United States History


Unit Essential Questions Skills and Processes Assessment Resources Multicultural Dimension
Broad View (individual units below)

*How and why did Americans craft an ideal of limited government, and what forces and events have challenged or sustained this model?
*How have the tensions between the ideal of equality and the realities of various historical inequalities shaped the nation?  What has led to the challenging of these inequalities, and to what degree have they changed?
*What forces have shaped U.S. approaches to foreign policy, and what are the impacts of these policies?
*To what degree has individualism shaped American society, and in what ways is this ethic a positive or negative one?
*How has religious enthusiasm shaped the nation’s history?

*How do economic and technological forces transform society?


*How to analyze challenging texts, focusing on the main ideas and key supporting evidence

*How to identify and articulate interactions between economic, cultural, technological and political factors, leading to multicausal explanations of phenomena
*How to answer a complex paper question, with clarity, focused argument, and rigorous use of evidence and reasoning
*How to participate in and sustain a vigorous, intellectually fruitful classroom atmosphere

Essays (both conventional thesis-driven arguments and non-conventional, such as a historical guide to the film, Black Robe, and a Dinner Party Dialogue of antebellum characters.)
Tests (essay based)
Pop Quizzes
Classroom Participation

The American story, in its essence, is a multiracial, multi-ethnic and culturally fragmented story; to tell it otherwise would be highly unadvisable. Hence, our approach focuses not only on such traditional themes as slavery, European conquest of Native America, Japanese-American Internment and the Civil Rights movement, but seeks to centralize race as ever-present theme in constructing American culture and politics. We approach this in many forms, including, but not limited to:
*a multi-lens focus on Iroquois/Algonquin/Huron contact with French/Dutch/English in the colonial era
*a close look at the role that slavery had in defusing boiling class resentments in colonial Virginia
*the role of non-whites in defining “whiteness” for generations of immigrants
*post-1965 immigration
*the evolution and political impact of American Gay and Lesbian communities

Colonial History

1.  How did trade and religion reshape Native American societies?

2.  How did race, class, and gender intersect in the origins of slavery and democracy in the Chesepeake?

3.  Was the American Revolution revolutionary?

4.  Why was the Constitution created and ratified, and how has it structured U.S. government?  What tensions and conflicts are embedded in the document, how did they play out in Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian philosophies, and which approach to governance is personally preferable?

Selected Texts:

Primary texts by Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, John Hutchinson and others

Freehling, William F.. “The Founding Fathers and Slavery.” American Historical Review (February 1972), 81-93.

Jennings, Francis. The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest. New York: W.W. Norton, 1975.

Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery-American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W.W. Norton, 1975.

Richter, Daniel K. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750. New York: Vintage Books, 1991.

Wood, Gordon.  The Radicalism of the American Revolution.  New York:  Vintage Books, 1993.

Zinn, Howard. The People's History of the United States:  1492-Present.  New York: Harper Perennial, 2003.

Slavery, Race and the Civil War Era
  1. What impact did slavery have on slaves, masters, and bystanders?
  2. Why did views about slavery become more divergent and strident in the 19th century?
  3. How did economic and religious transformations influence these changes?
  4. How did gender and immigration influence the debate on slavery?
  5. Why did compromise become increasingly elusive, eventually collapsing the Jacksonian Party System, and culminating in the Civil War?
  6. What were the possibilities for transformation in the Civil War and Reconstruction, and why were so many basic injustices left in place (or reinstated) by the 1890s?

Primary Documents:  Frederick Douglass, David Walker, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, William Lloyd Garrison, Angelina Grimke, William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and others.

Selected Secondary Sources:

Greenberg, Kenneth S., Editor. The Confessions of Nat Turner and Related Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996.

Johnson, Paul, A Shopkeeper’s Millineum: Society and Revivalism in Rochester, 1815-1917. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978


McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.


Scott, Donald, “Mormonism and the American Mainstream.” National Humanities Center. http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us:8080/tserve/nineteen/nkeyinfo/nevanrev.htm


Reconstruction:  The Second Civil War. DVD.  Directed by Llewellyn Smith and Elizabeth Deane.  Boston:  WGBH, 2005.


Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Noonday Press, 1990.

The Rise of Modern American Culture
  1. How did mass production transform work and leisure?
  2. How did immigrant cultures adapt and resist mainstream American culture?
  3. What forces led to the "New Woman" of the twentieth century?
  4. How were racial categories central to creating an American identity, and how did these categories influence foreign policy?
  5. In what ways did American politics respond to the rise of plutocrats and labor strife?

Bell, Daniel. The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

Black, George, The Good Neighbor: How the United States Wrote the History of Central America and the Caribbean. New York: Pantheon Press, 1988.

Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.

Fox, Stephen. The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and It Creators. New York: Morrow Press, 1984.

Gorn, Elliot. The Manly Art: Bare-Knuckle Prize-Fighting in America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986

Leach, William. Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture. New York: Vintage, 1993.

Meyerowitz, Joanne. “Sexual Geography and Gender Economy: The Furnished Room Districts of Chicago, 1890-1930,” in Barbara Melosh, ed., Gender and American History. London: Routledge Press, 1993.

Nasaw, David. Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Rodgers, Daniel T. The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850-1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

From FDR to Reagan: The Rise and Fall of the New Deal Order

The major question for this era is explaining the rise and fall of liberalism, and the rise of conservatism from 1932-1994.  The following are critical questions necessary to answer this question:

  1. What was the context for the New Deal, and what ways did it redefine the scope of government?  Do you agree with Roosevelt's remaking of the nation?
  2. What forces drove the U.S. toward extensive global economic and military engagement during the Cold War, and to what degree were these actions effective and/or morally sound?
  3. Why did the Civil Rights movement take off when it did?  What led to its successes and failures?  How did it spawn a multitude of activist movements in the nation?
  4. How do we understand the great cultural upheaval of the 1960s, and the subsequent conservative reaction?
  5. What accounts for the structural changes in the U.S. economy from in the pre- and post-1973 eras, and how has this impacted the political landscape?

Primary Documents from Betty Friedan, Phyllis Schlafly, SNCC, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and others.


Selected Secondary Texts:


Blum, John P. V was for Victory: Politics and American Culture during World War II. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Kazin, Michael P. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. NY: Basic Books, 1995.

Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Patterson, James. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ranelagh, John The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA. New York: Touchstone Books, 1986.

Schulman, Bruce J. The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics. Cambridge, Mass.: De Capo Press, 2002.

Sugrue, Thomas. The Origins of Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.