APUSH Periods Explained

APUSH Periods Explained

The content for the AP U.S. History exam is organized into nine periods. This isn’t strictly chronological, as you’ll notice some of the time periods overlap. Instead, the periodization has both chronological and thematic organization. Read on for an overview of the APUSH periods.

Period 1: 1491-1607

This period is basically everything that happened prior to the arrival of the English. The start of the period, 1491 (the year before Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue”), is really shorthand for “before the Europeans showed up.” The end of the period is 1607, the year that the English landed in Jamestown, Virginia and founded the first permanent English settlement in the New World. In a nutshell, this period focuses on Native Americans and on early, non-English exploration of the New World, especially that of the Spanish.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Native American societies, especially the way they adapted to their environments
  • Spanish exploration and the affect it had on native populations (e.g., disease, warfare, the encomienda system)
  • The Columbian Exchange

Period 2: 1607-1754

The next period is largely focused on European (including the British this time) exploration and settlement. The beginning date is the founding of Jamestown, as discussed above. The end date is the start of the French and Indian War, which totally changed the game in the British colonies.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Motivations for and patterns of immigration by the Spanish, English, Dutch, and French
  • Interactions between Europeans and Native Americans
  • Characteristics of the 13 British colonies (including regional distinctions between the Southern, Middle Atlantic, and New England colonies)
  • Economic policies: mercantilism, the slave trade, salutary neglect

Period 3: 1754-1800

Here we start to focus exclusively on the British colonies that will turn into the United States. The starting year, 1754, is the beginning of the French and Indian War. This marked the end of salutary neglect and the beginning of growing tensions between the colonies and Great Britain. The period takes you through the tumultuous revolution and its aftermath to the year 1800, in which the new democracy is solidified by its first official peaceful transfer of power between two political parties.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Britain’s attempt to tighten control on the colonies following the French and Indian War
  • Building colonial resentment towards British policies (especially taxes)
  • The Revolutionary War
  • The Articles of Confederation (and the reasons for their failure)
  • The Constitution (drafting, contents, and ratification debate)
  • The Washington and Adams administrations, as well as the election of 1800
  • Relations between the young U.S. and European powers, as well as Native Americans

Period 4: 1800-1848

The U.S. was growing in territory and strength, but faced internal threats to its stability.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Evolution of political parties
  • Westward expansion (including Louisiana Purchase)
  • Growing sectionalism and tensions over the expansion of slavery (e.g., Missouri Compromise)
  • Growth of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements
  • Industrial Revolution and the growth of railroads

Period 5: 1844-1877

Period 5 centers on the Civil War—its causes, events, and aftermath.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Westward expansion (Manifest Destiny, Mexican American War)
  • Increased immigration (especially from Ireland and Asia) and the resulting tensions
  • Growing tensions over slavery and states’ rights
  • Civil War (major events, advantages/disadvantages of each side, outcome)
  • Reconstruction

Period 6: 1865-1898

This is the Gilded Age, where America was bright and shiny on the outside (industrial growth, wealth, railroads, big cities, population growth) and dark and grimy underneath (terrible working conditions, socioeconomic stratification, racism, political corruption).

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Industrialization and the growth of big business (and all the good and bad that came with that)
  • Migration: immigration and urbanization
  • Racial tensions and segregation

Period 7: 1890-1945

This period sees the United States starting to get pulled onto the world stage in a big way for the first time.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Progressive reforms
  • Imperialism
  • World War I
  • The Great Depression (causes, effects, the New Deal)
  • World War II

Period 8: 1945-1980

In the aftermath of World War II, the United States emerged as one of two major world powers. The Cold War dominated foreign policy, while domestically, the U.S. went through many social changes.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • Cold War
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Increasing polarization of society between liberal and conservative ideologies

Period 9: 1980-Present

This is the modern, post-Cold War era.

The big concepts for this period are:

  • End of the Cold War
  • War on terrorism
  • Technological development
  • Environmental issues

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  • Sarah Bradstreet

    Sarah is an educator and writer with a Master’s degree in education from Syracuse University who has helped students succeed on standardized tests since 2008. She loves reading, theater, and chasing around her two kids.

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