It seems that homo sapiens first came to North America overland from Asia during the Ice Age when the sea level was lower using a land bridge that connected Asia and modern-day Alaska. Some historians dispute this, though, saying that shipbuilding technology was sufficiently developed to allow for overseas travel from other continents. Either way (or both ways), by 7000 B.C., humans had reached North and Central America. By 1500 CE, there were about six million native Americans grouped into hundreds of unique tribes with different food, art, governmental styles and ways of life.
ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE: HISTORY OF NORTH, CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA
Ancient Times (3000 BCE to 500 CE)
The Inuits: The Native American people who lived in modern-day Alaska, Canada and Greenland from about 2500 BCE till the present day. They are known for their ice houses called igloos; their use of whale blubber as fuel; and their trade with the Vikings during the Middle Ages.
The Cree: The Native American people that lived in what is now the northern and central regions of Canada from prehistoric times to the present day. They are known for their hunting, fishing, and trapping ways of life; their use of canoes, snowshoes, and other traditional rugged terrain equipment; their food culture, including the making of bannock, a type of bread; and their wigwams, longhouses and bush camps.
The Chippewa/Ojibwe: The Native American people that lived in what is now the northern and central regions of Canada from prehistoric times to the present day. They are known for their hunting, fishing, and trapping ways of life; their use of canoes, snowshoes, and other traditional rugged terrain equipment; their food culture, including the harvesting of wild rice; their artworks, including dream catchers; and their distinctive wigwams, longhouses and teepees.
The Algonquin: The Native American people that lived in what is now the eastern regions of Canada from prehistoric times to the present day. They are known for their hunting, fishing, and trapping ways of life; their use of canoes, snowshoes, and other traditional rugged terrain equipment; their food culture, including the harvesting of maple syrup; their artworks, including beading and quillwork; and their distinctive wigwams and longhouses.
The Sioux: The Native American people that lived in the modern-day Great Plains region from prehistorical times to the present. They are known for their nomadic way of life, which was based on hunting bison and other game animals; their rich history of art, music, and dance; their conflicts with European settlers during the colonial era; and their later use of horses. They are also called the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota peoples.
The Anasazi: The Native American people who lived in what is now Colorado, as well as parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, from about 2000 BCE to about 1300 CE. They are known for their distinctive multi-story dwellings made of adobe bricks, called pueblos; their intricate system of irrigation canals and terraced fields; their various crafts; and their cultivation of corn, beans and squash.
Mesoamerica: The area that now includes much of Mexico and Central America that was home to indigenous groups like the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayans and Aztecs. It was settled by 7000 BCE.
The Olmecs: The people who built one of the earliest civilizations in Mesoamerica, which lasted from about 1400 BCE till about 400 BCE. They are known for their earth and stone pyramids for religious worship; their stone sculptures, including some of enormous heads; and their ceremonial centers.
The Zapotecs: The people who built a Mesoamerican civilization that lasted from about 800 BCE to about 1400 CE. They are known for their writing system, one of the earliest in the Americas; their trade with the Olmecs; their elaborate stone platforms, tombs, and temples; and their effective irrigation and terracing farming techniques.
Teotihuacan: The ancient Mesoamerican city located about 30 miles from modern-day Mexico City which was built by an unknown people about 400 BCE. It was at its height about 400 CE, abandoned for a time, then taken over by the Aztecs around 1400 CE. At its height, its population rose to 125,000 or more. It is known for its pyramids, including the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, where Aztecs practiced blood sacrifice; its multi-floor apartment compounds; its planned grid system; and its main road called the Avenue of the Dead that leads directly to an extinct volcano.
The Mayans: The people who built one of the largest and greatest Mesoamerican civilizations that, for a time, spanned parts of modern-day Mexico and Central America and that lasted from about 600 BCE to about 800 CE. They are known for their advanced cities; their temples and pyramids; their peaceful social structure led by priests; their class system that included nobles, priests, rulers, officials, servants and farmers; their writing system; their advanced knowledge of astronomy, math and science; their calendar; and their practice of blood sacrifice, which influenced later practices by the Aztecs. Their cities functioned as independent city-states and occasionally fought each other. These fights led to their decline due to the loss of farmers and food production.
The Hopewell: The Native American people who lived in the eastern and midwestern areas of the modern-day U.S., including modern-day Ohio, from about 200 BCE to about 500 CE. They are known for their elaborate, ornamented burial mounds; their long-distance trade; and their stone carving.
The Chavins: The people who lived in modern-day Peru from about 1000 BCE till about 200 BCE and who built one of the oldest South American civilizations. They are known for their effective canal and drainage systems; their elaborate temples and ceremonial sites; their artworks, including glazed pottery, loom weaving and elaborate carvings; and their use of tunnels, chambers and advanced acoustics in their architecture.
Tiahuanaco: The civilization that was built around 300 BCE in the Andes in modern-day Bolivia near Lake Titicaca and that served as a political center for the area till its decline for unknown reasons during the Middle Ages. It is known for its enormous stone temples and palaces; its distinctive jewelry, pottery and temple stones; and its mostly peaceful culture were found there.
The Moche: The people who lived in modern-day Peru from about 100 CE to about 800 CE. They are known for their adobe brick architecture; their artworks, including painted ceramic vessels depicting realistic everyday scenes, mythological creatures and erotic scenes; and their sophisticated irrigation systems and terraced fields that allowed them to farm in the desert.
The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)
The Temple Mound cultures: The Native American people who lived along what are now the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from about 700 CE to about 1500 CE. They are known for their towns with central plazas; their rectangular mounds with temples for the dead on top; their adobe longhouses; and their cultivation of corn, sunflowers, beans and pumpkins.
The Hopi: The Native American people who lived in what is now the southwestern U.S. from the Middle Ages till the present day. They are known for their advanced irrigation systems; their unique artworks; their complex ceremonies, including rain dances; their traditional dwellings including the Cliff Palace; and their cultivation of corn, beans, squash and cotton.
The Huari: The people who lived in modern-day Peru from about 700 CE to about 1000 CE. They are known for their militaristic culture; their highly organized, centrally governed political system; their wide reach as they spread out over half of modern-day Peru; their extensive road network over 1,000 kilometers in length; and their influence on the Incas to come.
The Incas: The people who lived in modern-day Peru from about 1200 CE to the 1500s. They are known for their many important towns, including Cuzco and Macchu Picchu, which remain today; their mortarless stone fitting technique; their relay runners, who carried messages along the two main roads that spanned the length of the empire; their terraced farms built onto the sides of mountains; their wooden spears and slingshots; their complex social and political system led by a divine ruler; and their quipus (knotted ropes that helped them count). They were conquered by the Spanish at the start of the Colonial Era.
Machu Picchu: A small Incan town that still exists deep in the Andes mountains that was built in the 1400s and abandoned about 100 years later. It likely served as a royal estate for Incan rulers and as a spiritual center for the Incan people. A stunning tourist attraction nestled between mountain peaks, it features terraced gardens, plazas and stone temples and plazas.
The Toltecs: The people who lived in Mesoamerica from about 800 CE till about 1200 CE. They are known for their militaristic city-state led by warrior chiefs; their temples guarded by stone warriors; their influence on the Aztecs; and their declining quality of poetry, art and literature during their dominance.
The Aztecs: The people who lived in Mesoamerica from about 1200 CE to the 1500s CE. They are known for their warlike culture; their numerous human sacrifices; their polytheism; their engineering skill; their pyramids; their unique calendar; their advanced economic system based on the use of cocoa beans and other goods as currency; their tiered social structure; and their impressive capital city, Tenochtitlan. They replaced the Toltecs in the area, but were conquered quickly by the Spanish led by Hernan Cortez.
Tenochtitlan: The central city of the Aztecs, which they built in the 1300s on an island in Lake Texcoco on the site of present-day Mexico City. It is known for being one of the world’s best-planned cities; for its easily defendable location; for its thousands of floating garden islands for growing food; and for its large population of over 200,000.
Early Modern Times (1500 CE through 1900 CE)
The Iroquois: The Native American people that have lived in what is now New York State and parts of southern Canada for several hundred years. They are known for their sophisticated political system, which is based on a confederacy of six nations; their traditional artworks and clothing, including ribbon shirts worn by men; and their cultivation of corn, beans and squash.
The Mohawks: The Native American people that have lived in what is now New York State for several hundred years. They are known for their participation in the Iroquois Confederacy; their metalwork; their use of wampum belts for storytelling and record keeping; and their fierce warriors.
Christopher Columbus: The explorer who sought a Western route to Asia and landed in the Americas instead, which resulted in the locating and mapping of the Americas by Europeans. He sailed for Spain and landed on the Caribbean Islands in 1492. Possibly believing the islands to be the far western part of the Indies, a name for Asia, he named the islands the West Indies and called the people there Indians. He was not the first European to land in the Americas, but his voyages and wars of conquest started the colonization of the Americas by Europeans.
Amerigo Vespucci: The Italian explorer who sailed to the Americas several times a few years after Columbus, then published popular writings about his travels. This sealed his credibility and inspired cartographers to name the area after him. He likely first landed in modern-day Brazil, then explored parts of the Caribbean Islands.
John Cabot: The Italian explorer sailing for England who located North America a few years after Columbus and Vespucci located the Caribbean Islands, Central America and South America. He landed in and named Newfoundland (“New Found Land”), but did not establish a lasting settlement there.
Santo Domingo: The first permanent European settlement in the Americas, established by the Spanish around 1500 on the island of modern-day Dominican Republic and Haiti. It served as the capital of the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean.
Ponce de Leon: The Spanish explorer who located Florida in the early 1500s at claimed it for Spain
Hernan Cortez: The Spanish conquistador who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire in Mexico. He arrived in Mexico in the early 1500s and, despite facing numerous challenges, managed to defeat the Aztec forces and capture their capital city, Tenochtitlan.
New Spain: The colony settled by the Spanish in present-day Mexico and parts of Central America and the southwestern U.S. after the arrival of Hernán Cortés. Its initial base was the city of Veracruz, which later shifted to Mexico City.
Moctezuma II: The Aztec emperor who was defeated by Cortes in Mexico
St. Augustine: The oldest continuously occupied European-established city in the U.S., which is located in Florida. It was founded by the Spanish in the mid-1500s and served as a strategic outpost during colonial times.
Jacques Cartier: The French explorer who located parts of Canada, including Montreal, in the mid-1500s and claimed them for France
Conquistadors: The Spanish colonizers of South America. In the mid-1500s, led by Francisco Pizarro, they defeated and destroyed the Inca Empire at their center in Peru. From there, the Spanish spread throughout the continent, mistreating the native peoples, smashing native temples and idols and introducing deadly diseases. During the late 1500s and throughout the 1600s, they forced natives as well as African slaves to mine for gold, which brought extravagant wealth to Spain and allowed it to dominate Europe until greed and mismanagement undermined their power.
Roanoke: The so-called “lost colony,” which was settled by the English in the late 1500s on Roanoke Island in modern-day North Carolina. When the governor returned after a trip to renew supplies, the struggling colony had been completely abandoned. The only clue to the mystery was two carvings: “Croatoan,” carved into a post, and “Cro,” carved into a tree.
Jamestown: The first long-lasting English American settlement, which was located in modern-day Virginia near the James River. Settlers came in the early 1600s via three ships: the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery. It is known for its several years of struggle and near failure; for its strict leader, Captain John Smith; for its House of Burgess, which was the first representative assembly of English America; and for accepting the first recorded arrival of enslaved Africans in 1619.
Captain John Smith: One of the founders and an early leader of Jamestown, Virginia, who is known for his strict leadership style and for eventually establishing good trading relationships with the Native Americans
Pocahontas: The daughter of Chief Powhatan who facilitated trade between her people and the people of Jamestown. She is said to have saved John Smith’s life twice after he was threatened by her people. Later in life, she was captured and imprisoned by colonists, then converted to Christianity and married a colonist–John Rolfe, who introduced tobacco to the colonies.
Henry Hudson: An English explorer who, in the 1600s, looked for a northern passage to Asia but was turned back by ice. Eventually, he located Hudson Bay, which was later colonized by the English Hudson Bay Company.
Plymouth Plantation: The second long-lasting English American settlement, which was founded in 1620 by English pilgrims seeking religious freedom and some mercenaries. They arrived on a ship called the Mayflower and it is said that they named a prominent landmark near the place where they landed Plymouth Rock. The first winter, Plymouth Plantation saw the death of over half its settlers. The following fall, however, they shared the first Thanksgiving meal with Squanto and other Native Americans. Over the following 20 years, about 20,000 new settlers arrived in Plymouth and surrounding areas. Without the help of the natives in the area, survival would have been unlikely.
Squanto: A nickname for Tisquanto, a Native American who is known for helping the pilgrims survive their first winter at the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He learned English after escaping a slave ship and settling in England for a time. He returned to America, then served as an interpreter for the pilgrims and Native Americans, helping them make alliances and helping the newcomers grow crops.
Pilgrims: The approximately 100 settlers who founded Plymouth Plantation. Some were religious separatists, rejecting the Church of England, and some were mercenaries. This term is also used for the other settlers who joined the first group until the Puritans blended with them in the 1630s.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony: The third long-lasting English American settlement, which was established near Plymouth in 1630 and was centered around Boston. It grew faster than either Jamestown or Plymouth and eventually, Boston became a political center of the colonies. Several years after its founding, Harvard College, the first college of English America, was founded there.
Puritans: The settlers who founded the Massachussetts Bay Colony and went on to settle many other parts of North America. Unlike some of the Pilgrims, they were not religious separatists, but considered themselves part of the reformed Church of England.
New Amsterdam: The original name of New York, one of the original thirteen colonies, established by the Dutch then later taken over by the English and renamed
Pennsylvania: The colony granted to a group of Quakers by the English king
William Penn: The founder of Pennsylvania and a strong proponent of religious freedom in the New World, whose ideas were a precursor to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
Port-Royal: The first French colony in North America, settled in the early 1600s in present-day Nova Scotia. It was established by Samuel de Champlain and Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons and served as a center for fur trading and exploration.
Quebec: The second French colony in North America, settled in the early 1600s on the St. Lawrence River. Founded by Samuel de Champlain, it was an important trading post and the center of French colonial administration.
Montreal: One of the important French colonies in North America, settled in the mid-1600s at modern-day Montreal. It was founded by Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and is known for its thriving fur trade and for being a center of commerce.
Louisiana: One of the important French colonies in North America, settled around 1700 in the Mississippi River valley and the Gulf Coast region
Salem witch trials: The trials held in Salem, Massachusetts around 1700 in which men and women were found guilty of witchcraft due to Puritan fears. The trials led to the execution by hanging of fourteen women and six men.
King Philip’s War: A major conflict between Native American tribes, led by Wampanoag leader Metacom (known as King Philip to the English), and the New England colonies. One of many violent wars between colonists and natives in the late 1600s, it was one of the deadliest. Though at first, many Native Americans were friendly to European colonists, soon they began to suffer from smallpox, measles and other European diseases, to be killed, and to be driven off their lands, and wars such as this one ensued. Until Europeans introduced them to horses, wheeled transportation and guns, they fought only with wood and stone tools, bows, slingshots and spears.
The French and Indian War: The war between the French and British, along with each side’s Native American allies, for American territory. It was part of the larger Seven Years’ War between European colonizing nations.
The original thirteen colonies: The American colonies that fought the American Revolution, which included: Virginia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia
Benjamin Franklin: An American polymath, statesman, inventor, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He played a crucial role in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and his scientific contributions, such as his experiments with electricity, earned him international acclaim as a leading figure of the Enlightenment era.
The Sugar Act: The tax on sugar and other imports, imposed by England on the American colonies
The Stamp Act: A law requiring the purchase of specially stamped paper for legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets, and even playing cards, imposed by England on the American colonies and repealed after about a year due to resistance
“No taxation without representation”: The slogan used by American colonists to protest their lack of representation in the English government in spite of the high taxes imposed on them by that government.
The Boston Tea Party: A protest that occurred in the late 1700s by the American colonies against England over taxation of British imports. In it, a group of colonists snuck into the Boston Harbor at night and threw tea imports overboard.
The American Revolution: The eight-year war that occurred in the late 1700s between Great Britain and the original thirteen American colonies that led to American independence. Partly, it was sparked by unfair English taxes and other laws. It is also called the American War of Independence and the Revolutionary War. The first battles took place in Lexington and Concord and the final major battle took place in Yorktown, where the British surrendered to America.
Paul Revere: A member of the secret anti-British rule society called Sons of Liberty who played a crucial role in the Revolutionary War when in 1775 he went on a midnight ride to warn the American militia of approaching British forces before the battles of Lexington and Concord
The Treaty of Paris (1783): The treaty between the American colonies and Great Britain that ended the American Revolution and formally recognized the United States as an independent nation. Note that The Treaty of Paris (1763) is a different treaty, one that ended the French and Indian War.
Thomas Jefferson: The main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. president
The Articles of Confederation: The first constitution of the United States, which held the American colonies together during the American Revolution before the new constitution was developed. It gave most of the power to the states.
The Constitutional Convention: The 1787 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania gathering during which the founders of the U.S. wrote and adopted the U.S. Constitution. Note that other constitutional conventions had been held previously by the colonists, including the one that drafted the Articles of Confederation.
The Federalist Papers: A collection of essays written by the nation’s founders and published in newspapers that attempted to convince citizens to vote to ratify the proposed U.S. Constitution
George Washington: The first president of the United States, elected in 1789, and the military general that led the Americans to victory in the American Revolution
Upper Canada and Lower Canada: The two parts of Canada after Britain split the English-speaking north (the Ontario area) from the French-speaking south (the Quebec are) to reduce tensions between these areas, who both wanted control
The Louisiana Purchase: The United States’ buying of approximately 530 million acres of land from France in the early 1800s. Stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, the land doubled the size of the recently-created nation. It was sold by Napoleon Bonaparte, who was engaged in costly wars of expansion in Europe.
Lewis and Clark: Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the explorers assigned by President Thomas Jefferson to map and report about the land of the Louisiana Purchase and beyond. Their journey began in Missouri and took about a year and a half, when they reached the Pacific Ocean in present-day Oregon.
Sacajawea: A native American who helped Lewis and Clark navigate across America
The War of 1812: The war between the U.S. and Great Britain over Britain’s continued involvement in U.S. trade. After it, Britain agreed to no longer have military posts on U.S. soil or block U.S. trade with Europe. The treaty of Ghent, which ended the war, helped establish the U.S. as a world power.
Nat Turner: The leader of a violent and unsuccessful slave revolt in Virginia in the 1830s that resulted in the deaths of 50 to 60 White people and the deaths and convictions of many Black participants and led to harsher penalties for slaves
The Alamo: A significant battle in Texas’ war of independence from Mexico that occurred in the 1830s in which a small group of Texan defenders, including famous figures like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, held the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas against a Mexico. After a 13-day seige, the Alamo fell to Mexico and most of the defenders were killed. However, Texas ultimately won its war of independence. After a decade of independence as the Republic of Texas (nicknamed the “Lone Star Republic”), Texas joined the U.S.
The Trail of Tears: The path that Cherokee and other Native Americans took after being forced out of Oklahoma by President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. Thousands died on the trail.
The Mexican-American War: The mid-1800s war between the U.S. and Mexico in which the U.S. gained California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico as well as parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, and Oklahoma
The Underground Railroad: A network of secret routes and safe houses in the U.S. that worked to help slaves escape the South prior to and during the Civil War
Harriet Tubman: A escaped slave who made trips through southern territory along the so-called Underground Railroad, helping others escape to the North
The American Civil War: The war that took place from 1861 to 1865 that divided the United States in two–the northern states (called the Union states) versus the southern states (called the confederate states). While the northerners had already banned slavery, partly because their economy was based on manufacturing, the southerners maintained its legality, using slaves on their tobacco, cotton and other plantations. The North also wanted a stronger national government, while the South wanted more power for individual states. After the North won, slavery ended and the U.S. reunited.
The Confederate States of America: The name the southern states took for their union after seceding from the U.S., an act which started the Civil War.
Abraham Lincoln: The U.S. president of the mid-1800s who presided over the American Civil War. Lincoln opposed slavery and was in favor of a stronger national government.
Ulysses S. Grant: The commander of the Union army of the North during the Civil War
Robert E. Lee: The commander of the Confederate army of the South during the Civil War
Fort Sumter: The fort in South Carolina where the Civil War fighting began
The Gettysburg Address: A speech made by Lincoln arguing for equality and national unity after a victory for the North at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that was a turning point in the war
The Emancipation Proclamation: The executive order made by Lincoln during the Civil War calling for the slaves in confederate states to be set free. It did not end slavery, however, partly because of enforcement difficulties.
The thirteenth amendment: The constitutional amendment that abolished slavery
John Wilkes Booth: The man who assassinated Lincoln five days after General Lee surrendered to General Grant in the courthouse at Appomattox, Virginia
Reconstruction: The process of rebuilding after the Civil War and transitioning away from slavery
Jim Crow laws: Laws created in southern states that enforced racial segregation and denied African Americans their constitutional rights
The Dominion of Canada: The state created in the 1860s that united Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia under one government. It was not fully independent, but instead a self-governing entity within the British Empire. It declared both French and English as their official languages. Before the turn of the century, the Northwest Territories (a very large portion of modern-day Canada) as well as the Yukon Territory were also added. (These areas were previously owned by the Hudson Bay Company.) In the 1930s, Canada was granted full legal autonomy, and in the 1980s, it gained full constitutional independence with the passage of the Canada Act.
Canadian gold rush: The discovery of gold in Canada’s Yukon Territory in the late 1800s that led to a population expansion there
Canadian Pacific Railway: The railway completed in the late 1800s that united Canada from the St. Lawrence River to the Pacific Ocean
Simón Bolívar: One of the two main leaders of the fight for South American independence from Spain, who led the liberation of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in the 1800s. He is also known as “El Libertador” or “The Liberator”. Though he desired the political unification of all of South America, this did not happen. Some lost trust in him, believing that he intended to reign over South America as its king.
Jose de San Martin: One of the two main leaders of the fight for South American independence from Spain, who led the liberation of Chile and Peru in the 1800s. Though he desired the political unification of all of South America, this did not happen. Instead, leaders from the wealthier classes fought for power over the working classes. Eventually, all countries except French Guyana gained independence, but because wealthy plantation owners still held most of the power in these areas, living conditions didn’t immediately improve. Many of the new governments were oppressive dictatorships.
The Modern Era (1900 CE to the Present)
Wilbur and Orville Wright: The inventors of the Wright Flyer, considered to be the first airplane, which they first flew in 1903
Henry Ford: The inventor of the assembly line and the owner of the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. His company is known for contributing significantly to U.S. industrialization; for significantly advancing the use of the motorized vehicle, which is one of the hallmarks of modern life; and for revolutionizing factory production methods, which led to greater mass production, another hallmark of modern life.
President Woodrow Wilson: The U.S. president during World War I and the developer of the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations. He maintained U.S. neutrality in the war until the final year when Germany began to attack neutral ships. At that time, the U.S. joined the Allies. Though he advocated for joining the League of Nations after its creation, the U.S. voted not to join and to resume non-interventionist policies.
The Lusitania: The British passenger ship that was sunk by a German u-boat during World War I, killing over 1,000 people, including some Americans
The Roaring Twenties: The nickname given to the decade after the end of World War I, which was a boom time for the U.S. economy. It is known for increased urbanization; the popularization of jazz music and movies; its signature flapper style of dress; increased car ownership; and the introduction of skyscrapers and elevators.
Prohibition: The period in U.S. history during which the sale and use of alcohol was outlawed by the U.S. constitution. It was granted by the 18th Amendment in the 1920s and ended by the 21st Amendment in the 1930s. During this time, mafia and other crime organizations led by people like Al Capone set up bootlegging operations, increasing overall rates of crime.
The 19th Amendment: The constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote, which was ratified in 1920 after nearly 100 years of protests
Ku Klux Klan: A white supremacist hate group that originated in the U.S. after the Civil War with the goal of undermining the rights and freedoms of African Americans through violent means such as lynchings and arson
The Scopes Trial: A trial that took place in the 1920s in Tennessee after teacher John Scopes broke a local law against teaching evolution in a public school. It is also known as the “Monkey Trial.” Scopes was found guilty but his $100 fine was set aside.
The Wall Street Crash: The stock market crash of 1929, which started the Great Depression worldwide. It occurred because stock market speculators had overvalued many companies. Unemployment was extremely high, and a massive drought in the Great Plains (the Dust Bowl) and resulting crop failures exacerbated the problems.
The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS): The first two television broadcasting companies, which began regular, commercial broadcasts in the 1940s
The New Deal: The set of government-sponsored programs initiated in the early 1930s by President Roosevelt to increase employment rates and reduce poverty during the Depression. These programs included infrastructure expansions, farming subsidies, the social security program, a federal minimum wage program and more.
Relocation centers: Overcrowded internment camps that Japanese and Japanese Americans were forced to move to during World War II. They were created by order of President Roosevelt. Inhabitants stayed for the remainder of the war.
The Manhattan Project: The code name for the scientific endeavor to develop the first nuclear weapons
Harry Truman: The U.S. president that made the decision to drop the nuclear bombs
McCarthyism: An anti-communist ideology prominent during the 1950s. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, it led to many false accusations of communist allegiance that resulted in investigations, censorship and other disciplinary actions.
The Civil Rights movement: The collection of protests that took place during the 1950s and 1960s in the U.S. south and elsewhere that brought an end to racial segregation and discrimination through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act
Brown vs. the Board of Education: The 1950s U.S. Supreme Court case between the Brown family and the Board of Education of Topeka that banned a Black child from a public school. The court unanimously favored Brown and banned racial segregation in public schools.
The “Little Rock Nine”: The nine students that integrated an Arkansas high school, to violent protest. The students were supported by the National Guard.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: The most prominent leader of the Civil Rights movement, who delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in the 1960s and was assassinated in the late 1960s. He promoted non-violence and civil disobedience.
John F. Kennedy: The U.S. president who was assassinated in Texas in the 1960s. He is also known as JFK.
Malcolm X: An influential civil rights activist who advocated for Black nationalism and who was assassinated in New York City
Thurgood Marshall: The first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice
The nuclear arms race: The race between the U.S., the U.S.S.R. and other countries to develop atomic weapons after World War II. (Though Russia fought on the side of the Allies during the war, they soon merged with communist countries in Eastern Europe, including East Germany, forming the U.S.S.R.)
The space race: The race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War to advance space exploration
Apollo 11: The U.S. mission that took place in 1969 and resulted in the first moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin
The Korean War: The war between North Korea and South Korea that took place from 1950 to 1953. It occurred after the communist-led North Korea attacked the democratic South Korea in spite of their recent border agreement. The U.N. sent troops (including many American troops) to defend democracy, believing that any extension of communist-allied countries could lead to further communist military action around the world. No side won, and in the end, the border returned to the 38th parallel, where it had been at the start of the war.
The Vietnam War: The long, drawn-out civil war that took place in Vietnam with the involvement of other countries as well during the 1960s and 1970s. The two sides were the Viet Cong in the south and the communists in the north, both of whom attempted to take control of the country after Vietnam claimed independence from France in the 1950s. The U.S. sent troops to aid the south to decrease the spread of communism, but no side won and millions died in this long-running conflict.
The draft: The practice of lawfully compelling people to join the army, a practice that took place in the U.S. during the Vietnam War
Fidel Castro: The anti-capitalist leader of Cuba for the last half of the 20th century who established communism there
The Bay of Pigs invasion: A failed mission in which Cuban exiles led by the U.S. attempted to overthrow the Cuban government led by Fidel Castro, but had to surrender after just a few days. It occurred in the 1960s as part of U.S. attempts to thwart the spread of communism.
The Panama Canal treaty: The treaty signed by the Republic of Panama and the U.S. in the 1970s agreeing that Panama would regain control the Panama Canal Zone in the year 2000. Prior to this, in the early 1900s, the U.S. had backed a successful Panamanian independence movement in exchange for control of this zone. They then built this highly valuable canal, which provides the only shipping path through the Americas.
The Cuban missile crisis: A 1960s exchange between the U.S. and the communist-led Soviet Union in which both countries positioned nuclear missiles facing each other and the countries came close to initiating a nuclear war. The Soviet missile was located in Cuba, where the communist leader Fidel Castro had agreed to work with the Soviets in their Cold War attempts at intimidation. Castro believed that doing so might prevent U.S. attacks on Cuba as well.
Space shuttle Columbia: The first reusable space plane, which the U.S. launched in the early 1980s
Hubble Space Telescope: The first telescope in space, which brought pictures of deep space to the world
The Gulf War: A war between the U.S. and Iraq in the early 1990s in which the U.S. and its allies liberated Kuwait from its Iraqi occupiers, then forced the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, to end all his weapons programs. Following the war, a democratic government was put in place, but a shortage of troops, a lack of evidence of WMDs, anti-American violence and more have prevented success and stability there. Some people want the U.S. to leave Iraq immediately, while others believe doing so will allow it to become a safe haven for terrorists.
Barack Obama: The first African American to be elected president of the United States, who took office in 2008
September 11, 2001: The date of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. by the extremist group Al-Qaeda that led to war in Afghanistan
The Afghan War: The war that took place between the U.S. and other NATO countries and Afghanistan immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks. It aimed to dismantle the Taliban regime, which provided safe haven to the terrorist group responsible for the attacks, Al-Qaeda, and to establish democracy in Afghanistan. It ended in 2021 after years of unsuccessful attempts to stabilize the region.
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