Early American History

Early American History

                                                Jason Sperling 2013-2014



This course will focus on American History from the Age of Exploration through the Civil War.  However, the following themes will be highlighted and studied across time to the present day:

1.  Profit vs. the Common Good.

2.     Strategic Imperialism and notions of cultural superiority                           

3.      Manipulation of power by government                                                               

4.      Revolution; causes and results                                                                             

5.      Democracy; Who decides? How do they decide? Who benefits?                               

6.      Liberal vs Conservative perspectives in politics and social issues.



Students will keep a timeline at the beginning of their notebooks.  It will span from 1492 to 1865 and will be divided into five major sections:

  1. Pre-colonial 

  2. Colonial 

  3. United States under the Articles of Confederation

  4. The US under the Constitution

  5. The United States during the Industrial Revolution

*A timeline to put modern day events in perspective will also be incorporated.


Writing Program:

            Throughout the year students will use the University of Kansas writing program to develop their paragraph and essay writing.  We will start the year of off with some lessons on these skills and continue to build on them while using the methods with the content.                      


The following syllabus provides a brief overview of the content and themes of each unit for the year.  For more detailed information, go to my page on the Leland and Gray website.  There will be a unit map displayed that will provide a visual representation of the essential questions and assignments.  Included on each of these maps will be a description of an “honors strand assignment.”  This differentiation will be reserved for students who are motivated, higher-order thinkers.  In addition, many assignments will be accompanied by rubrics that will provide opportunities for higher-order thinkers.




  1. The Age of Exploration-This unit will include dramatic interpretations of historical events as well as a mock trial for Columbus.  It will be approached with a focus on themes #1 and #2.  Readings form Howard Zinn's "A People' History of the United States" will be included.  The main assessments will be a performance grade for the lawyers in the trial and an argumentative essay for the jurors.


  1. Native American Culture and Modern American Culture; Focus on Food-  This unit, which will coincide with English class assignment of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” will include a screening of the film “Food Inc.” and an opportunity for local community action.  Theme #1,2 and 3 will be considered.  The major assessments will be a written test and an argumentative essay.


  1. Jamestown and Plimoth- Themes #1,2 and 4 will be used to study these early settlements.  The beginning of Western settlement will begin fittingly with the themes of “Profit vs. the Common Good” and “Strategic Imperialism and Notions of Cultural Superiority.”  The unit will include a basic introduction to stock companies as well as an exploration of Puritanism.  It will also include a trip to the local cemetery to explore the relationship of life span and religion.  In addition there will be a unit on the Massachusetts Bay Colony where a Native named Uncas will be put on trial. Excerpts from Sara Vowell's "The Wordy Shipmates" will be used. Assessments will be an argumentative assay and a written test.


  1. French and Indian Wars-  In this unit, students will dive deeper into Native culture and further explore comparisons to Western culture, especially in terms of warfare and the use of terrorism. This section of the unit will be done using theme #1 on notions of cultural superiority.  For the second part of the unit, local events of the French and Indian War in Deerfield and Brattleboro will be studied. The activity for this section will call for students to design and create their own French and Indian War era fort. Excerpts from "A Struggle for a Continent" by Albert Marrin will be used.  The assessment will be a written exam.


  1. The Salem Witch Trials-This unit will begin with a review of Puritanism and then continue with an exploration of the event.  Recent findings by historian Mary Beth Norton will illuminate the relationship of theme #2 with the causes of the trials.  Excerpts from her book "In the Devil's Snare" will be used.  The assessment will be a written exam.


  1. The Revolution- This unit will start with an account of the Seven Years War with a focus on geopolitical strategy.   This will be studied under theme #1.  In addition, the first two films of the HBO John Adams series will be viewed which span the period from the Boston Massacre to the Declaration.  These films will also mark the culmination of a list of vocabulary used in the films.  Assessments include vocabulary and content exams.


  1. Shay’s Rebellion-This unit will feature a dramatic interpretation of the events and study the background conflicts that will fall under themes #3-5.  The assessment will be a written exam


  1. The ratification of the constitution and early American politics- These events will be explored under theme #5; liberal vs. conservative viewpoints on political and social issues.  The unit will be viewed through the lens of the ideologies of Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams and Washington.  Primary source documents from the period will be used.  Assessments will include a written exam and and argumentative essay taking the conservative or liberal side of a topic.


  1. Balancing power in the US; The Louisiana Purchase, the Missouri Compromise and the protective tariff. This unit will establish the groundwork for the Civil War and be studied using themes 1,2 and 5. It will also include a study of the Industrial Revolution and the cultural differences between North and South.  Excerpts from the book "The Rise of Industry" by Albert Marin will be used.  The assessment will be a written exam.


  1. The Mexican War-This unit will tie in with the previous Unit on balancing power but will mostly be studied under theme #1; Strategic Imperialism and Notions of Cultural Superiority.  US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan will be studied in comparison.  The assessment will be a written exam. 


11. The Civil War -This Unit will begin with a review of the previous two Units and will pick up with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and John Brown.  It will continue with a study of the major events leading up to the War and continue with a study of Antietam, Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation.  A major section of the unit will focus on Slavery and African-American Culture and include sections of the Narrative of Frederick Douglas.  The novel "Across Five Aprils" will be read.  Assessments will include an argumentative essay and written examinations.

 Required materials:

A three ring binder


Writing utensils



Tests and projects will count 3x

Quizes will count 2x

HW will count .5x-1x

 Late Work

Work is due at the beginning of the class.  After that there will be 20 points off.  After two days the assignment will count for 50%.  After a week past the due date or after the test for that unit has passed it will be too late for any credit.  The only viable excuse for missed assignments is a parent note


Final Exam

The final exam will be open-notebook and count for 15% of your grade.  This should give you initiative to keep a binder in order!