Teaching History Social Studies

Image from DocsTeach.org, US National Archives

What is history?

Before teaching high school students historical facts, it would be productive to have a discussion with them about history itself. What is “history”?

History is the study of past events, especially those that have been recorded in writing. It also draws from other disciplines, such as archeology. Practitioners of history – historians – engage in a continual effort to sort out exaggeration from devaluation, truth from lies, and mistakes from oversights, with the ultimate goal being to present the past in a manner that is as accurate as possible.

– RationalWiki, History

Jitendra Patel offers us another answer:

History is a subject of social science. Social science helps us understand the working of our social. It tells us about geography , the way the economy works, and the manner in which social and political life is organised. History will help you to understand that how this present evolved. It will tell you about the past of the present.

History is journey across time and space. It transport us into another world, another age, in which people lived differently. History tells us their economy and society, their beliefs and faith, their arts and crafts. History can open doors into such worlds.

But in reality history is not just about the past . It is about the present. The society we live in has been fashioned by those who came before us. The joys and sorrows of their daily lives, their discoveries and invention, slowly transformed human societies.  Only by studying history can we see how these changes happened, and how the modern world has emerged over long centuries of development.

Excerpted from Jitendra Patel, Indian Institute of Technology Varanasi

Why study history?

High school students often are unclear about why one should study history. Maria Anderson offers one answer:

History can be a tremendous story, a rolling narrative filled with great personalities and tales of turmoil and triumph. Each passing generation adds its own chapter to history, while reinterpreting and finding new things in those chapters already written. History also gives us a sense of identity; by understanding where we have come from, we can better understand who we are.

History provides a sense of context for our lives and our existence, helping us to understand the way things are and how we might approach the future. History teaches us what it means to be human, highlighting the great achievements and disastrous errors of the human race. History also offers hints about how we can organise and manage our societies, for the betterment of all those who live in them.

Source: What is history? Quora

Also see

Why Study History? By Peter N. Stearns. American Historical Association.

History and what really happened. Mark Damon, Utah State University

Table of contents

Pre-human American history

Mighty, elemental forces molded North America—fiery eruptions, titanic floods, the grinding of great ice sheets, and massive impacts from space all shaped our homeland. The epic three-part series unfolds in a forgotten world that existed long before our own, crossed by long-lost mountain ranges, deserts the size of Africa, and vast inland seas spanning the length of the continent.

Explore beloved landmarks like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls from the inside out as we witness the clash of nature’s creative and destructive forces. Hosted by renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson, this spectacular road trip through a tumultuous deep past explores three fundamental questions: How was the continent built? How did life evolve here? And how has the continent shaped us? “Making North America” reveals the incredible story of a majestic continent.

Making North America. NOVA PBS

Populating the Americas – from Asian explorers to Native Americas

The first humans in America may not have been Homo sapiens

Could history of humans in North America be rewritten by broken bones? The Guardian

Humans Lived in North America 130,000 Years Ago, Study Claims. New York Times.

Native American (Indian) nations: in north, central and south America.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Wikipedia (a great resource, but always compare with other resources!)

Tribal Nations & the United States. National Congress of American Indians

Ancient Egyptians

A brief intro, from History for Kids.

Ancient Egypt. From History.com

Ancient Near East (Babylonians, Hittites, Sumerians)

An introduction for kids

Ancient Mesopotamian science and astronomy

Ancient New East. An overview from Wikipedia

Ancient Israelites

Ancient Israelites: Society & Lifestyle

Israelite History in the Context of the Ancient Near East

Raiders of the Lost Relics: The Chronicle of Higher Education. Biblical minimalism vs Biblical maximalism

Ancient Greeks

The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture, Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, 10/29/2018


Ancient Romans

Ancient Rome (Ancient History encyclopedia)

African nations

African Civilizations (Ducksters website)

Africa’s Great Civilizations (PBS miniseries)

7 Influential African Empires. History Channel.

History of central Asian nations

History of Central Asia. Encyclopaedia Brittanica

Ulugh Beg, a medieval astronomer who made Samarkand, now Uzbekistan, a thriving center of culture and science in the 15th century.

Classical Indian civilization/development of Hinduism

Ancient India – Ancient Civilizations for Kids

Ancient China, Japan, Korea

(to be added)

Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Teaching about religion in public schools

A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools is published by the First Amendment Center.

Public Schools and religious communities: A First Amendment Guide

Introduction: Academic ways of teaching about religion in public schools

Development of Islam

(to be added)

The Renaissance

The Enlightenment, aka The Age of Reason

European Exploration of the Americas

(more articles to be added)

Americapox: Why did European disease decimate Native American populations, but not vice-versa?


Zombie based geography: A fun innovative way to teach social studies and geography

Special topics

Model Ship Building in Boston, MA.

How American elections are impacted by a 100 million year old coastline

Speculative history: Possibility of prehuman civilization

Reenactors: recreating history

Historical reenactment is an educational or entertainment activity in which people follow a plan to recreate aspects of a historical event or period. This may be as narrow as a specific moment from a battle, such as the reenactment of Pickett’s Charge presented during the Great Reunion of 1913, or as broad as an entire period, such as the Society for Creative Anachronism, Regency reenactment, Plimouth Plantation, or King Richard’s faire.

Society for Creative Anachronism

The SCA also attempts to create an atmosphere embodying those lost ideas that are found in medieval romances: chivalry, courtesy and honor. We recreate the Middle Ages, as they ought to have been doing away with the strife and pestilence and emulating the beauty, grace, chivalry and brotherhood.

  • General information about the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. (SCA), Barony of Altavia, San Fernando Valley, Santa Clarita, Northern Malibu

You will frequently hear SCA participants describe the SCA as recreating the Middle Ages “as they ought to have been.” In some ways this is true – we choose to use indoor plumbing, heated halls, and sewing machines. In the dead of winter we have more to eat than King’s venison, salt pork and dried tubers. However, a better description is that we selectively recreate the culture, choosing elements of the culture that interest and attract us.

  • Barony of Altavia ,

Research articles

Letter | Published: 26 April 2017 A 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA. Nature (scientific journal)

Lauriane Bourgeon, Ariane Burke, Thomas Higham. Earliest Human Presence in North America Dated to the Last Glacial Maximum: New Radiocarbon Dates from Bluefish Caves, Canada. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (1): e0169486 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169486


Quotes about history

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

“History not used is nothing, for all intellectual life is action, like practical life, and if you don’t use the stuff well, it might as well be dead.” – Arnold J. Toynbee, April 17, 1955

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”
― Michael Crichton

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”
― George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Five Volumes in One

“We’re going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in it and cover it up.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

And about certain writers who occasionally think that some recent event changed the world, and that we’re at the end of history?

“You need to read more science fiction. Nobody who reads science fiction comes out with this crap about ‘the end of history.’”
― Iain Banks

Learning Standards

Massachusetts 2018 History and Social Science Framework

NCSS National Standards for Social Studies Teachers

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment (2010 revision)

National Standards for History Basic Edition, 1996

The development of the History Standards was administered by the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles under the guidance of the National Council for History Standards. The standards were developed with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education.*

2017 Standards for Classical Language Learning

By the American Classical League (ACL) and the Society for Classical Studies (SCS),  with members from the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), Classical Association of the Atlantic States (CAAS), Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS), Classical Association of New England (CANE), and the Classical Association of the Pacific Northwest (CAPN.)


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