USHistory.org provides free open-educational resources (OERs) to support social studies instruction in high school and home schooling environments. USHistory.org is owned by the Independence Hall Association, whose mission in providing OERs is to provide a forum for learning and discussing American history and values. The website provides comprehensive online textbooks for courses in American History, Ancient Civilizations, and American Government. Course authors are not identified.
Each course’s informational text is written at a level that most high school students will understand and includes relevant visual elements, including political cartoons, images of key documents and figures, and illustrations that clarify written content. Content is designed to engage adolescent readers; however, Learning List’s reviewers found explanations sometimes oversimplified the complexity and significance of historical events. For example, an opening paragraph to a section titled “The Colonial Experience” in American Government reads:
They created and nurtured them. Like children, the American colonies grew and flourished under British supervision. Like many adolescents, the colonies rebelled against their parent country by declaring independence. But the American democratic experiment did not begin in 1776. The COLONIES had been practicing limited forms of self-government since the early 1600s.
Each course includes unique features, such as “Share Your Thoughts,” which allows students to share their thinking on topics discussed in the text and read the thoughts of others—content is monitored by the site’s webmaster. The “Cite This Page” tool provides reference information for students using content as source material for a project or research paper. Sidebar resources include reader-suggested links to external resources that contain primary source documents, biographies of key figures, background information, and related activities (e.g., build a guillotine). Sidebar content also contains advertising targeted to individual users.
Courses do not include many features of a traditional textbook. For example, learning objectives, new vocabulary and terms, and essential questions are not clarified prior to instruction. There are no teacher resources or embedded opportunities to practice social studies skills (e.g., using maps, analyzing primary source documents). There are few checks for understanding, and no digital learning experiences, such as interactive timelines, video segments, and audio files. Further, there are no resources for students with special learning needs, such as English language learners and struggling readers. Although USHistory.org’s courses are comprehensive, Learning List’s reviewers indicated that they would be more effective when used as supplemental instructional resources.