently adapted for stage (1955), film (1957) and television again (1997), effectively conveys the central importance of the right to a jury trial afforded by Article III of the Constitution as well as Amendments V, VI, and XIV.

Building Suburbia: Highways and Housing in Postwar America

The United States in the Post-Cold War World

The Election of Barack Obama 44th President of the United States—In this lesson, students put Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President of the United States in historical context by studying two of his speeches and reviewing some of the history of African-American voting rights.