North America in the Nineteenth Century


Note: Students will get the most out of this lesson if they have read Parts 1 and 2 and the Epilogue of Westward Expansion: A New History, although the lesson can be adapted for students who do not have this background knowledge.

Introduction—Have the students recall the reading. Why did the United States expand westward? Was the U.S. decision to expand westward a surprise, considering its earlier policies on the continent? Why or why not? How did U.S. expansion push the United States into conflict with foreign countries? How did Indian groups respond to U.S. expansion? How did U.S. settlers interact with Indian groups? Encourage students to give examples of the diverse experiences on the continent.

Exploring the Maps—Distribute “North America in the Nineteenth Century” and make the three maps available to students. Have students work alone or in pairs to answer the questions on the handout.

Discussion—After about fifteen minutes, ask students to share their findings. What groups claimed land in North America in the nineteenth century? From the reading and their knowledge of U.S. history, why do students think the claims of European groups were seen as more legitimate internationally than the claims of Indian groups? What were the consequences of this? What did it mean when European groups “claimed” land? Did that mean they automatically controlled it?

Considering the Long-Term Impact—Have students look at “Early Indian Groups” and “U.S. Westward Expansion.” What information is familiar (for example names, borders and boundaries, events depicted, etc.)? What information is unfamiliar? Why do students think people in the United States are more familiar with some of the things on these maps than others? Why is this significant?The reading states: “Even today, the myth of U.S. expansion across an empty continent persists.” Ask students to explain what this means and describe the myth of U.S. expansion in their own words. How do these maps relate to this idea? Ask students why they think people in the United States sometimes want to remember history in this way. What purpose does this myth serve?

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