What caused the conflict in Syria, and how should the international community respond?
First edition. February 2020. 
PREVIEW THIS UNIT. The preview includes the table of contents, a student reading excerpt, and one lesson plan. PREVIEW ALL UNITS. Additional unit descriptions for the Current Issues Series that summarize the historical context, student readings, and skill development are available on this MIRO BOARD.

The Syrian Civil War and resulting refugee crisis is one of the defining humanitarian issues of our time. Since 2011, the violence of the conflict has prompted about half of the country’s population to flee from their homes—nearly seven million refugees have fled the country and more than six million Syrians are internally displaced. The war has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians and injured more than a million people. The Syrian Civil War provides students with the historical basis to understand the recent conflict, exploring the legacies of colonialism, sectarianism, and authoritarianism that continue to shape the country today. Throughout the curriculum, students explore how Syrian social movements and resistance have shaped the country’s history, considering the experiences and perspectives of Syrians from the past to the present. The unit is divided into three parts. Each part includes:

  • Student readings
  • Accompanying study guides, graphic organizers, and key terms
  • Lessons aligned with the readings that develop analytical skills (including at least one that focuses on building geographic literacy) and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit also includes a Perspectives Activity as the key lesson and an additional synthesis lesson that allows students to synthesize new knowledge for assessment. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

“Congratulations to you all on such a comprehensive and thoughtful unit. This is challenging history to teach, and you all have developed great materials for doing so. I was not familiar with the Vogue article on Asma Al-Assad…how interesting. I also really liked the protestors’ perspectives activity.” – Emma, Title VI Outreach Director at UNC’s Middle East Center

Part I: French Colonialism to Independence

The Syrian Civil War provides a concise history of Syria. Part I traces the final years of the Ottoman Empire, the period of French colonial rule, and the early years of Syria’s independence. There are two lessons aligned with Part I: 1) The Geography of Syria, and 2) Great Syrian Revolt—Analyzing Anticolonial Writings.

Part II: The Assad Regimes

Part II explores the rise to power of Hafez al-Assad, the creation of an authoritarian state in Syria, and the rule of Bashar al-Assad in the early twenty-first century. There is one lesson aligned with Part II: “Beautifying” Dictatorship: Vogue Features Asma al-Assad.

Part III: The Syrian Conflict

Part III examines the evolution of the recent conflict in Syria, beginning with the Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011, the violent repression of protests by the Syrian regime, and the worsening civil war and resulting humanitarian disaster. There are two lessons aligned with Part III: 1) Refuting ISIS—An Islamic Scholar Rejects Extremism, and 2) Refugee Stories: Mapping a Crisis.


The Geography of Syria

Students compare the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire, the French Mandate, and contemporary Syria. Students work together to explore historical images of Syria and identify issues and themes for inquiry.

The Great Syrian Revolt—Analyzing Anti-colonial Writings

Students examine primary source documents and consider the reasons that Syrians revolted against French colonization.

“Beautifying” Dictatorship: Vogue Features Asma al-Assad

Students analyze a primary source document representing the Assads’ attempt to present themselves positively to U.S. audiences.

Refuting ISIS—An Islamic Scholar Rejects Extremism

Students analyze a religious Islamic argument against ISIS and contextualize the source in the history of the Syrian Civil War.

Students gain an understanding of the current refugee crisis by mapping data and exploring personal accounts of refugees.

The Perspectives Activity

The Perspectives Activity is the key lesson in the unit. Students examine a range of perspectives of Syrian protesters in 2011 and 2012 and analyze primary sources that illustrate some of the motivations, fears, ambitions, and realities of daily life for Syrians at a point when the government was escalating its use of violence against protesters. The Perspectives Activity helps students synthesize primary sources, give an effective presentation, and ultimately, deepen their understanding of the limited options available to Syrian protesters.

Synthesis Lesson: Students read comics that illustrate stories of Syrian refugees to learn more about the civil war and refugee crisis.

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