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Parent Primer: American History

Refresh your memory of key historical people and events with this handy guide.
 

Learning Benefits

Hover over each Learning Benefit below for a detailed explanation.
Memory and Memorization
Vocabulary
Reading Comprehension
Independent Thinking

Expert's Pick

You can help your child transform the study of American history from a list of names and dates into a living, breathing story that encompasses all of us and continues to be told. Local museums, historic sites, and the Internet offer rich primary source materials that breathe life into past times and places. (Primary sources are any original artifact from an era, such as firsthand accounts of events like diaries and letters, or physical objects like maps and machines. Secondary sources are historical reflections or descriptions.)

Looking at old photographs is one great way to time travel — be sure to notice the details that place the scene in a particular time, like a shopkeeper sweeping his stoop or a woman gazing from a window. Ask your child to imagine the stories behind these historical players, and then take your own photographs as part of a family time capsule project.

  • Early America Emerges
    The human story of American history starts with Native Americans, including their culture and traditions. Students will study why early explorers, such as Christopher Columbus, ventured forth to find new trade passages and claim more land. Colonization is a popular topic, including the 13 British colonies and the Mayflower Compact, which set the laws and government for the Pilgrims before they settled.
     
  • The American Revolution (1775-1783) is sure to play a part in your child's studies. One central cause was taxation without representation. The British government demanded taxes of the colonists, but no colonist could be elected to British Parliament. A group of men, including principal author Thomas Jefferson, penned The Declaration of Independence, containing the famous line "all men are created equal." It was signed on July 4, 1776. For information about the Constitution, take a look at The Constitution: A Living Document and a historical timeline. Your student will also study The War of 1812 and the Monroe Doctrine from this era.

    Starting in the early 1800s, settlers pushed west, further squeezing out indigenous Native American populations. Your child will study how The Louisiana Purchase (1803) was one example of westward expansion. The Mexican War (1846-1848) occurred due to disputes over borderlines. The Homestead Act of 1862 gave settlers a land incentive to push west.
     
  • The Civil War Era
    Your child will learn about events leading up to the Civil War (1861-1865), including the secession of Southern states over disagreements about slavery and other topics. Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (1863) freed slaves in regions still under Confederate control. The war extracted a large human toll, and Reconstruction was a slow and challenging process.

    After the Civil War, the national economy turned away from farming and toward industry. The Industrial Revolution (1850-1900) marked a shift toward factory culture. A massive wave of immigration took place between 1870 and 1910, when some 20 million European immigrants arrived looking for work. Globally, the U.S. continued to acquire territories such as the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Alaska. The Spanish-American War (1898) demonstrates the aggressive stance the U.S. took at this time.
     
  • Challenge and Change in the 20th Century
    As industrial countries built up and formed alliances, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand triggered one of the most destructive wars in history. World War I (1914-1918) took place between the Allies and the Central Powers. President Woodrow Wilson founded the League of Nations after the war to "promote international cooperation."

    Big changes were happening on the home front too. In 1920, women were granted the right to vote after a long suffrage movement. On the economic front, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 added to more general causes to jumpstart the Great Depression, an era of intense hardship. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a plan called the New Deal that included far-reaching programs to improve the economy.

    The world again erupted in war as Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, invaded one country after another. World War II (1939-1945) was fought between the Allies and the Axis Powers. A tragic chapter of the war was the Holocaust, the organized murder of millions of Jews and other people deemed unfit by the Nazis. At the conclusion of the war, the United Nations was established to maintain peace and security with international cooperation. The Cold War emerged between democratic countries of the West and the former Soviet Union, but it was a war of differing ideas rather than bombs. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signaled the end of the Cold War.
     
  • History Keeps Happening
    During the Korean War, in which North Korea invaded South Korea, the U.S. fought on the side of the South, along with 16 other countries under the United Nations, to keep the conflict from spreading. The war ended with no declared victor in 1953. The Vietnam War lasted from 1957 to 1975. The U.S. became involved in 1961 mostly based on the fear that if Vietnam fell under communist rule, the rest of Asia would too.

    A widespread protest movement against the war developed in the U.S. as wave after wave of soldiers were sent to serve. Before and during this time, leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X led citizens in the continued fight for civil rights.

    Modern history continues to unfold. Since 1990, the U.S. has been involved in the Persian Gulf War in reaction to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced international terrorism on its own soil when the terrorist group Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, hijacked several jet planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another plane destined for the White House was crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when passengers realized what was happening and thwarted the terrorist's plans. The Iraq War began on March 19, 2003 in response to President George W. Bush's belief that Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction. American troops left Iraq at the end of 2011, and the war was declared over.

 

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