Common Sense American History for Life

Common Sense American History for Life will be available as a two-semester American History sequence starting in August 2017. The course seeks not to provide an encyclopedic knowledge of American History, but rather to focus on the common sense meaning of American democratic ideals as they have played out in history. Common Sense American History is designed for a high school or introductory college audience seeking a robust American History course relevant to how they view themselves and the country. The course package will be piloted during the 2017-2018 academic year, with a full release scheduled for summer, 2018. Register to help us test the curriculum.

  • Common Sense American History for Life: Semester 1 will be available on July 31.
  • Common Sense American History for Life: Semester 2 will be available in fall of 2017.
The downloadable course packages contains all of the following resources:
  • Common Cartridge
    • Imports into most Learning Management Systems (LMS’s); Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, Schoology, and many more
    • Contains a full semester’s worth of assessment materials broken down by module
  • Teacher Files
    • Electronic course files (.docx) are contained for easy adaption into your classroom
    • Additional lesson activities included
  • eTextbook
    • The course readings and multimedia (videos and audio clips) are built into a rich text format designed to engage and enhance the learning experience
    • Teachers receive a numerical code after registration to login to the Common Sense American History for Life eBook. Share that same code with all of your students
    • eBook syncs between web browser and mobile app


  • By signing up for our Mailing List you will receive:
    • New free resources such as study break articles, mini-lessons, and bell ringers
    • Updates about Certell
    • Summer Job Opportunities for Teachers and much more!


Americans rightly pride themselves on living in one of the wealthiest nations in the world today. Any calculation of the nation’s wealth, however, should extend beyond measures of economic well-being to include a political, legal, religious, and cultural heritage. This heritage includes representative democracy, a written constitution; the rule of law; religious toleration; an individualist ethos; and historically rooted cultural customs and mores. This wealth—political, legal, religious, social, and cultural—rests at the core of our history as a nation.

We realize that in our history the promise of democracy, the rule of law, religious toleration, and individual freedom often remained unfilled. Practice did not always fit aspiration. Yet that Americans perceived that these aspirations were real, or could be achieved, enabled practice to become reality. The natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness might not have been endowed by a creator, as our Declaration of Independence claims, but that Americans believed in these “unalienable” rights enabled Americans over the course of the next two-hundred years to produce a democracy unparalleled in human history. Free-markets might never have existed, yet the belief in a free-market economy allowed economic well-being similarly unparalleled in history.

The fulfillment of this promise often came with violent struggle, profound social and cultural discord, and disturbing social injustice. In this conflict, there was surprising agreement that democracy, the rule of law, religious toleration, and individual rights were good things. We take such things for granted. At nearly every point of bitter social discord—debates over of slavery, the Civil War, the rights of organized labor, the black civil rights movement, the treatment of Native Americans, women’s rights, the role of the federal government, war—conflict was consistently framed within a belief in a constitutional order embodied in the Founder’s vision with long historic roots in a Western tradition.

The wealth of the American nation, which encompasses its political, legal, social and cultural heritage, arguably is an accident (what historians like to call contingency) of history. A different geographic location, different natural resources, different indigenous peoples, different settlers, different leaders, and even different time might have produced another kind of nation.

Yet, too much can be made of historical accident. The framework created by early colonists and those who drafted the Constitution set a context that allowed great political, business, religious, and social leaders to emerge shaping the direction of the nation. Destiny is more than accident.

This concise history of America explores the wealth of the America nation—the realized and continued promise. The narrative is shaped around the theme of wealth, realized through struggle and agreement, and the collective and the individual. The book neither apologizes for the failure of unfilled promises nor glorifies a nation without fault. This history imparts the importance of individuals in shaping our history, without offering a “great man/woman” heroic history of our nation. This history understands the significance of accident in history and conscious choice by a people and leaders to shape the destiny of their nation. This is a story of wealth that reaches beyond just economics. Americans desire economic well-being for themselves, their families, other Americans, and for all people. The nation prides itself as much for its liberty realized and assured through past and future struggle and continued agreement as to its importance in assuring a well-ordered democracy.

Common Sense American History for Life examines our national ideals and aspirations through a multimedia history course aimed at high school and introductory college students. It engages students through a concise narrative, captivating short videos, audios of important primary sources, discussion and quizzes for students, and a text bank for instructors.

The textbook for Common Sense American History for Life will include thirty chapters ranging from ten to fifteen pages, written specifically for introductory students. Each chapter will focus on a major theme of importance for understanding the exceptional ideals of the nation. This textbook seeks to introduce students to key themes important for understanding American history, inviting them to explore more detailed information through other sources. The etextbook—and the course—seeks not to provide an encyclopedic knowledge of American history, as do most other text books, but to provide foundational knowledge as to the meaning of American democratic ideals.

Chapter I The New World
• How did the discovery and exploration of the New World change European views of the world?
• What differences are seen between Spanish, French, and English colonizers?
• Why did English settlers to the New World see themselves as having the rights of Englishman? Why did they see religious liberty and economy advancement as important to their lives?

Chapter II Settling the New World
• What difference can be seen in the Southern, New England, Middle, and Borderland settlers?
• Why did these colonialists seen themselves as English with the rights of Englishmen?
• Do you seen any regional differences today and are they important?

Chapter III The Colonial Origins of Religious Liberty
• Why did the Puritans seek to purify their religion?
• What were the tensions in Puritan colonies between religious liberty and Puritan doctrine?
• Who was William Penn and what were his beliefs about religious liberty?

Chapter IV The Colonial Origins of Political Liberty
• Why did colonial settlers pride themselves on their freedom?
• What did it mean to have rights of an Englishman?
• What kinds of political institutions were developed in the colonies?
• How did slaveholders reconcile slavery and political liberty?

Chapter V The American Revolution, 1750-1783
• Why did Thomas Jefferson write in the Declaration of Independence that all men have natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
• Why is the Declaration of Independence an important document?
• What is meant by “natural rights”? Do we still have these rights?
• Why did American colonists believe that a revolution was necessary to protect their rights as Englishman?
• What were the causes of the American Revolution?

Chapter VI The Founding of a Nation, 1783-1800
• Who was James Madison?
• Why was George Washington so admired in the colonies? What kinds of leadership abilities did he show in his military and political career?
• Why did the drafters of the U.S. Constitution believe a written constitution was important?
• Why is the U.S. Constitution important to the nation today?
• Why did the founders fear centralized government and the corruption of republican principles? Why is there a Bill of Rights?
• What is meant by a federal system?
• If all humans are equal, why did not the Constitution end slavery and allow all adults, including women, blacks, and Indians to vote?

Chapter VII The Early Republic, 1801-1829
• Who was Thomas Jefferson? Why did Jefferson/Madison clash with Alexander Hamilton?
• Why did political parties such as the Federalist and Democrats develop?
• How did American democracy change from what was envisioned by the Founders?
• What were the causes of the War of 1812?
• Why did New England Federalists oppose the war?
• How were relations with American Indians changing?

Chapter VIII The Market Revolution, 1830-1850
• Who was Andrew Jackson and why did so many Americans admire him?
• Can you think of important inventors in this period who helped transform America?
• Did the development of a national market better or hurt the lives of average Americans?
• How did Andrew Jackson capture rising democratic expectations?
• How did Southern slavery coincide with the development of a national market?
• What was meant by King Cotton?
• How was industrialism introduced to New England?
• Could Jackson’s removal of Indians have been avoided? Why did many in New England oppose Jackson’s policies?
• What were the differences between Democrats and Whigs?

Chapter IX The Evangelical Awakening and Reform, 1830-1850
• Who was Charles Finney?
• How did a religious awakening lead to social reform movements?
• Why did Southern slaveholders Embrace Revival and Disdain Reform?
• What kind of reform movements came out of the Second Great Awakening?

Chapter X The Slavery Problem
• Why did slavery present a problem for the nation?
• What were differences within the anti-slavery movement?
• Why did political tensions arise over the expansion of slavery into new territories?
• Was there a way to gradually end slavery or did it need immediate abolition?

Chapter XI Westward Expansion
• Who was James K. Polk?
• Why did Americans move West?
• What is Manifest Destiny? Did American need to expand?
• What was the Texas question?
• What were the causes of the Mexican-American War, and what were its benefits and costs?
• How was the Compromise of 1850 reached?

Chapter XII The Sectional Crisis, 1844-1861
• Who was Abraham Lincoln? Why is he uniquely American?
• Why did the Whig Party collapse? How was the Republican Party formed?
• Why did so many Americans oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act?
• Why was Kansas called “Bloody Kansas”?
• Do people have the right to break the law if they think the law unconstitutional?

Chapter XIII The Onset of War
• Why did a new political party, the Republican Party, arise?
• Why was Abraham Lincoln elected president in 1860?
• Did the Civil War have to be fought?
• Why is Lincoln considered a great president?

Chapter XIV The Civil War
• Who were Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee?
• Why was the Civil War so bloody?
• Why did the North Win the Civil War?
• Was the Civil War fought over slavery?

Chapter XV Reconstruction the Nation, 1863-1877
• What was Radical Reconstruction?
• Why did some Southerners oppose Reconstruction?
• How was the U.S. Constitution amended to protect rights for black men?

Chapter XVI The Dream of the Frontier West
• Why did Americans look westward? How did the West provide economic opportunity to many?
• Why did federal Indian policy fail?
• How were communities created in the West? Why were women important in these communities?

Chapter XVII An Industrial Giant is Born
• What role did business visionaries like Andrew Carnegie, J.D. Rockefeller, J. P. Morgan, play in economic advancement? What American conditions allowed these men to become economic leaders?
• Did the industrial revolution benefit labor?
• Why did socialism as a political movement fail?

Chapter XVIII Immigration and the City
• Why did immigrants come to America in the 19th Century? How did they differ from previous immigrants?
• How were immigrants assimilated into American culture?
• What did urban reformers seek to reform? How does reform occur?

Chapter XIX Gilded Age Politics
• How is politics different today?
• Why was there gridlock in Washington?

Chapter XX Depression, Protest and Politics
• Who were William Jennings Bryan and William F. McKinley?
• What was the populist movement? Was it radical?
• How did Republicans triumph over the populist movement?

Chapter XXI American Acquires an Empire
• Who was Theodore Roosevelt?
• Why did America acquire an empire after the Spanish America War?
• Why was American expansion different than European imperialism?

Chapter XXII The Progressive Era
• Why did reformers see corporate trusts as a problem?
• Who would you have voted for in 1912?
• Why did government grow in these years?
• Was progressivism the same as socialism? How are liberal different today?

Chapter XXIII Global Power and World War
• Who was Woodrow Wilson?
• Why did America enter World War I?
• What were the strengths and weaknesses of the League of Nations?

Chapter XXIV The 1920s
• Why were women important in the prohibition movement?
• What role did women play in reform movements?
• Why did prohibition fail?
• In what ways was 1920s culture like and different than today?
• Why was there economic prosperity in the 1920s?

Chapter XXV The Depression Years
• What was the New Deal? Was it socialism?
• Did the New Deal help or hurt economic recovery?

Chapter XXVI World /War II and the Origins of the Cold War
• What is fascism and communism? Why was the future at stake in World War II?
• Were Americans more patriotic in World War II?
• Why did American use the atomic bomb to end the war? Was this a right decision?
• What and why was there a Cold War?

Chapter XXVII The Fabulous Fifties
• Why have the 1950s been called the “fabulous years?
• Were women stereotyped in the 1950s as just “homemakers”?
• Was there anti-communist hysteria at home? Were there spies in the U.S. government?

Chapter XXVIII The Tumultuous 1960s
• Did America make progress on black civil rights in the 1960s?
• What is the difference between peaceful protest and violent protest?
• How did urban riots set back reform?
• Why did the New Left hate American values?

Chapter XXIX The Reagan Years
• Why was Ronald Reagan popular?
• What was Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War?
• Why was their economic prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s?

Chapter XXX American Today
• Is America in decline?
• Has globalism hurt or helped the American economy?
• Do Americans have more rights or less rights than at the time of the Constitution was written?

…coming soon…

Course development and the textbook was created by a group of dedicated scholars at Arizona State University. Instructional Design and Development was led by Certell.


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