What does it mean to study the “long history” of the Vietnam War?
First edition. May 2023. 2024 Franklin Buchanan Prize Winner.
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 U.S. History Series that summarize key events, people, and terms, as well as underrepresented histories and skill development are available, along with a timeline, on this MIRO BOARD.

The Vietnam War: Origins, History, and Legacies tells the “long history” of the destructive, deadly, and divisive U.S. war in Vietnam. Students examine the war’s long-term origins, investigate its complex history, and explore its lasting legacies for Vietnam, Vietnamese refugees, and the United States. This “long history” of the Vietnam War is based on recent scholarship in U.S. history, Vietnamese studies, and the history of the global Cold War. Personal stories and “bottom-up” experiences from all sides of the conflict are highlighted throughout the readings and lesson plans, and students engage with a wide array of Vietnamese and American primary sources from groups and individuals that have often been left out of U.S. histories of the war in Vietnam. Students also assess the war’s devastating human costs, examine the post-war refugee crisis, and explore how the war has been remembered and memorialized. 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 and can be completed in one or more periods
  • Videos that feature leading experts

This unit includes an additional Unit Review lesson that tasks students with reviewing key arguments and major takeaways from the curriculum. You do not need to use the entire unit; feel free to select what suits your classroom needs.

“This Vietnam War unit fills a critical need for teachers of U.S. history. Increasingly, students and their families have little direct connections to or even shared memory of this war, so quality instruction on this topic is essential. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Vietnamese perspectives and accounts of this war, as well as the excellent visual resources.” – Kerry Dunne, History Teacher, Massachusetts

Part I: Wars in Vietnam

Part I focuses on the history of the Vietnamese anti-colonial movement for independence from France, the First Indochina War (1946-1954), and the U.S. intervention in Vietnam in the years prior to the outbreak of the Vietnam War. There are two lessons aligned with Part I: 1) Vietnamese History and Geography: Exploring Google Earth, and 2) Going Deeper with Primary Sources: War in Vietnam, 1945-1965.

Part II: The U.S. War in Vietnam

Part II recounts the history of the U.S. war in Vietnam (1965-1973). Special attention is given to “bottom-up” experiences of the war from diverse Vietnamese and American perspectives, the anti-war movement in the United States, and the role the conflict played in the global Cold War. There are three lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Women, Gender, and the Vietnam War, 2) Creating Historical Narratives: 1960s Social Change at Home and in the Military, and 3) Songs of the Global Revolutions of 1968.

Part III: After the War(s)

Part III examines the aftermath of thirty years of war in Vietnam, focusing on post-war developments in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the experiences of Vietnamese refugees who fled the country, and U.S. political and cultural debates over the war and its legacies. There is one lesson aligned with Part III: 1) Oral Histories: Mapping the Vietnamese Refugee Crisis.


Vietnamese History and Geography: Exploring Google Earth

Students learn how to utilize Google Earth maps and practice general map-reading skills as they explore an interactive Google Earth map filled with historical content that builds upon their Part I reading on the history of French colonialism in Vietnam, the Vietnamese anti-colonial movement for independence, the First Indochina War, and early U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

Going Deeper with Primary Sources: War in Vietnam, 1945-1965

Students work in small groups to analyze short primary source texts from Vietnam, the United States, and elsewhere around the world to deepen students’ understanding of key themes from Part I, such as post-World War II decolonization movements, domestic divisions within Vietnam, U.S.-Soviet relations, and the ways Vietnam was affected by the global Cold War.

Women, Gender, and the Vietnam War

Students examine Vietnamese and American women’s views, opinions, and experiences of the U.S. war in Vietnam from “all sides” of the conflict. An optional second part of the lesson asks students to consider how women’s identities and behaviors were shaped by the war and how Vietnamese and American societies’ ideas about women affected women’s experiences.

Creating Historical Narratives: 1960s Social Change at Home and in the Military

Students create short “historical narratives” based on curated bundles of unique and diverse primary source quotes, images, and song lyrics that reveal how U.S. military personnel’s experiences of the Vietnam War were deeply intertwined with the turbulent social changes and protest movements taking place on the home front.

Students first listen to a song from Vietnamese musician Trinh Cong Son and examine his cultural impact in Vietnam during the U.S. war. Then students explore the international backdrop to the Vietnam War by working in small groups to analyze songs that “shook up” societies around the world during the “global revolutions” of 1968.

Oral Histories: Mapping the Vietnamese Refugee Crisis

Students examine the human geography of the post-Vietnam War Vietnamese refugee crisis. Students explore one of three oral histories from Vietnamese refugees who were eventually resettled in the United States, map the oral history narrative as they read, and consider the value of using oral histories as a source for learning about the past.

Unit Review: Build a Timeline of the “Long History” of the U.S. War in Vietnam

Students engage in a step-by-step class-wide project to create an online, interactive timeline that summarizes and reviews key events and developments from their readings on the “long history” of the U.S. war in Vietnam. An adapted version of the lesson has students create a physical timeline in the classroom.

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