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Units May 13, 2022

American Institutions


Lesson Summary: Students will analyze how the American Revolution, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods re-centered debates about American democracy by analyzing the perspectives of marginalized communities and the legacy of slavery as an American institution. Downloads: Full american institutions unit and materials

This unit was created by educators in Chicago, IL, as part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately 13 90-100 minute class periods.


Students will be able to...

  • Evaluate the role slavery played in creating and perpetuating structures of racial inequality in modern society
  • Identify and explain how marginalized groups have engaged in struggle to experience the benefits of  American democracy
  • Analyze primary and secondary sources utilizing The-HIPP graphic organizer

Essential Questions

  • Is America Really the Land of the Free?
  • Historically, how has freedom been restricted to certain groups of people?
  • How has the struggle for freedom over the history of our country connected past to present?
  • What makes someone an American?  What does it mean to be an American?
  • How and why have the definition of citizenship and the meaning and practice of democracy changed over time?  
  • How have American identity, democracy, and the practices of citizenship been influenced by race, class, and gender?

Unit Overview

The American Revolution, Civil War, and Reconstruction are some of the most formidable moments in our nation’s history. These events tested a young country, first with the concept of freedom and independence, and then by extending that freedom and independence to all people.
During this 6 week unit, students start with the broader questions of American freedom and how it has been restricted to certain groups of people. Starting with the American Revolution, students will analyze that concept of freedom by learning about historically marginalized groups of people and what the Revolution meant to them. Through these lessons, students will practice building claims and citing and analyzing evidence from primary and secondary source documents. Then, students will consider how the Civil War re-centered debates about freedom for all people/communities. Using a range of resources including The 1619 Project, students will analyze how and why people fought to limit and extend the ideals of the constitution to historically marginalized groups. Students will use The 1619 Project and accompanying resources to examine how people interpreted the meaning of liberty for all Americans. The unit ends with a Long Essay Question paper that examines how groups of Americans, from the Revolution to Reconstruction, have struggled to engage with American democracy. 

Performance Task

Long Essay (LEQ)

Students will write an LEQ (long essay) that responds to the following prompt:

Evaluate the extent to which historically marginalized groups were similar in their struggles to engage in American democracy from 1754 - 1885. 

In their responses, students can choose one of the two approaches:

  1. Compare two groups (Colonists, Indigenous Peoples, African Americans, etc.)
  2. Analyze one group and expand on how their struggles spanned across different identities (African American and Women, etc).


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