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Idea of America

A digital American history program that inspires and prepares high school students for active citizenship.

Inspired minds shape our nation’s history

Created by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, The Idea of America presents our nation’s rich history, from its early beginnings to the 21st century. The program connects students to the inspiring story of how each generation of Americans faces challenges and makes choices that shape our nation’s history.

The goal is active, responsible citizenship

The Idea of America is all about the civic mission of social studies education. The program provides the knowledge and skills that students need to fulfill the duties of citizenship in our participatory democracy. Students analyze, debate, and form opinions so that they can help make the decisions that will guide our nation.

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Engage in a great debate

The Idea of America uses a framework called “The Great Debate”—the idea that Americans are in a constant debate over the proper balance between certain essential values. Students discover the “value tensions” that define and strengthen our republic, study their role in American history, and develop their own opinions on these enduring fundamental issues.

Value Tension

The Great Debate

Unity vs. Diversity

We celebrate our unity as one American nation, but we also cherish our diversity. How do these values sometimes clash?

Private Wealth vs. Common Wealth

Accumulating individual wealth is at the heart of our economy, yet we also contribute to the needs of the community. In what ways do we do both?

Law vs. Ethics

We are a nation of laws, but American heroes have protested or even rebelled against laws that were unethical. When is the right time for protest?

Freedom vs. Equality

Too much freedom for some can threaten equality for all. But the quest for equality can limit individual freedoms. How do we find a balance?

It’s your students’ turn to get involved

The Idea of America immerses students in a fully digital, interactive learning experience that connects them to history and to other classrooms across the country. The program includes:

  • Video and Audio: Video introductions for every case study, video interviews with dozens of historians and eyewitnesses, historical video footage, and full audio support for the narrative.
  • Interactivities: Digital games, hands-on projects, and document-based activities using hundreds of primary sources, maps, charts, and images.
  • Resource Tools: Online timelines, glossary, biographies, and formative and summative assessment through constructed response and multiple-choice questions.
  • Student Community: Students learn by interacting with other classrooms across the nation.
  • Current Events: Frequently updated current events directly linked to each case study.

Teaching resources support personalized learning

The Idea of America includes tools to allow you to instruct and support students as they learn at their own pace. Each case study includes the following resources and more:

  • Teacher Roadmaps: Lesson plans divided into “Interstate Activities," main activities for all students, and “Side Trips,” enrichment activities that allow students to dig deeper into a topic.
  • Teacher Notes: Presentation materials, assessment rubrics, and answer keys.
  • Learning Management System: Interactive formative and summative assessment, data reporting, and intervention.
  • Professional Development: Opportunities provided by Pearson and Colonial Williamsburg.
  • Current Events Activities: Every case study includes an activity linked to current events, making history relevant to the students’ lives.
  • “The Virtual Republic”: Teachers can register their classes online to interact with other classrooms around the country, allowing students to debate and share ideas on challenging issues facing the nation.
Case Study covers

The Idea of America Survey Edition

65 Case Studies

  • The Great Debate
  • Mapping the Americas
  • A Confluence of Cultures
  • Religion and the English Colonies
  • The British Colonies
  • Wars for Empire
  • Americans Revolt
  • Revolutionary Ideas
  • The Revolutionary War
  • From Confederation to Constitution
  • The New Republic
  • The Supreme Court
  • Foreign Relations in the Early Republic
  • Jefferson’s America
  • African Americans in the Time of Slavery
  • Spanish America
  • The Industrial Revolution in America
  • Jacksonian America
  • The Trail of Tears
  • Immigration and Nativism
  • Religion and Reform
  • Trails West
  • The Impending Crisis
  • The Civil War on the Battlefield
  • The Civil War and the Nation
  • Reconstruction
  • Strangers in the Land
  • The West
  • The Gilded Age
  • The Age of Jim Crow
  • Becoming a World Power
  • The Spanish-American War
  • The Rise of Organized Labor
  • Growing Cities and Consumer Culture
  • The Progressive Era
  • World War I
  • War and Technology
  • The Land of Opportunity
  • Women's Rights
  • The 1920s
  • The Great Depression
  • Roosevelt’s New Deal
  • America Goes to War
  • World War II
  • The Holocaust
  • The Cold War Begins
  • Suburbia
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The American Protest Tradition
  • Kennedy and the Communist Threat
  • Civil Rights at a Crossroads
  • The Vietnam War
  • The Great Society and Counterculture
  • Free and Equal
  • Nixon’s America
  • The United States and the Middle East
  • Environmentalism
  • America’s Changing Economy
  • Party Politics
  • Reagan and the End of the Cold War
  • The Changing Presidency
  • Revolutions in Technology
  • Afghanistan and Iraq
  • Mythic America
  • Going to War


The Virtual Republic is a free, online resource where young Americans discuss current policy issues and suggest solutions to improve their community and world. It can be used as a companion to Colonial Williamsburg's The Idea of America curriculum or as a stand-alone resource.

  • Step 1: Students engage with current events that highlight existing policy.
  • Step 2: Students contribute to the class' policy statement known as the "We Believe" statement. After policy statements are posted, students comment on other "We Believe" statements from around the nation as they decide on the best solutions to current issues.
  • Step 3: Students are motivated by these discussions to act. The new "Take Action" section provides recommendations for community-action resources.
America: The Pocket Guide

America: The Pocket Guide

This tiny guide introduces you to a very big idea: The Idea of America. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what you believe, you are American if you believe in the idea of America.
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