AP US History — A Guide to Topics and Key Concepts for Each APUSH Time Period

1491–Today

This APUSH Guide provides a breakdown of the Topics and Key Concepts for each of the 9 Units in the AP US History curriculum and includes links to content from the Encyclopedia.

George Washington, Portrait, Stuart

George Washington, First President of the United States. Image Source: Wikipedia.

What Are the APUSH Time Periods? A Quick Overview

APUSH — Advanced Placement United States History — is a college-level course that covers the history of the United States from pre-Columbian times to the present day. The course is designed to provide students with an understanding of the significant themes and events in American History and to prepare them for the APUSH exam.

APUSH is Divided into Nine Units

One of the key features of the APUSH course is the division of American History into separate units. The course is divided into nine units, based on time periods, each of which covers a specific period in American history. The periods are organized chronologically and thematically. Each unit has its own set of APUSH Topics and APUSH Key Concepts.

American History Central’s APUSH Study Guide and Notes

Understanding the APUSH Time Periods is essential for success in the course and on the APUSH Exam. This overview of the APUSH Time Periods provides an overview of each unit and links to Topics and Key Concepts for teachers and students.

Connected to Full-Length Entries for a Deep Dive

Throughout our APUSH Notes, we have provided lengthy lists of APUSH Terms and Definitions, which are cross-referenced with our full-length entries. This allows students and teachers to gain a more complete understanding of a particular term.

The Nine APUSH Time Periods and Associated Topics

Unit 1: 1491–1607

The first period of APUSH covers the years from 1491 to 1607. During this time, the Americas were controlled by Native American Indian tribes. The period begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus and ends with the establishment of the Jamestown Colony. Students will learn about the interactions between Native American societies and European explorers, as well as the purpose of European exploration and colonization.

Landing at Jamestown, Illustration
This illustration depicts the colonists landing in Virginia in 1607. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Unit 1 Topics

Unit 1 Key Concepts

Key Concept 1.1 — As native populations migrated and settled across the vast expanse of North America over time, they developed distinct and increasingly complex societies by adapting to and transforming their diverse environments.

Key Concept 1.2 — Contact among Europeans, Native Americans, and Africans resulted in the Columbian Exchange and significant social, cultural, and political changes on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Unit 1 Featured Content

  1. Guide to the British Colonies in North America
  2. Roanoke Island, the Lost Colony
  3. Popham Colony, New England’s Lost Colony
  4. Jamestown Colony

Unit 2: 1607–1754

Period 2 covers the years from 1607 to 1754. During this time, the Spanish, French, Dutch, and British established colonies in the New World. Students will learn about the differences between the colonies, including their economies, social structures, and political systems. They will also study the interactions between the colonies and Native American societies.

Unit 2 Topics

Unit 2 Key Concepts

Key Concept 2.1 — Europeans developed a variety of colonization and migration patterns, influenced by different imperial goals, cultures, and the varied North American environments where they settled, and they competed with each other and American Indians for resources.

Key Concept 2.2 — The British colonies participated in political, social, cultural, and economic exchanges with Great Britain that encouraged both stronger bonds with Britain and resistance to Britain’s control.

Unit 2 Featured Content

  1. Mercantile System
  2. Beaver Wars (1609–1701)
  3. Headright System in Colonial America
  4. Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrim Fathers
  5. Massachusetts Bay Colony — Early History and Settlement
  6. Pequot War (1634–1638)
  7. Rhode Island Colony — Early History and Settlement
  8. Connecticut Colony — Early History and Settlement
  9. Connecticut Colony — Facts
  10. Navigation Acts
  11. North Carolina Colony — Facts, Timeline, and History
  12. King Philip’s War (1675–1678)
  13. Bacon’s Rebellion (1675–1677)
  14. Culpeper’s Rebellion (1677–1678)
  15. New Hampshire Colony — Facts
  16. Dominion of New England
  17. Salem Witch Trials — Overview
  18. Salem Witch Trials — Victims
  19. New York Slave Revolt (1712)
  20. Yamasee War (1715)
  21. Molasses Act (1733)
  22. War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739–1748)
  23. Stono Rebellion (1739)
  24. New York Slave Conspiracy (1741)
  25. Salutary Neglect — Overview
  26. Salutary Neglect — Timeline

Unit 3: 1754–1800

Period 3 covers the years from 1754 to 1800. This period is marked by the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the American Revolutionary War. Students will learn about the causes and consequences of these events, as well as the development of the United States as a new nation. They will also study the impact of the Enlightenment on American political thought.

Samuel Adams, Painting, Copley
Samuel Adams played a significant role in pushing the agenda of the American Revolution. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Unit 3 Topics

  • 3.1 — Contextualizing Period 3 
  • 3.2 — The Seven Years’ War (The French and Indian War) 
  • 3.3 — Taxation Without Representation 
  • 3.4 — Philosophical Foundations of the American Revolution 
  • 3.5 — The American Revolution 
  • 3.6 — The Influence of Revolutionary Ideals 
  • 3.7 — The Articles of Confederation 
  • 3.8 — The Constitutional Convention and Debates over Ratification 
  • 3.9 — The Constitution 
  • 3.10 — Shaping a New Republic 
  • 3.11 — Developing an American Identity 
  • 3.12 — Movement in the Early Republic 
  • 3.13 — Continuity and Change in Period 3

Unit 3 Key Concepts

Key Concept 3.1 — ​British attempts to assert tighter control over its North American colonies and the colonial resolve to pursue self-government led to a colonial independence movement and the Revolutionary War.

Key Concept 3.2 — The American Revolution’s democratic and republican ideas inspired new experiments with different forms of government.

Key Concept 3.3 — Migration within North America and competition over resources, boundaries, and trade intensified conflicts among peoples and nations.

Unit 3 Featured Content

  1. Albany Congress (1754)
  2. Albany Plan of Union (1754)
  3. French and Indian War (1754–1763)
  4. Pontiac’s Rebellion (1763)
  5. Proclamation of 1763
  6. Sugar Act — History
  7. Sugar Act — Facts
  8. Sugar Act — APUSH Study Guide
  9. Stamp Act — Overview
  10. Stamp Act — Facts
  11. Stamp Act Congress
  12. Sons of Liberty
  13. Townshend Acts
  14. Massachusetts Circular Letter (1768) — Text and Explanation
  15. Boston Massacre (1770)
  16. Boston Massacre — APUSH Study Guide
  17. Gaspee Affair (1772)
  18. Tea Act
  19. Boston Tea Party (1773)
  20. Intolerable Acts (1774)
  21. Coercive Acts (1774)
  22. Powder Alarm (1774)
  23. First Continental Congress (1774)
  24. Massachusetts Minutemen
  25. Continental Association
  26. Wilderness Road
  27. American Revolutionary War — January–June, 1775
  28. Battle of Lexington (1775)
  29. Battle of Concord (1775)
  30. Siege of Boston (1775–1776)
  31. Battle of Bunker Hill (1775)
  32. Battle of Bunker Hill — APUSH Study Guide
  33. Second Continental Congress (1775)
  34. Declaration of Independence (1776)
  35. Saratoga Campaign (1777)
  36. Battle of Yorktown (1781)
  37. Articles of Confederation (1781)
  38. Confederation Congress
  39. Constitutional Convention (1787)
  40. Federalists and Anti-Federalists
  41. Federalist Party
  42. Democratic-Republican Party
  43. George Washington — Presidency
  44. John Adams — Presidency
  45. XYX Affair — History and Overview
  46. Quasi-War with France — History and Overview
  47. Alien and Sedition Acts
  48. Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

Unit 4: 1800–1848

Period 4 covers the years from 1800 to 1848. During this time, the United States experienced rapid territorial expansion, including the Louisiana Purchase and the Mexican-American War. Students will learn about the causes and consequences of American migration, as well as the social and economic changes that occurred during this period.

Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Painting
President Andrew Jackson. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Unit 4 Topics

  • 4.1 — Contextualizing Period 4 
  • 4.2 — The Rise of Political Parties and the Era of Jefferson 
  • 4.3 — Politics and Regional Interests 
  • 4.4 — America on the World Stage 
  • 4.5 — Market Revolution: Industrialization 
  • 4.6 — Market Revolution: Society and Culture 
  • 4.7 — Expanding Democracy 
  • 4.8 — Jackson and Federal Power 
  • 4.9 — The Development of an American Culture 
  • 4.10 — The Second Great Awakening 
  • 4.11 — An Age of Reform 
  • 4.12 — African Americans in the Early Republic 
  • 4.13 — The Society of the South in the Early Republic 
  • 4.14 — Causation in Period 4

Unit 4 Key Concepts

Key Concept 4.1 — The United States began to develop a modern democracy and celebrated a new national culture, while Americans sought to define the nation’s democratic ideals and change their society and institutions to match them.

Key Concept 4.2 — Innovations in technology, agriculture, and commerce powerfully accelerated the American economy, precipitating profound changes to U.S. society and to national and regional identities.

Key Concept 4.3 — The U.S. interest in increasing foreign trade and expanding its national borders shaped the nation’s foreign policy and spurred government and private initiatives.

Unit 4 Featured Content

  1. Midnight Judges and the Judiciary Act of 1801
  2. Marbury v Madison (1803)
  3. First Barbary War (1801–1805)
  4. Louisiana Purchase (1803)
  5. Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806)
  6. War of 1812 (1812–1815)
  7. Era of Good Feelings (1815–1824)
  8. American System
  9. Erie Canal
  10. McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
  11. Missouri Compromise (1820)
  12. Monroe Doctrine
  13. Tariff of Abominations (1832)
  14. Nullification Crisis (1832–1833)
  15. Force Bill (1833) 

Unit 5: 1844–1877

Period 5 covers the years from 1844 to 1877. This period is marked by the Civil War and Reconstruction. Students will learn about the causes and consequences of the Civil War, as well as the challenges faced by the country during Reconstruction. 

Abraham Lincoln, Portrait, Gardner
President Abraham Lincoln. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Unit 5 Topics

  • 5.1 — Contextualizing Period 5
  • 5.2 — Manifest Destiny
  • 5.3 — The Mexican–American War
  • 5.4 — The Compromise of 1850
  • 5.5 — Sectional Conflict: Regional Differences
  • 5.6 — Failure of Compromise
  • 5.7 — Election of 1860 and Secession
  • 5.8 — Military Conflict in the Civil War
  • 5.9 — Government Policies During the Civil War
  • 5.10 — Reconstruction
  • 5.11 — Failure of Reconstruction
  • 5.12 — Comparison in Period 5

Unit 5 Key Concepts

Key Concept 5.1 — The United States became more connected with the world, pursued an expansionist foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere, and emerged as the destination for many migrants from other countries.

Key Concept 5.2 — Intensified by expansion and deepening regional divisions, debates over slavery and other economic, cultural, and political issues led the nation into civil war. 

Key Concept 5.3 — The Union victory in the Civil War and the contested Reconstruction of the South settled the issues of slavery and Secession but left many questions unresolved about the power of the Federal Government and the rights of citizens.

Unit 5 Featured Content

  1. Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion
  2. Missouri Compromise (1820)
  3. Texas Revolution (1835–1836)
  4. Texas Annexation (1845)
  5. Mexican-American War — Causes
  6. Mexican-American War — Timeline
  7. Mexican-American War — History and Overview
  8. Wilmot-Proviso
  9. Seneca Falls Convention (1848)
  10. Compromise of 1850
  11. Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854)
  12. Bleeding Kansas
  13. Dred Scott Decision (1857)
  14. Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
  15. Battle of Gettysburg (1863)
  16. Gettysburg Address (1863)
  17. Peace Democrats and Copperheads
  18. Surrender at Appomattox Court House (1865)
  19. 13th Amendment
  20. Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
  21. Freedmen’s Bureau
  22. 14th Amendment
  23. 15th Amendment
  24. Black Codes
  25. Radical Republicans
  26. Reconstruction Acts

Unit 6: 1865–1898

Period 6 covers the years from 1865 to 1898. During this time, the United States experienced rapid industrialization and urbanization. Students will learn about the social and economic changes that occurred during this period, as well as the impact of these changes on American society and politics. They will also study the country’s expansion overseas, including the Spanish-American War.

Unit 6 Topics

  • 6.1 — Contextualizing Period 6
  • 6.2 — Westward Expansion: Economic Development
  • 6.3 — Westward Expansion: Social and Cultural Development
  • 6.4 — The “New South”
  • 6.5 — Technological Innovation
  • 6.6 — The Rise of Industrial Capitalism
  • 6.7 — Labor in the Gilded Age
  • 6.8 — Immigration and Migration in the Gilded Age
  • 6.9 — Responses to Immigration in the Gilded Age
  • 6.10 — Development of the Middle Class
  • 6.11 — Reform in the Gilded Age
  • 6.12 — Controversies over the Role of Government in the Gilded Age
  • 6.13 — Politics in the Gilded Age
  • 6.14 — Continuity and Change in Period 6

Unit 6 Key Concepts

Key Concept 6.1 — Technological advances, large-scale production methods, and the opening of new markets encouraged the rise of industrial capitalism in the United States.

Key Concept 6.2 — The migrations that accompanied industrialization transformed both urban and rural areas of the United States and caused dramatic social and cultural change.

Key Concept 6.3 — The Gilded Age witnessed new cultural and intellectual movements in tandem with political debates over economic and social policies.

Unit 6 Featured Content

  1. APUSH Chapter 23 — Political Paralysis in the Gilded Age
  2. APUSH Chapter 24 — Industry Comes of Age — The Industrial Revolution in the Gilded Age
  3. APUSH Chapter 25 — America Moves to the City, Immigration and Urbanization in the Gilded Age
  4. APUSH Chapter 26 — Great West and the Agricultural Revolution
  5. APUSH Chapter 27 — The Path of Empire
  6. Bimetallism
  7. George Armstrong Custer
  8. Free Silver and the Free Silver Movement
  9. Great Railroad Strike of 1877
  10. William McKinley
  11. Panic of 1873
  12. Spoils System

Unit 7: 1890–1945

Period 7 covers the years from 1890 to 1945. This period is marked by the Progressive Era, World War I, and World War II. Students will learn about the social and political reforms of the Progressive Era, as well as the causes and consequences of the wars.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944, Campaign Portrait
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Image Source: FDR Presidential Library & Museum.

Unit 7 Topics

  • 7.1  — Contextualizing Period 7
  • 7.2 — Imperialism: Debates
  • 7.3 — The Spanish–American War
  • 7.4 — The Progressives
  • 7.5 — World War I: Military and Diplomacy
  • 7.6 — World War I: Home Front
  • 7.7 — 1920s: Innovations in Communication and Technology
  • 7.8 — 1920s: Cultural and Political Controversies
  • 7.9 — The Great Depression
  • 7.10 — The New Deal
  • 7.11 — Interwar Foreign Policy
  • 7.12 — World War II: Mobilization
  • 7.13 — World War II: Military
  • 7.14 — Postwar Diplomacy
  • 7.15 — Comparison in Period 7

Unit 7 Key Concepts

Key Concept 7.1 — Growth expanded opportunity, while economic instability led to new efforts to reform U.S. society and its economic system.

Key Concept 7.2 — Innovations in communications and technology contributed to the growth of mass culture, while significant changes occurred in internal and international migration patterns. 

Key Concept 7.3 — Participation in a series of global conflicts propelled the United States into a position of international power while renewing domestic debates over the nation’s proper role in the world.

Unit 7 Featured Content

  1. Spanish-American War — Overview
  2. Theodore Roosevelt Presidency — Timeline and Accomplishments
  3. Big Stick Diplomacy
  4. Great White Fleet
  5. United States in World War 1
  6. Dwight Eisenhower
  7. The New Deal — Relief, Recovery, and Reform

Unit 8: 1945–1980

Period 8 covers the years from 1945 to 1980. During this time, the United States emerged as a superpower and experienced significant social and cultural changes. Students will learn about the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War.

Martin Luther King Jr., Dream Speech, 1963
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It is a landmark moment in the Civil Rights Movement. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Unit 8 Topics

  • 8.1 — Contextualizing Period 8
  • 8.2 — The Cold War from 1945 to 1980
  • 8.3 — The Red Scare
  • 8.4 — Economy after 1945
  • 8.5 — Culture after 1945
  • 8.6 — Early Steps in the Civil Rights Movement (1940s and 1950s)
  • 8.7 — America as a World Power
  • 8.8 — The Vietnam War
  • 8.9 — The Great Society
  • 8.10 — The African American Civil Rights Movement (1960s)
  • 8.11 — The Civil Rights Movement Expands
  • 8.12 — Youth Culture of the 1960s
  • 8.13 — The Environment and Natural Resources from 1968 to 1980
  • 8.14 — Society in Transition
  • 8.15 — Continuity and Change in Period 8

Unit 8 Key Concepts

Key Concept 8.1 — The United States responded to an uncertain and unstable postwar world by asserting and attempting to defend a position of global leadership, with far-reaching domestic and international consequences.

Key Concept 8.2 — New movements for civil rights and liberal efforts to expand the role of government generated a range of political and cultural responses.

Key Concept 8.3 — Postwar economic and demographic changes had far-reaching consequences for American society, politics, and culture.

Unit 9: 1980–Present

Period 9 covers the years from 1980 to the present day. During this time, the United States experienced significant political, social, and economic changes. Students will learn about the Reagan Revolution, the end of the Cold War, and September 11, 2001.

Ronald Reagan, 40th President, Portrait
President Ronald Reagan. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Unit 9 Topics

  • 9.1 — Contextualizing Period 9
  • 9.2 — Reagan and Conservatism
  • 9.3 — The End of the Cold War
  • 9.4 — A Changing Economy
  • 9.5 — Migration and Immigration in the 1990s and 2000s
  • 9.6 — Challenges of the 21st Century

Unit 9 Key Concepts

Key Concept 9.1 — A newly ascendant conservative movement achieved several political and policy goals during the 1980s and continued to strongly influence public discourse in the following decades.

Key Concept 9.2 — Moving into the 21st century, the nation experienced significant technological, economic, and demographic changes.

Key Concept 9.3 — The end of the Cold War and new challenges to U.S. leadership forced the nation to redefine its foreign policy and role in the world.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title AP US History — A Guide to Topics and Key Concepts for Each APUSH Time Period
  • Date 1491–Today
  • Author
  • Keywords Advanced Placement United States History Exam, APUSH Exam
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 28, 2024

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