Let’s be honest – AP U.S. History can be pretty overwhelming. And if you just stick to your textbook, it can also be a little boring. Wouldn’t it be great if you could learn our country’s history by experiencing it, instead of just reading about it?
Luckily, for us Washingtonians, history is literally all around us. With museums, battlefields and historical sites so close by, all the twists and turns, adventures, tragedies and triumphs of our country’s amazing history can come alive through just simple day trips.
Here you’ll find eight local adventures to help you discover just how exciting our nation’s history can be. Following along the AP U.S. History time periods, each of the next eight month comes with a suggested trip, all the way up to the exam in May!
In October – go to America’s Historic Triangle, where you’ll find Historic Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown. See for yourself how harsh life was for those first settlers in North America, learn about their relationships with the native inhabitants, and check out how the newfound love for tobacco back in Europe changed everything for those early settlements.
The Declaration of Independence was America’s birth announcement, with the 13 original colonies declaring themselves no longer under British rule. This truly revolutionary document lies in the National Archives, right in the middle of DC. The Archives also have the original Constitution. Go see them for yourself in November!
Between 1800 and 1848 America’s sense of nationhood grew, with the concept of Manifest Destiny pushing our nation’s boundaries to the west. But this happened at the expense of the original inhabitants, the native Americans. Plan a trip in December to the National Museum of the American Indian and see how rich and diverse native American tribal history was before the westward expansion of the United States, and what happened after.
The Civil War transformed Washington, DC from a modest town into a rapidly growing city. Our capital was heavily fortified during the war, with a total of 19 forts encircling the city. If you have to pick one, visit Fort Stevens in January, right next to what is now Rock Creek Park. Find out why President Lincoln, while visiting the fort, was called a “fool” by a young officer! The most famous battlefield of the Civil War, Gettysburg, is also close by. Another great trip would be to Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln met his tragic end while attending a play.
While the Civil War officially ended slavery, it was still a long way for African Americans to achieve ”‘liberty and justice for all.” The latest addition to our capital’s great museums is the Museum of African American History and Culture, which tells their gripping story, from the early slave ships all the way to the first black President. Visit in February, and make sure to get a timed pass in advance — this museum is justifiably popular!
German Americans are one of the largest ancestry groups in the United States, and the largest flow of German immigration happened between 1820 and World War I. In Washington, you can visit the beautiful Prospect Hill Cemetery, also known as the German Cemetery. Buried here are famous German Americans such as baseball player John Joseph Gerhardt and August Schoenborn, who designed the Iron Dome for the capital. You can also use March for another German American-themed experience, with a visit to DC’s Heurich House, once our capital’s largest beer brewery, and now a museum that tells the story of immigration, Prohibition and industrial progress through the lens of one local family.
In the 20th century, the United States became embroiled in a number of major international conflicts – from both World Wars through the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Visit Arlington Cemetery in April and see the graves and memorials for those hundreds of thousands of soldiers who gave their lives in these wars. While you’re there, watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and visit the John F. Kennedy Gravesite.
Following the Allied victory in World War II, we entered a new kind of conflict: the Cold War with the Soviet Bloc. The Spy Museum (opening in a larger location in 2019) tells the story of how American and Soviet spies tried to outsmart each other with secret codes, hidden camera gadgets and disguises. While you’re there, check out why the Spy Museum has kept a certain DC mailbox in it’s exhibition. You can also see the other way in which the United States and the Soviets duked it out, by checking out the Space Race at the Air & Space Museum in May.
These trips and visits will make you experience U.S. History, and not just learn about it from textbook. And while we like to think that a knowledge of history is its own reward, the combination will put you in a great position for the actual exam in May!