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.

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 is now available.
  • 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
    • Contains electronic course files (.docx) for easy incorporation into your lesson plans
    • Includes additional lesson activities
  • eTextbook
    • is built in a rich text format incorporating text and video and audio clips into a multimedia experience that engages students and enhances their learning experience
    • is free and simple. Teachers simply register on our website and receive a code to share with their students.

  • 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 1:  New World Revolutions

  • Why did European discovers call the Americas the “New World’?
  • How did commercial advances enable the European discovery of the New World?
  • What kind of differences and similarities are found among the Native peoples in the New World?
  • What technological advances enabled discovery of the New World?
  • What attracted exploration of the “New World?”

Chapter 2:  English Settlement in the New World

  • Why did the English settle in North America?
  • What motivations brought the English to settle in North America?
  • What cultural assumptions did English settlers bring to the New World?
  • What kinds of conflict developed between English settlers and the Natives?

Chapter 3:  Revolutionary Independence

  • Were the colonists justified in resisting British taxation policies?
  • Was the American War for Independence inevitable?
  • What key events sharpened the divisions between Britain and the colonies?
  • What major causes marked the move toward American Independence?
  • How were American forces able to prevail in the Revolutionary War?

Chapter 4:  Constitutional Order

  • Why did the delegates in Philadelphia believe that a new constitution was needed?
  • What is federalism?
  • Why did the founders fear centralized power?
  • What 3 branches of government were outlined in the Constitution?
  • What rights were expressed in the “Bill of Rights?
  • Why did black slavery pose a problem for the Founders?

Chapter 5:  The New Nation

  • Who developed the Bank of the US?
  • What were the differences between the Federalists and Democratic Republicans?
  • Who were the leaders of the Democratic Republicans?
  • Who were the leaders of the Federalists?
  • What caused the Whiskey Rebellion?
  • What were the Alien and Sedition Acts?

Chapter 6:  Democratic Order

  • Was Jefferson’s election in 1800 a “revolution”?
  • What was the Missouri Compromise?
  • What caused the War of 1812?
  • What were the major achievements of Jefferson’s presidency?
  • What was the Lewis and Clark Expedition?

Chapter 7:  Market Revolution

  • What major advancements occurred in transportation during this period?
  • What were the major differences between the northern and southern economies?
  • What products helped to create a manufacturing factory system?
  • How did mass production and transportation affect the slave system?
  • What leaders helped to create a more industrial economy?

Chapter 8:  Jacksonian Democracy

  • What is the spoils system?
  • What was Jacksonian Democracy?
  • What political party was founded during the Jacksonian Era?
  • Why did Jackson remove Eastern Indians to western reservations?
  • Why did Jackson want to eliminate the Bank of the US?
  • What caused the nullification crisis?

Chapter 9:  Moral Reform

  • What was the Second Great Awakening?
  • What religious groups formed during this period?
  • How did Christianity influence new reform movements?
  • What kinds of reform movements emerged in this period?

Chapter 10:  Liberty and Slavery

  • What were the differences in the northern and southern economies?
  • What was an abolitionist?
  • In what ways did slaves resist?
  • What was the southern argument in favor of slavery?

Chapter 11:  Dreams and Reality of Manifest Destiny

  • What events led to the Mexican War?
  • Why did Whig politicians such as Abraham Lincoln oppose the Mexican War?
  • How did the geographic expansion of America contribute to the slave issue?
  • What factors led Americans to expand westward?
  • What was the Compromise of 1850?

Chapter 12:  Sectional Crisis

  • What events in Kansas led to the term “Bleeding Kansas”?
  • What was the constitutional basis of the Dred Scott Decision?
  • Why did John Brown lead a raid of Harper’s Ferry Virginia?
  • Why was the election of Abraham Lincoln the deciding factor in southern secession?

Chapter 13:  Civil War

  • Why did the South secede from the Union?
  • How did new technology change the nature of war?
  • What were the strategies of both North and South to win the war?
  • What were the advantages and disadvantages of both North and South going into the war?
  • Why did Lincoln choose to emancipate the slaves and why did he not emancipate all the slaves at once?

Chapter 14:  Failure to Reconstruct Freedom

  • How did Lincoln’s plans for Reconstruction differ from Radical Reconstruction?
  • What were key amendments and legislation in Reconstruction?
  • What was the freedmen’s experience during Reconstruction?
  • What were the accomplishments and failures of Reconstruction?

Chapter 15:  Industrial Revolution

  • Why did America experience an industrial revolution after the Civil War?
  • What role did entrepreneurship play in the industrial revolution?
  • How did the rule of law and individual rights to property play in industrializing America?
  • Was the industrial revolution good or bad for America?

Chapter 16:  Western Expansion

  • How was the West a lure for expansion in the late 19th century?
  • How was the region a symbol of democracy and individualism?
  • What role did the federal government play in opening the region for settlement?
  • What was the consequences of this for Native American populations in the West?

Chapter 17:  Gilded Age Politics and Immigration

  • How did the American political system and mass democracy develop in the industrial era?
  • How did party politics flourish in this era?
  • How did federal immigration policy develop in the late 19th century?
  • Why did so many immigrants come to the United States?
  • How did the immigrants build civil and religious institutions in the places they lived and what obstacles did they face in America?

Chapter 18:  Imperialism

  • How did imperialism depart from the traditional foreign policy of the nation?
  • In which ways was American foreign policy different than European colonial imperialism?
  • Is expansionism the same as imperialism?
  • How did America’s Open Door policy trade policy toward China reflect America’s belief in free trade?
  • What does the anti-imperialist movement tell us about American attitudes toward colonial wars?

Chapter 19:  Progressivism

  • How was reform in the late 19th and 20th century driven by religious concerns?
  • What were the goals of progressive reformers when it came to changing society?
  • How did the growth of centralized power and the power of the executive power grow in the early 20th century?
  • Was the growth of the federal regulatory state necessary or did it go too far?

Chapter 20:  World War One

  • Why did the United States enter World War One in 1917?
  • How was the home front changed as a result of the war and what conflicts emerged between progressive efforts to assume more power for government and those who opposed that plan?
  • What difference did America make in the war?
  • What were the conflicts abroad and at home over Wilson’s peace proposals?

Chapter 21:  The Roaring Twenties

  • In what ways were the politics of the 1920s the rejection of progressivism?
  • How did Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge represent a break with activist government and seek to restore the Constitutional limits of power in the nation?
  • Why was the decade one of business expansion and new technological change?
  • How did progressivism and World War One contribute to the culture wars over religion, Prohibition, race and gender which raged in the decade?

Chapter 22:  The Great Depression and New Deal

  • What were the causes of the Great Depression?
  • How did Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt respond to the Depression?
  • Did federal government intervention make some matters worse, not better?
  • How did the New Deal depart from traditional constitutional prerogatives and why did it constitute a revolution in American politics?
  • How was the New Deal as much a political revolution as an economic one and what was its impact in changing the relationship between the federal government and the people?

Chapter 23:  Road to War and World War II

  • Why did western democracies fail to prevent the rise of aggressive nationalism and dictatorship during the 1930s?
  • What role did isolationism play in American foreign relations during the depression and why was it so strong?
  • Why did the US enter World War II and how did our superior economic and military production help produce victory in the conflict?
  • What were the major conflicts on the home front during the war?
  • How did the Grand Alliance achieve victory over the Axis powers?

Chapter 24:  Cold War

  • What were the origins of the Cold War and what impact did it have on American politics and society?
  • Was the Cold War inevitable given Stalin Russia’s foreign policy
  • What was the containment policy and how did it work in the Truman and Eisenhower years?
  • What impact did the fall of China to communism have on containment and the globalization of the Cold War?
  • What was the impact of McCarthyism and the postwar red scare on American politics?

Chapter 25:  America at Home

  • Why were the twenty years after World War II an era of tremendous prosperity and economic growth?
  • What led to the development of a civil rights movement in postwar America?
  • What were its goals of the civil rights movement?
  • What were the religious roots of the civil rights movement?
  • Why was there opposition to racial integration and how widespread was this opposition?

Chapter 26:  The Sixties and Vietnam

  • How did the protest culture of the 1960s transform American politics, society and culture?
  • How was the decade of the 1960s a contested political era which saw the highpoint of liberalism and the rise of conservatism?
  • How did the Vietnam War play in shattering the Cold War consensus and how was the nation changed as a result?

Chapter 27:  The Seventies

  • How did American foreign policy change after Vietnam?
  • Why was the détente policy of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter, unable to alter Soviet behavior in the decade?
  • How did the combined foreign and economic crises of the decade impact American politics and contribute to the rise of conservatism to political influence?
  • What impact did the Watergate scandal have on American governance?
  • How did social issues, such as abortion, help in the revitalization of religious traditionalism and a challenge to the liberationist ethos of the 1960s?

Chapter 28:  The Age of Conservation

  • What was the Reagan revolution and what were its main achievements in economics and foreign policy?
  • How did Reagan’s strategy towards communism help bring a peaceful end to the Cold War?
  • How did George H.W. Bush address the post-Cold War world?

Chapter 29:  Post-Cold War America

  • What problems did America face in the post-Cold War world?
  • How did globalization and free trade produce prosperity for some and harm others at home?
  • What were some of the key problems impacting limited government after the Reagan years and who were these issues dealt with by Republicans and Democrats?
  • How did George W. Bush construct unity with his War on Terror and how did the Iraq War complicate those efforts?
  • What role did Iraq and the collapse of the economy play in the election of Barack Obama and how did Obama fail to live up to his promises to deliver a post-racial America?

Chapter 1: New World Revolutions


  • Conquistador
  • Caravel
  • Quadrant
  • New World
  • Jesuit
  • Missionary
  • Aztec
  • Inca
  • Pueblo
  • liberty and democracy
  • Cultural clash
  • Enclosure
  • Rights of Englishman
  • Property rights
  • Common Law
  • Political liberty

Chapter 2: English Settlement in the New World


  • Indentured servant
  • Headright
  • Church of England
  • Burgess
  • Middle Passage
  • Universal salvation
  • Secularism
  • Pennsylvania Dutch
  • Whig ideology
  • Lockean natural rights
  • Great Awakening
  • Old Light/New Light

Chapter 3: Revolutionary Independence


  • Patriot
  • Natural rights
  • Stamp Act
  • Whig political thought
  • natural rights
  • Committee of Correspondence
  • Intolerable Acts
  • First Continental Congress
  • Declaration of Independence
  • Continental Army
  • Confederation of the United States

Chapter 4: Constitutional Order


  • Articles of Confederation
    Shay’s Rebellion
    Virginia Plan
    New Jersey Plan
    Great Compromise
    U.S. Constitution
    Federalist Papers
    Bill of Rights

Chapter 5: The New Nation


  • Hamiltonian economic program
  • Federalist Party
  • Republican Democratic Party
  • First U.S. Bank
  • Report on Manufacturers
  • Empire of Liberty
  • Tariff
  • Assumption of state debts
  • Whiskey Rebellion
  • Alien and Sedition Acts
  • Kentucky and Virginia Resolution
  • Second Great Awakening

Chapter 6: Democratic Order


  • Louisiana Purchase
  • Marbury v Madison
  • John Marshall
  • Lewis and Clark expedition
  • Burr conspiracy
  • Embargo Act
  • Non-Intercourse Act
  • Tecumseh
  • War of 1812
  • Battle of New Orleans
  • Hartford Convention
  • Missouri Compromise

Chapter 7: Market Revolution


  • Market Revolution
  • Transportation Revolution
  • Erie Canal
  • Telegraph
  • Railroads
  • Eminent domain
  • Cotton Kingdom
  • Per Capital income
  • Artisan
  • Mechanized production
  • New England Associates
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Social mobility

Chapter 8: Jacksonian Democracy


  • Jacksonian Democracy
  • U.S. national bank
  • Nullification
  • Sovereignty
  • Tariff
  • Specie
  • Spoils system
  • Reservation
  • Partisanship
  • Two-party system

Chapter 9: Moral Reform


  • Second Great Awakening
  • Protestant
  • Evangelical
  • Calvinism
  • Burned Over District
  • spiritualism
  • Jesuit
  • Temperance movement
  • Asylums
  • Abolitionism
  • Commune
  • Transcendentalism
  • Romantic Movement

Chapter 10: Liberty and Slavery


  • Second Great Awakening
  • Evangelical Protestant
  • Anti-Catholicism
  • Colonization
  • Abolitionism
  • Black abolitionism
    Underground railroad
  • Natural law
  • States’ rights
  • Peculiar institution
  • Women’s rights
  • Plantation
  • Free black

Chapter 11: Dreams and Reality of Manifest Destiny


  • Manifest Destiny
  • Dark Horse
  • Republic of Texas
  • Mexican-American War
  • Spot Amendment
  • Wilmot Proviso
  • Omnibus Bill
  • Compromise of 1850
  • Fugitive Slave Act

Chapter 12: Sectional Crisis


  • Southern firebrand
  • Omnibus bill
  • Compromise of 1850
  • Fugitive Slave Act
  • Popular sovereignty
  • Third party
  • Nativism
  • No-Nothing Party
  • Republican Party
  • Kansas-Nebraska Act
  • Transcontinental railroad
  • High tariff
  • Impending crisis
  • Confederacy

Chapter 13: Civil War


  • Habeas corpus
  • Copperhead
  • Greenback
  • Income tax
  • Conscription
  • Draft riots
  • Sanitary conditions
  • Red Cross
  • Emancipation Proclamation
  • Dixie Appomattox
  • John Wilkes Booth assassination conspiracy

Chapter 14: The Failure to Reconstruct Freedom


  • Reconstruction
  • Wartime Reconstruction
  • Freedman
  • Segregation
  • Black codes
  • Thirteen and Fourteenth Amendments
  • Radical Republican
  • Impeachment
  • KKK
  • Scalawag
  • Carpetbagger
  • White redeemers
  • Share cropping
  • Waving the bloody shirt

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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