How did different groups in the West experience U.S. expansion?
Second edition. January 2021.
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.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, North America was home to diverse Native American, European, and African groups. These groups and individuals experienced U.S. territorial expansion in very different ways. Groups betrayed and fought each other, but they also worked to understand each other across a chasm of cultural difference. In later years, people in the United States would tell a history of this period that left out the violence and racism, as well as the mutual adaptation, that accompanied this conquest. In many senses the very term “westward expansion” conveys an overly benign and incomplete sense of what actually transpired. This curriculum unit introduces students to the term “settler colonialism” in addition to the idea of “westward expansion” to emphasize the processes of Native removal and the acquisition of land by U.S. settlers. In recent years, scholars have worked to reexamine the history of the West by focusing on Native American groups. With limited sources, they have pieced together histories that do not generalize the experiences of Native Americans, and that accurately portray the complicated interactions that occurred in the West. 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 Lesson as the key lesson and additional synthesis lessons that allow 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.

Westward Expansion: A New History is an essential supplement to any textbook. It teaches students much of what conventional stories about the West leave out using a unique combination of national and local histories.” – Kate Shuster, Director of the Teaching Hard History Project

Part I: The Transformation of a Continent

In Part I, students explore U.S. settler colonialism from a broad perspective by considering the major events and policies that accompanied U.S. westward expansion in the nineteenth century. There are two lessons aligned with Part I: 1) Legend as an Historical Source, and 2) Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 1831.

Part II: Experiencing U.S. Settler Colonialism: Southern Arizona

In Part II, students explore this history on a local level using the groundbreaking research of historian Karl Jacoby on the effects of U.S. expansion on groups in southern Arizona. This case study is not emblematic of the entire West; rather, it allows students to understand the complicated and violent ways in which U.S. expansion affected specific individuals and communities. There are two lessons aligned with Part II: 1) Geography from Four Perspectives, and 2) Primary Sources from Arizona.

Part III: Telling New Stories

Part III describes the aftermath of the attack at Camp Grant. It examines U.S. policies, such as assimilation efforts and continued land confiscation, and asks students to consider how the absence of Native American views influences the way we remember the history of U.S. westward expansion. There is one lesson aligned with Part III: Rewriting History.


Legend as an Historical Source

In this lesson students examine a Kiowa legend about smallpox and consider its value as an historical source.

Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 1831

After examining U.S. Supreme Court Justice Marshall's decision on the status of Indians in the United States, students analyze the government's role in determining the status of Native American groups.

Geography from Four Perspectives

Students practice map-reading skills and connect geography to historical events. Students use maps to explore claims that different groups made on lands in southern Arizona.

Indian Primary Sources from Arizona

Students use O'odham calendar sticks as primary sources to consider the connection between local history and the wider history of North America.

Considering the Perspectives

Perspectives Lesson: This is the key lesson in this unit. Working cooperatively, students research and present multiple perspectives about issues at play in southern Arizona in 1871, and consider the ways U.S. settler colonialism affected different Native groups, U.S. settlers, and Mexican Americans in the region.

Rewriting History

In this activity, students analyze two accounts from 1871 of the attack at Camp Grant and consider the effects of missing voices in history.

Historical Memory—Aravaipa Canyon

Synthesis Lesson: Students design an exhibit for the Aravaipa Canyon Visitor's Center and reflect on the effects of U.S. westward expansion and the ways that people think about this history.

Assessment Using Documents — The Decline of the Buffalo

Synthesis Lesson: Students analyze primary and secondary sources in order to answer questions about the social, political, and economic factors that led to the decline of the buffalo population.

  • Includes twelve maps that are used in the readings and lessons.

  • The Conquest of North America: Includes a video and graphic organizer to explore the concept of settler colonialism.

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