The AP US History Examination is an incredibly difficult test that is designed to assess not just the objective knowledge of that various individual figures, events, ideas, and trends that make up American history, but also the set of skills students develop to use that information towards meaningful goals. In order to assess those skills, AP Central identifies and categorizes them into nine “historical thinking” skills. Of those skills, AP Central divides them into four essential skill types:
The first two skill types are based on how to organize historical information. American history is a dense subject and AP US History students are required to study it in-depth. This is a difficult task and the honing of those first two skills will allow students the ability to recall information and apply specific evidence to address specific questions.
The second two skill types are based on what students do with historical information to develop arguments of their own. These are two of the most significant skills any high school student could master—the ability to make coherent and thoughtful arguments that can persuade others of one’s point-of-view. American history is simply the information, the evidence, and the fuel for arguments students will make throughout the school year.
In order to make the most effective arguments and to address questions with the most appropriate evidence studied, students will memorize and practice using the Seven Historical Themes as mechanisms to organize American history. Each one of the Seven Historical Themes offers a lens through which to view and organize American history. Through viewing American history through one of these themes, students can sift through events and individuals that relate specifically to a question asked or an argument being made while disregarding other events and individuals that do not relate. Mastering how to manipulate American history using these historical themes, students will be able to more effectively answer objective multiple-choice questions, evaluate what events most appropriately answer a short-answer question, and synthesize specific historical individuals/events/trends/ideas to frame strong written essays.
For the rest of the academic school year, every student will be responsible for memorizing each of the Seven Historical Themes, what they mean, specific historical individuals/events/trends/ideas that can be classified within the themes, how activities/questions relate to the themes, etc. At any point throughout the academic school year, students will be assessed on their knowledge and application of each of the themes either through quizzes, tests, daily class activities, etc.
This theme focuses on the formation of both American national identity and group identities in U.S. history. Students should be able to explain how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history, with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identities. Students should be able to explain how these sub-identities have interacted with each other and with larger conceptions of American national identity.
How and why have debates over American national identity changed over time?
How has gender, class, ethnic, religious, regional, and other group identities changed in different eras?
Work, Exchange, and Technology
This theme focuses on the development of American economies based on agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing. Students should examine ways that different economic and labor systems, technological innovations, and government policies have shaped American society. Students should explore the lives of working people and the relationships among social classes, racial and ethnic groups, and men and women, including the availability of land and labor, national and international economic developments, and the role of government support and regulation.
How have changes in markets, transportation, and technology affected American society from colonial times to the present day?
How have debates over economic values and the role of government in the U.S. economy affected politics, society, the economy, and the environment?
Why have different labor systems developed in British North America and the United States, and how have they affected U.S. society?
This theme focuses on why and how the various people who moved to, from, and within the United States adapted to their new social and physical environments. Students examine migration across borders and long distances, including the slave trade and internal migration, and how both newcomers and indigenous inhabitants transformed North America. The theme also illustrates how people responded when “borders crossed them.” Students explore the ideas, beliefs, traditions, technologies, religions, and gender roles that migrants/immigrants and annexed peoples brought with them, and the impact these factors had on both these peoples and on U.S. society.
Why have people migrated to, from, and within North America?
How have changes in migration and population patterns affected American life?
Politics and Power
This theme focuses on the ongoing debates over the role of the government in society and its potential as an active agent for change. This includes mechanisms for creating, implementing, or limiting participation in the political process and the resulting social effects, as well as the changing relationships among the branches of the federal government and among national, state, and local governments. It also includes the basic principles and core political ideas of American politics developed throughout the country’s history. Students should trace efforts to define or gain access to individual rights and citizenship and survey the evolutions of tensions between liberty and authority in different periods of U.S. history.
How have Americans shaped, agreed on or argued over, the values that guide the political system, as well
as who is a part of the political process?
How and why have different political and social groups competed for influence over society and government in what would become the United States?
In this theme, students should focus on the global context in which the United States originated and developed, as well as the influence of the U.S. on world affairs. Students should examine how various world actors (such as people, states, organizations, and companies) have competed for the territory and resources of the North American continent, influencing the development of both American and world societies and economies. Students should also investigate how American foreign policies and military actions affected the rest of the world as well as social issues within the U.S. itself.
How have different factors influenced U.S. military, diplomatic, and economic involvement in international affairs and foreign conflicts, both in North America and overseas?
How have events in North America and the United States related to contemporary developments in the rest of the world?
Environment and Geography—Physical and Human
This theme examines the role of environment, geography, and climate in both constraining and shaping human actions. Students should analyze the interaction between the environment and Americans in their efforts to survive and thrive. Students should also explore efforts to interpret, preserve, manage, or exploit natural and man-made environments, as well as the historical contexts within which interactions with the environment have taken place.
How did interactions with the natural environment shape the institutions and values of various groups living on the North American continent?
How did economic and demographic changes affect the environment and lead to debates over use and control of the environment and natural resources?
Ideas, Beliefs, and Culture
This theme explores the roles that ideas, beliefs, social mores, and creative expression have played in shaping the United States. Students should examine the development of aesthetic, moral, religious, scientific, and philosophical principles, and consider how these principles have affected individual and group actions. Students should analyze the interactions between beliefs and communities, economic values, and political movements, including attempts to change American society to align it with specific ideals.
How and why have moral, philosophical, and cultural values changed in what would become the United States?
How and why have changes in moral, philosophical, and cultural values affected U.S. history?