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US History—Semester B

Reconstructing reconstruction...till the present.

US History isn't just about Columbus and the Pilgrims. That's right: history includes the 19th and 20th centuries, too. This semester covers the period of Reconstruction, the 1980s, and all the topics you might find in between. That's about 160 years and lots of foreign policy angst. Nice.

With Shmoop's US History course (Semester B), you'll engage in all sorts of interactive readings and lessons:

  • Learn how a Gecko helped define the 80’s—and we're not talking insurance.
  • Create a Superbowl-worthy advertisement for the inventions of Thomas Edison, a.k.a. the Steve Jobs of yesteryear.
  • Scrapbook your way through a journey as a Dust Bowl migrant. (Grime-fighting wet towelettes highly recommended.)

Ready to review? Take a journey back in time with Shmoop and find out what makes our country unique, how it got that way, and what all of this has to do with you.

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

Course Breakdown

Unit 8. Reconstruction and the Wild, Wild West

While the Reconstruction of the nation post-Civil War was happening, the west was going wild. The Gold Rush, the Transatlantic Railroad, the arrival of immigrants from Asia. This unit covers these big changes.

Unit 9. The Gilded Age: A Shower of Invention and Industry

Progress! Industry! Invention! New technology! The Gilded Age was one of the most dynamic, contentious, and volatile periods in American history. You'll learn about the captains of industry, robber barons, and the Steve Jobs of yesteryear here.

Unit 10. Tainting the Melting Pot: The Era of Jim Crow and Immigration

Haven't you heard? America is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have never had it easy in the United States, though. In this unit, you'll get cozy with the experiences of those seeking the American dream.

Unit 11. Empires on the Rise, Progress on the March, Racism Still Around

In this unit, America fixes some internal problems and bursts out of its isolationist bubble onto the international scene. Spanish-American War, anyone? Anyone?

Unit 12. Soldiers and Flappers

A Gatsby—U.S. History crossover? Yes, please! This unit takes us from the trenches of World War I straight into the Roaring '20s, with a stop in Harlem in between.

Unit 13. The Great Depression: The Roaring Twenties' Decade-long Hangover

We're not gonna lie. The Great Depression was really depressing. This unit will take us through the causes of this economic crisis and through the attempted reforms of Hoover and FDR.

Unit 14. World Wars: Episode 2: The U.S. Strikes Back

And now for the war that inspired all good war movies: World War II. In this unit, you'll get the deets on the Pacific theater, the European theater, and everything in between.

Unit 15. Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Cold War

This unit is all about passive-aggressive action against Communism (i.e., "don't piss them off or they'll bomb us off the face of the earth."). McCarthyism, the Red Scare, conformity, Eisenhower, the Marshall Plan. Good stuff.

Unit 16. Peace, Love, and Atomic Missiles

We didn't start the fire; we're just telling you about it. In this unit, you'll learn all about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, and the chaos that was the Vietnam War.

Unit 17. Reagan vs. the Wall

What do you get when you combine Reagan, Gorbachev, and Wall Street? Shmoop's unit on the '80s, of course.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 3: The Steve Jobs of Yesteryear

Extending the Industrial Revolution

The American Revolution was a drawn-out, bloody affair, resulting in the loss of many lives. Relatively speaking, the Industrial Revolution featured nowhere near as many fatalities. Might have had something to do with the fact that bayonets weren't allowed on assembly lines.

Prelude to a bloodbath.


Technological revolutions tend to play out gradually. Which isn't a bad thing, since we're not losing hundreds of lives every time there's some new invention. (Score another point for the "IR.")

The Industrial Revolution gained steam (just ask a steam engine) through the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The development of the factory system, the textile industry, railroads, the telegraph, and steam power all spurred the growth of American manufacturers and helped to create new markets and technologies. Many of the great innovations of the late 19th century built on these earlier breakthroughs.

All right, buddy…what did you do with her?


Railroads created a huge market for steel and, at the same time, provided the new steel industry with a ready-made organizational model. They also provided a great new place for wicked men with curly mustaches to tie down their female captives while cackling maniacally.

The telegraph demonstrated the explosive potential for personal communications technologies that the telephone would later see to full fruition. Well, for now anyway. Who knows? Maybe in a few years we'll have the technology to simply think thoughts, and someone on the other side of the world will be able to hear us. Yikes, that could be dangerous. We're not sure we want someone in Tokyo knowing where we keep our spare key.

Edison, hard at work. NOT PICTURED: The pyramid of investors and employees on which he stood for most of his life.


However, the inventors of these technologies were small potatoes compared to the big steak, Thomas Edison. Edison held 1093 patents, including most of what makes mass media, movies, and the electrical grid possible. How could one man do so much? Well, strictly speaking, he didn't. His employees did.

Edison was like Steve Jobs in that he used the stereotype of the eccentric and brilliant inventor to get investors for his company, General Electric. However, he was also like Steve Jobs in that his company spent millions to hire hundreds of other inventors to do the heavy lifting. With a campus of hundreds of inventors, Edison directed research to patent everything necessary to give General Electric a vertical integration monopoly on electrical grids and lighting. Edison's goal wasn't so much science as it was market control.

Edison and General Electric set a precedent that continues today. Most science is conducted, funded, and promoted by massive companies that employ hundreds or thousands of scientists and engineers. From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, this model created a new type of techno-industry in the United States based on the mass conversion of money into knowledge. Commentators called this Big Science (possibly the greatest band frontman name of all time?).

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

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