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US History—Semester A

Shmoop's got the scoop on the birth and adolescence of the US of A.

Half a score and some odd years ago, our Shmoopfathers brought forth on these Interwebs a new website, conceived in hilarity, and dedicated to the proposition that learning and laughing go better together. And then they made history—a US History course, that is. Now you can get a good belly laugh as you learn about the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This semester covers the period of Spanish Colonization through the Civil War. That's about 400 years, 5 major wars (some revolutionary), and a lot of Manifest Destiny to review. Thankfully, Shmoop’s there with you.

Join our Common Core-aligned US History course, and dive into readings, activities, worksheets and more to

  • learn how Columbus's voyage brought us pizza as we now know it.
  • watch the sparks fly in a culture clash between Spanish sailors and Powhatan natives—by reading a comic book.
  • claim your title as America's Next Top Trader by bartering furs for food as a British mercantilist. (Tyra RiverBanks not included.)

P.S. US History is a two-semester course. You're looking at Semester A, but you can check out Semester B here.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. Spainful Beginnings

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue...and set off a huge wave of brutal Spanish colonization in the "New World." This unit examines the arrival of the Spanish in North America and the Columbian Exchange.

Unit 2. Stealing Land and Taking Names: The English Story

The English and French were hot on the heels of the Spanish in coming to North America. This unit examines the English story, from tobacco to the slave trade to the Puritans and witches.

Unit 3. Growing Pains: Early American Society and the French and Indian War

Ever wondered how George Washington went from chill plantation owner buying votes with booze to hero of the French and Indian war? You'll find out here.

Unit 4. Keep Calm and Get Out

In the late 1700s, America donned its mohawk and leather jacket and started listening to punk music. In other words, it won its freedom from mother England.

Unit 5. Partisan Bickering: The American Story

Like grammar, poker, and mini golf, young innocent countries need rules too. In this unit, you'll learn how a little document called the Constitution came to be.

Unit 6. America's Adolescence: Hurtin' and Oppressin'

This unit continues one we've already begun—the struggle for freedom—and looks at it from the point of view of those left behind: Native Americans, women, and slaves. 

Unit 7. Debates and Dissension: Uncivil Reasons for War

Spoiler alert: the Civil War was...not so civil. But it does make for some epic war movies. Find out what made the South secede in this unit.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 6: Slaves or Souls? The Valladolid Debates

You're concerned about your rights. Your right to be out past 9 on a school night. Your right to sleep in on the weekends. Your right to take dinner up to your bedroom so you can watch Sons of Anarchywhile you eat.

He's crying on the inside.


Of course, these are not rights that are absolutely granted to you as a human being. Someone (your parents) had to decide, at some point, whether you would be given each of those rights. Perhaps the two of them were even on opposite sides of an issue and had to argue their respective cases.

In 1550, such an argument took place over the rights of indigenous people in the New World. The indigenous people did not have any input, of course. They were just "the kids."

In Valladolid, Spain, Dominican friar Bartholomew de las Casas debated priest and philosopher Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda in an attempt to come to a consensus on the subject. They got through the whole thing without resorting to name-calling.

De las Casas argued for the ethical treatment of indigenous people, referencing his observations of the mistreatment under the abused encomienda system.

The encomienda system was a form of land ownership set up after 1492 to divide both the lands and peoples of the Americas into workable—and exploitable—pieces that were run by Spanish settlers. Kinda like having your very own living, breathing chess set. Ick. Spanish knights called encomenderos were given rights to land and the ability to demand work from indigenous villages under their control. In exchange, encomenderos were supposed to Christianize their indentured servants. It made more than one of the oppressed people a little, er, cross.

Imagine everyone's surprise when this system was abused, the people were worked like slaves (Civil War foreshadowing, anyone?), and the teaching of Christianity was dropped because it interfered with the profits of forced labor. The practice was officially outlawed in the 1550s, but the damage was already done—in many places millions of people had been worked to death, and in some Caribbean islands the indigenous population still hasn't recovered.

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  • Course Length: 18 weeks
  • Course Number: 310
  • Grade Levels: 10, 11
  • Course Type: Basic
  • Category:
    • History and Social Science

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