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"AP United States History Course Description"


The Advanced Placement Program (AP) offers a course and exam in AP United States History to qualified students who wish to complete studies in secondary school equivalent to an introductory college course in U.S. history. The AP U.S. History Exam presumes at least one year of college-level preparation, as is described in this book.

    The inclusion of material in the Course Description and exam is not intended as an endorsement by the College Board or ETS of the content, ideas, or values expressed in the material. The material contained herein has been selected and periodically revised by high school and university instructors of history who serve as members of the AP U.S. History Development Committee. It reflects the content of an introductory college course in U.S. history and is based on survey data from more than 100 colleges and universities. The exam tests skills and knowledge gained from an introductory survey in U.S. history.



The AP U.S. History course is designed to provide students with the analytic skills and factual knowledge necessary to deal critically with the problems and materials in U.S. history. The program prepares students for intermediate and advanced college courses by making demands upon them equivalent to those made by full-year introductory college courses. Students should learn to assess historical materials—their relevance to a given interpretive problem, reliability, and importance—and to weigh the evidence and interpretations presented in historical scholarship. An AP U.S. History course should thus develop the skills necessary to arrive at conclusions on the basis of an informed judgment and to present reasons and evidence clearly and persuasively in essay format.

College Courses

Introductory U.S. history courses vary considerably among individual colleges. Most institutions offer a survey course, with extensive chronological coverage and readings on a broad variety of topics in such special fields as economic history, cultural and intellectual history, and social history, in addition to political–constitutional and diplomatic history. Other colleges offer courses that concentrate on selected topics or chronological periods. However, both types of courses are concerned with teaching factual knowledge and critical analytic skills.

    Since there is no specific college course that an AP course in U.S. History can duplicate in detailed content and coverage, the aim of an AP course should be to provide the student with a learning experience equivalent to that obtained in most college introductory United States history courses.

Teaching the Course

AP courses are designed to give students a grounding in the subject matter of U.S. history and in major interpretive questions that derive from the study of selected themes. One common approach is to conduct a survey course in which a textbook, with supplementary readings in the form of doc*ments, essays, or books on special themes, provides substantive and thematic coverage. A second approach is the close examination of a series of problems or topics through reading specialized writings by historians and through supplementary readings. In the latter kind of course, the teacher can devote one segment to a survey by using a concise text or an interpretive history. Whichever approach is used, students need to have access to materials that provide them with an overview of U.S. history and enable them to establish the context and significance of specialized interpretive problems.

    Although there is little to be gained by rote memorization of names and dates in an encyclopedic manner, a student must be able to draw upon a reservoir of systematic factual knowledge in order to exercise analytic skills intelligently. Striking a balance between teaching factual knowledge and critical analysis is a demanding but crucial task in the design of a successful AP course in history.

    The Teachers’ Resources section of AP Central (apcentral.collegeboard. com) offers reviews of textbooks, articles, Web sites, and other teaching resources. The electronic discussion groups (EDGs) accessible through AP Central also provide a moderated forum for exchanging ideas, insights, and practices among members of the AP professional community.

Themes in AP U.S. History

The U.S. History Development Committee’s notes about the themes:

    • The themes listed in this section are designed to encourage students to     think conceptually about the American past and to focus on historical     change over time.

    • These themes should be used in conjunction with the topic outline on     pages 7–11.

    • The themes are not presented in any order of importance; rather, they     are in alphabetical order. These ideas may serve as unifying concepts to     help students synthesize material and place the history of the United     States into larger analytical contexts.

    • These themes may also be used to provide ideas for class projects.

    • AP U.S. History courses may be constructed using any number of these     themes.

    • Teachers and students should also feel free to develop their own course     themes as they look at the American past through a variety of lenses and     examine U.S. history from multiple perspectives.

    • Teachers who wish for their course to be authorized to use the “AP”     designation via the AP Course Audit must indicate that they use at least     one theme or topic, similar to the ones below, to structure the course

American Diversity

The diversity of the American people and the relationships among different groups. The roles of race, class, ethnicity, and gender in the history of the United States.

American Identity

Views of the American national character and ideas about American exceptionalism. Recognizing regional differences within the context of what it means to be an American.


Diverse individual and collective expressions through literature, art, philosophy, music, theater, and film throughout U.S. history. Popular culture and the dimensions of cultural conflict within American society.

Demographic Changes

Changes in birth, marriage, and death rates; life expectancy and family patterns; population size and density. The economic, social, and political effects of immigration, internal migration, and migration networks.

Economic Transformations

Changes in trade, commerce, and technology across time. The effects of capitalist development, labor and unions, and consumerism.


Ideas about the consumption and conservation of natural resources. The impact of population growth, industrialization, pollution, and urban and suburban expansion


Engagement with the rest of the world from the fifteenth century to the present: colonialism, mercantilism, global hegemony, development of markets, imperialism, and cultural exchange

Politics and Citizenship

Colonial and revolutionary legacies, American political traditions, growth of democracy, and the development of the modern state. Defining citizenship; struggles for civil rights.


Diverse movements focusing on a broad range of issues, including anti-slavery, education, labor, temperance, women’s rights, civil rights, gay rights, war, public health, and government.


The variety of religious beliefs and practices in America from prehistory to the twenty first century; influence of religion on politics, economics, and society

Slavery and Its Legacies in North America

Systems of slave labor and other forms of unfree labor (e.g., indentured servitude, contract labor) in American Indian societies, the Atlantic World, and the American South and West. The economics of slavery and its racial dimensions. Patterns of resistance and the long-term economic, political, and social effects of slavery

War and Diplomacy

Armed conflict from the precolonial period to the twenty-first century; impact of war on American foreign policy and on politics, economy, and society

Topic Outline

The U.S. History Development Committee’s notes about the topic outline:

    • This topic outline is intended as a general guide for AP teachers in     structuring their courses and for students in preparing for the AP U.S.     History Exam.

    • The outline is not intended to be prescriptive of what AP teachers must     teach, nor of what AP students must study.

    • The topics listed here provide some broad parameters for the course     and may be expanded or modified for instruction

1. Pre-Columbian Societies

Early inhabitants of the Americas
American Indian empires in Mesoamerica, the Southwest, and the Mississippi Valley
American Indian cultures of North America at the time of European contact

2. Transatlantic Encounters and Colonial Beginnings, 1492–1690

First European contacts with American Indians
Spain’s empire in North America
French colonization of Canada
English settlement of New England, the Mid-Atlantic region, and the South
From servitude to slavery in the Chesapeake region
Religious diversity in the American colonies
Resistance to colonial authority: Bacon’s Rebellion, the Glorious Revolution, and the Pueblo Revolt

3. Colonial North America, 1690–1754

Population growth and immigration
Transatlantic trade and the growth of seaports The eighteenth-century back country Growth of plantation economies and slave societies
The Enlightenment and the Great Awakening
Colonial governments and imperial policy in British North America

4. The American Revolutionary Era, 1754–1789

The French and Indian War
The Imperial Crisis and resistance to Britain
The War for Independence
State constitutions and the Articles of Confederation
The federal Constitution

5. The Early Republic, 1789–1815

Washington, Hamilton, and shaping of the national government
Emergence of political parties: Federalists and Republicans
Republican Motherhood and education for women
Beginnings of the Second Great Awakening
Significance of Jefferson’s presidency
Expansion into the trans-Appalachian West; American Indian resistance Growth of slavery and free Black communities
The War of 1812 and its consequences

6. Transformation of the Economy and Society in Antebellum America

The transportation revolution and creation of a national market economy Beginnings of industrialization and changes in social and class structures
Immigration and nativist reaction
Planters, yeoman farmers, and slaves in the cotton South

7. The Transformation of Politics in Antebellum America

Emergence of the second party system
Federal authority and its opponents: judicial federalism, the Bank War, tariff controversy, and states’ rights debates
Jacksonian democracy and its successes and limitations

8. Religion, Reform, and Renaissance in Antebellum America

Evangelical Protestant revivalism
Social reforms Ideals of domesticity
Transcendentalism and utopian communities
American Renaissance: literary and artistic expressions

9. Territorial Expansion and Manifest Destiny

Forced removal of American Indians to the trans-Mississippi West Western migration and cultural interactions
Territorial acquisitions
Early U.S. imperialism: the Mexican War

10. The Crisis of the Union

Pro- and antislavery arguments and conflicts
Compromise of 1850 and popular sovereignty
The Kansas–Nebraska Act and the emergence of the Republican Party Abraham Lincoln, the election of 1860, and secession

11. Civil War

Two societies at war: mobilization, resources, and internal dissent Military strategies and foreign diplomacy
Emancipation and the role of African Americans in the war
Social, political, and economic effects of war in the North, South, and West

12. Reconstruction

Presidential and Radical Reconstruction
Southern state governments: aspirations, achievements, failures
Role of African Americans in politics, education, and the economy Compromise of 1877
Impact of Reconstruction

13. The Origins of the New South

Reconfiguration of southern agriculture: sharecropping and crop-lien system
Expansion of manufacturing and industrialization
The politics of segregation: Jim Crow and disfranchisement

14. Development of the West in the Late Nineteenth Century

Expansion and development of western railroads
Competitors for the West: miners, ranchers, homesteaders, and American Indians
Government policy toward American Indians Gender, race, and ethnicity in the far West
Environmental impacts of western settlement

15. Industrial America in the Late Nineteenth Century

Corporate consolidation of industry
Effects of technological development on the worker and workplace
Labor and unions
National politics and influence of corporate power
Migration and immigration: the changing face of the nation
Proponents and opponents of the new order, e.g., Social Darwinism and Social Gospel

16. Urban Society in the Late Nineteenth Century

Urbanization and the lure of the city
City problems and machine politics
Intellectual and cultural movements and popular entertainment

17. Populism and Progressivism

Agrarian discontent and political issues of the late nineteenth century Origins of Progressive reform: municipal, state, and national Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson as Progressive presidents Women’s roles: family, workplace, education, politics, and reform Black America: urban migration and civil rights initiatives

18. The Emergence of America as a World Power

American imperialism: political and economic expansion
War in Europe and American neutrality
The First World War at home and abroad
Treaty of Versailles
Society and economy in the postwar years

19. The New Era: 1920s

The business of America and the consumer economy
Republican politics: Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover
The culture of Modernism: science, the arts, and entertainment Responses to Modernism: religious fundamentalism, nativism, and Prohibition
The ongoing struggle for equality: African Americans and women

20. The Great Depression and the New Deal

Causes of the Great Depression
The Hoover administration’s response
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal
Labor and union recognition
The New Deal coalition and its critics from the Right and the Left Surviving hard times: American society during the Great Depression

21. The Second World War

The rise of fascism and militarism in Japan, Italy, and Germany
Prelude to war: policy of neutrality
The attack on Pearl Harbor and United States declaration of war Fighting a multifront war
Diplomacy, war aims, and wartime conferences
The United States as a global power in the Atomic Age

22. The Home Front During the War

Wartime mobilization of the economy
Urban migration and demographic changes Women, work, and family during the war
Civil liberties and civil rights during wartime
War and regional development
Expansion of government power

23. The United States and the Early Cold War

Origins of the Cold War
Truman and containment
The Cold War in Asia: China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan
Diplomatic strategies and policies of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations
The Red Scare and McCarthyism
Impact of the Cold War on American society

24. The 1950s

Emergence of the modern civil rights movement
The affluent society and “the other America”
Consensus and conformity: suburbia and middle-class America
Social critics, nonconformists, and cultural rebels
Impact of changes in science, technology, and medicine

25. The Turbulent 1960s

From the New Frontier to the Great Society
Expanding movements for civil rights
Cold War confrontations: Asia, Latin America, and Europe
Beginning of Détente
The antiwar movement and the counterculture

26. Politics and Economics at the End of the Twentieth Century

The election of 1968 and the “Silent Majority”
Nixon’s challenges: Vietnam, China, and Watergate
Changes in the American economy: the energy crisis, deindustrialization, and the service economy
The New Right and the Reagan revolution
End of the Cold War

27. Society and Culture at the End of the Twentieth Century

Demographic changes: surge of immigration after 1965, Sunbelt migration, and the graying of America
Revolutions in biotechnology, mass communication, and computers Politics in a multicultural society

28. The United States in the Post–Cold War World

Globalization and the American economy
Unilateralism vs. multilateralism in foreign policy
Domestic and foreign terrorism
Environmental issues in a global context

In addition to exposing students to the historical content listed above, an AP course should also train students to analyze and interpret primary sources, including doc*mentary material, maps, statistical tables, and pictorial and graphic evidence of historical events. Students need to have an awareness of multiple interpretations of historical issues in secondary sources. Students should have a sense of multiple causation and change over time, and should be able to compare developments or trends from one period to another.

    Teacher and student access to an adequate library is essential to the success of an AP course. Besides textbooks and standard reference works such as encyclopedias, atlases, collections of historical doc*ments, and statistical compendiums, the library should contain a wide range of scholarly works in U.S. history, augmented annually by new book purchases and subscriptions to scholarly periodicals. The course can also make profitable use of the Internet, television and audiovisual aids to instruction, and historical exhibits in local museums, historical societies, and libraries. Anthologies and paperback editions of important works of literature should be readily available for teachers dealing with cultural and intellectual history, as should collections of slides illustrating changing technology, the history of art, and architecture.

    AP classes require extra time on the part of the instructor for preparation, personal consultation with students, and the reading of a much larger number of written assignments than would be given to students in regular classes. Accordingly, some schools reduce the assigned teaching hours for any teacher offering such a class or classes.

    Although many schools are able to set up special college-level courses, in some schools AP study may take the form of tutorial work associated with a regular course or a program of independent study. Other methods used could include educational television, videotapes, and university correspondence courses.

    Examples of the organization and content (including bibliography) of AP U.S. History courses or equivalent college courses can be found on AP Central

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

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