Most textbooks devote entire chapters to the major wars. Typically the chapter begins with precipitators, followed by mobilization, then important battles and finally peace terms. As historians organize history into these neat periodization pockets, they are choosing to emphasize events, dates and people to weave the historical narrative they are presenting.[1] Meanwhile, unrelated or less pertinent events, dates and people are either entirely ignored or presented in later chapters thereby leaving students confused about the proper chronological order and/or the proper context of historical events. This lesson is designed to give students a more complete look at the challenges historians and textbook editors face as they deliver history.

Case Study
The year 1862 was particularly difficult for President Lincoln. He lost a second son, this one to typhoid fever, faced many pressing demands from a war that was not going well, all the while Lincoln was agonizing over the prospects of formalizing the Emancipation Proclamation. The President also turned his attention to a smaller war in Minnesota, but this war is eclipsed by the much bigger Civil War.

The Dakota War of 1862 is either ignored completely (American Pageant by Kennedy) by textbooks or is discussed later in a chapter exploring "The West". While it is true that in the context of the Civil War, Native Americans are not completely ignored (most textbooks do mention that some tribes aligned with the Union and others with the Confederacy) little attention is given to the war in Minnesota that will result in the largest mass execution in American history.

Student Activity #1--Textbook Analysis
  1. Identify in 5 different texts the information given on the Dakota War in Minnesota in 1862
    • Index-Look under Civil War, Native American, American Indian, and/or Sioux
      • Is info in Civil War Chapter or in later chapter or missing altogether
      • Identify the details as presented in each text
Student Activity #2--Lincoln's letter to Sibley.
  1. Listen or read the information on Lincoln's letter to Sibley.
    • Does the story, as told, seem fair?
    • Is there a perspective that seems understated?
    • What additional information would you want to know/find

Student Activity #3--Research other events eclipsed by the Civil War
  1. Identify when and how each of the following events are discussed in textbooks
  2. Discuss in small groups or as class the context in which each were explained
  3. As individual learners, what approach do students prefer?
  • Homestead Act - Why was this topic discussed in the years prior to the Civil War, yet was never passed through Congress.
  • Morrill Land Grant- What was the purpose of the act? How were money's distributed and perpetuated? What is the current status of the act?
  • Northern Pacific Railroad Act- Explain the significance of why the route was chosen. How were companies who built the railroads compensated by the government?
  • Sand Creek Massacre-what are the similarities to other massacres?
  • Matthew Perry opening of Japan-How does this even foreshadow imperial goals of the future?

Other War examples:
  • World War I- Spanish Flu Epidemic,
  • World War II

  1. ^ The AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework-Course and Exam Description Effective 2014.