Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

American Revolution vs. Arab Spring: Teaching with Primary and Secondary Source Documents
Brad Peck
AP US History
Time Frame:
2-3 class periods (85 minute blocks)
Middle East

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • The activity is a technology based cooperative activity.  Students will research American Revolution and Arab Spring and compare and contrast the events to better understand both in terms of political, economic and social implications.  The activity will utilize a wide range of sources and students will also learn how to analyze primary and secondary source documents.

  • Students in Advanced Placement courses will sit for the AP exam at the end of the course.  Document Based Questions (DBQs) are part of the overall exam.
  • The primary purpose of the document-based essay question is not to test students' prior knowledge of subject matter but rather to evaluate their ability to formulate and support an answer from documentary evidence.
  • Documents are chosen on the basis of both the information they convey about the topic and the perspective that they offer on other documents used in the exercise. Thus the fullest understanding of any particular document emerges only when that document is viewed within the wider context of the entire series
  • Students are required to analyze and interpret historical documents. 
  • Students should see relevance in studying historical events and understand them in terms of current events.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • 6.  Knowledge of relationships of the individual and groups to institutions and cultural traditions


  • Compare and contrast the major ideas and beliefs of different cultures


  • SS6 1.9  Analyze how the roles of class, ethnic, racial, gender and age groups have changed in society, including causes and effects


  • SS6 1.6 Describe the major social institutions (family, education, religion, economy and government) and how they fulfill human needs


  • SS6 1.9, 1.10  Predict the consequences that can occur when:  institutions fail to meet the needs of individuals and groups individuals fail to carry out their personal responsibilities


  • SS6 3.1  Determine the causes, consequences and possible resolutions of cultural conflicts


  • Distinguish between and analyze primary sources and secondary sources


  • SS7 1.8, 2.1  Distinguish between fact and opinion and analyze sources to recognize bias and points of view


  • SS7 1.7, 3.5, 3.6  Develop a research plan and identify appropriate resources for investigating social studies topics


  • SS7 1.1, 1.4  Interpret maps, statistics, charts, diagrams, graphs, timelines, pictures, political cartoons, audiovisual materials, continua, written resources, art and artifacts


Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:

Background Information Resources

Arab Spring links

Al Jazeera: “The Evolution of Arab Revolutions” Short video segments documenting the role of youth and the media in the Arab Spring, April 22, 2011 on Al Jazeera English. (Transcript)

  • Start of video-2:40, introduction (stats and short background)
  • 3:10-7:55, role of youth in Arab Spring
  • 24:00-28:56, role of the media in Arab Spring

Al Jazeera: "The Arab Awakening” Seven one-hour examinations of the Arab Spring, May 14, 2011 on Al Jazeera English

  • The Death of Fear, How the death of Mohommad Bouazizi in Tunisia ignited a revolution across the Arab world. (49 minutes)
  • The Fall of Mubarak, An examination of how the people’s revolution in Egypt brought down the Mubarak regime. (24 minutes)
  • The People Want, This video examines peoples’ opinions on NATO’s interference in Libya. (17:30-23:15)

Timelines and General Information Resources

  1. Arab Spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests” By Gary Blight and Sheila Pulham, The Guardian, June 8, 2011. This interactive timeline provides information on protests, government responses, international responses, regime changes and more, for 17 different Middle East countries. Bonus: each point on the timeline is linked to a relevant news stories.
  2. Middle East and North Africa in turmoil” By The Washington Post News Reports, The Washington Post, June 2011. This interactive map provides a timeline of events for each country involved in the Arab Spring movement.
  3. BBC News: Arab Uprising This news page features all of BBC News’ Arab Uprising related reporting, including country background information, leader profiles, and current reporting.
  4. Middle East protests: Country by Country” by BBC News World, BBC News, June 2011. This feature provides country specific up-to-date information on the Arab spring movement.
  5. In Tunisia, act of one fruit vendor unleashes wave of revolution through the Arab world” By Marc Fisher, The Washington Post, March 26, 2011. This article gives a good account of the origins of the Arab spring in Tunisia and how the movement spread throughout the region.
  6. The Shoe-Thrower’s index: An index of unrest in the Arab world” By The Economist Online, February 9, 2011. This is an interesting index of unrest based off of the factors present in the initial Arab spring uprisings.

Political Cartoons

  1. MSNBC Arab Spring Cartoons (Numbers 3 and 5), By R.J. Matson and Adam Zyglis, 2011
  2. The Week, “Al-Assad’s Viral Protest” By Steve Breen, 2011
  3. The Week, “Middle East cleans up” By Osama Hajjaj, 2011
  4. The Week, “Egypt’s new best friends” By Bob Englehart, 2011
  5. Palestinian Pundit, “Arab Spring” By Khalil Bendib, 2011

Pulitzer Center Articles

Revolutions End” by Ellen Knickmeyerâ�¨. This article covers protesters in Egypt as they contemplate how to transition from protest to sustainable action.

Wheels of Change” by Ellen Knickmeyer. This article covers acts of protest by women in Saudi Arabia.

Struggle for Power in Egypt Continues” by Reese Erlich. â�¨This article covers the ongoing political struggles in Egypt post-revolution.

The Arab World’s Youth Army” by Ellen Knickmeyerâ�¨. This article covers the very early days of the revolution in Tunisia, including the spark that inspired mass youth protests.


American Revolution Links


LIBERTY! The American Revolution (PBS)

PBS's assorted and diverse web exhibits supplement specific individual television series and generally include a summary of each episode, interviews (often with sound bites), a timeline, a glossary, photos, and links to relevant sites. Liberty explores the impact of the revolutionary era on the lives of African Americans.


Religion and the American Revolution

Religion played a major role in the American Revolution by offering a moral sanction for opposition to the British--an assurance to the average American that revolution was justified in the sight of God. This Library of Congress page uses primary source documents to illustrate this role.


Africans in America: Revolution, 1750-1805

Part of PBS's African-American Journey site, here you'll find part one of a rich collection of resources -- images, documents, stories, biographies, commentaries -- on the experience of slavery in America. There is also a useful teacher's guide and activities for students. There are three other parts to explore: The Terrible Transformation: 1450-1750, Brotherly Love: 1791-1831, and Judgment Day: 1831-1865.



Common-Place, an Uncommon Voice

This is an online journal of Early American History that strives to be "A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine" In large part it succeeds, with in-depth articles on Early American topics and columns devoted to classroom teaching, author interviews, material history, and book reviews. Several issues have been theme issues based on topics like Money, Pacific Routes and Early Cities.


The History Place: American Revolution

Contains timelines and a picture gallery of George Washington

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:




Document 1  American Revolution DBQ

DBQ – American Revolution

AP US History




Using the documents and your understanding of the Revolutionary War period, analyze the extent to which the American Revolutionary War was truly "revolutionary?"



Document A

The Boston Massacre
By Paul Revere
(C) 1995 --American Antiquarian Society



Document B

The Boston Tea Party
By Sarony Major
(C) 1999 National Archives Administration


Document C

Treaty of Paris Article V
Written by: D. Hartley, John Adams, B. Franklin and John Jay
(C)1995 --Facts on File, Inc.


It is agreed that the Congress shall earnestly recommend it to the legislatures of the respective states, to provide for the restitution of all estates, rights and properties, which have been confiscated, belonging to real British subjects, and also of the estates, rights and properties of persons resident in districts in the possession of his Majesty’s arms, and who have not borne arms against the said United States. And that persons of any other description shall have free liberty to go to any part or parts of any of the thirteen United States, and therein to remain twelve months, unmolested in their endeavors to obtain the restitution of such of their estates, rights and properties, as may have been confiscated; and that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states a reconsideration and revision of all acts or laws regarding the premises, so as to render the said laws or acts perfectly consistent, not only with justice and equity, but with that spirit of conciliation, which on the return of the blessings of peace should universally prevail. And that Congress shall also earnestly recommend to the several states, that the estates, rights and properties of such last mentioned persons, shall be restored to them, they refunding to any persons who may be now in possession, the bona fide price (where any has been given) which such persons may have paid on purchasing any of the said lands, rights or properties, since the confiscation. And it is agreed, that all persons who have any interest in confiscated lands, either by debts, marriage settlements, or otherwise, shall meet with no lawful impediment in the prosecution of their rights.



Document D

Galloway’s Plan of Union, 1774
(C)1995--Facts on File



That there shall be a new election of members for the Grand Council every three years; and on the death, removal or resignation of any member, his place shall be supplied by a new choice, at the next sitting of Assembly of the Colony he represented.


That the grand Council shall have power to choose their Speaker, and shall hold and exercise al the like rights, liberties and privileges, as are held and exercised by and in the House of Commons of Great Britain.


That the President-General, by and with the advice and consent of the Grand-Council, hold and exercise all the legislative rights, powers, and authorities, necessary for regulating and administering all the general police and affairs of the colonies, in which Great-Britain and the colonies, or any of them, the colonies in general, or more than one colony, are in any manner concerned, as well civil and criminal as commercial.


That in time of war, all bills for granting aid to the crown, prepared by the Grand Council, and approved by the President General, shall be valid and passed into a law, without the assent of the British Parliament.



Document E

First Continental Congress -October 1774


Resolved, That the following acts of Parliament are infringements and violations of the rights of the colonists; and that the repeal of them is essentially necessary, in order to restore harmony between Great Britain and the American colonies, viz.:


The several Acts which impose duties for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, extend powers of the admiralty courts beyond their ancient limits, deprive the American subject of trial by jury, authorize the judges’ certificate to indemnify the prosecutor from damages that he might otherwise be liable to, requiring oppressive security from a claimant of ships and goods seized before he shall be allowed to defend his property; and are subversive of American rights.




Document F

Give Me Liberty Speech by Patrick Henry, 1775 (Letter to the President)
(C)1995 -Facts on File


They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable - and let it come! I repeat, sir, let it come!



Document G

The Radicalism of the American Revolution, by Gordon S. Wood


In the decades following the Revolution, American society was transformed. By every measure there was a sudden bursting forth, and explosion - not only of geographical movement but of entrepreneurial energy, of religious passion, and of pecuniary desires. Perhaps no country in the Western world has ever undergone such massive changes in such a short period of time. The Revolution resembled the breaking of a dam, releasing thousands upon thousands of pent-up pressures. There had been seepage and flows before the Revolution, but suddenly it was as if the whole traditional structure, enfeebled and brittle to begin with, broke apart, and people and their energies were set loose in an unprecedented outburst.


Nothing contributed more to this explosion of energy than did the idea of equality. Equality was in fact the most radicals and most powerful ideological force let loose in the Revolution. Its appeal was far more potent than any of the revolutionaries realized. Once invoked, the idea of equality could not be stopped, and it tore through American society and culture with awesome power. It became what Herman Melville called "the great God absolute! The center and circumference of all democracy!" The "Spirit of Equality" did not merely cull the "selectest champions from the kingly commons," but is spread "one royal mantle of humanity" over all Americans and brought "democratic dignity" to even "the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike." Within decades following the Declaration of Independence, the United States became the most egalitarian nation in the history of the world, and it remains so today, regardless of its great disparities of wealth.


Document H  The Thirteen Colonies  (C) 1995 --McGraw-Hill, Inc.


Document I

State Claims to Western Lands and Cessions to National Government, 1782
(C) 1995 --McGraw-Hill, Inc.


Document 2 Arab Spring/American Revolution Presentations (Handouts)


The Arab Spring/American Revolution: Country Presentations

Instructions: With your group members, create a 2-3 minute presentation about the protests, violence, and/or political change that has occurred in your assigned country in 2011. Use sources assigned and the questions below to help you prepare.

Assigned country:________________

1. History of the protests

a. When did protests begin?


b. What were/are people protesting?


c. How did the government respond?


d. What has been the result?



2. Today

a. What is happening in your country now?


b. Who is in charge of the government?


c. Will there be elections? If so, when?


d. What key challenges does the country face today?



3. The international community

a. Have international organizations (for example, the Arab League, the UN, or NATO) or other

countries been involved in events in your country? If so, how?




b. What has been the position of the United States on the events in your country?




4. How would you characterize what has happened in your country? Would you call it a revolution?





The Arab Spring/American Revolution: Looking at the Region

Instructions: Use this chart to take notes while the other groups present information about their assigned countries.




History of the protest

What’s happening now?

















American Colonies





Full description of activity or assignment.

Students should be able to answer the following questions by using all of the documents to support their thesis. Possible questions are included below:

  • Many factors led to the 2010-2011 uprisings in the Arab world as well as led to the American Revolution. Which factor(s) was the most influential in causing and sustaining the revolutions?
  • How successful were the spring 2011 uprisings in Egypt? Analyze the factors that contributed to the level of success achieved. Use the documents provided to support your response.
  • Discuss the uncertainty the events of the “Arab Spring” have created both within affected countries and across the world. Explain how nations are responding to this uncertainty.
  • Discuss the uncertainty caused by the American Revolution both short and long-term.
  • Evaluate both the positive and negative effects of the “Arab Spring.”
  • Evaluate both the positive and negative effects of the American Revolution


Inform students that they will be researching the recent Middle East and North Africa protest movements and analyzing whether they should be considered revolutions. Divide the class into groups and distribute "The Arab Spring: Country Presentations." Assign each group a country: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, American colonies, and any other countries you want to include in the lesson (i.e. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, etc.).


Each group will be responsible for giving a 5-10 minute presentation to the class about the effects of recent protests in their assigned country. Have groups explore the sources listed above and consider the questions on the handout to help them prepare.  Presentation should include visual/electronic presentation i.e. PowerPoint, prezi, poster or YouTube.



Day 1   Student research on-line, lesson can last over one or two class periods, or have groups research their assigned countries as homework the night before.


Day 2 or 3 Presentations



Distribute "The Arab Spring: Looking at the Region (Document 2)." Have students fill in the row for their assigned country. While groups are presenting, students should take notes on their charts, filling in other country information.


Reflective Essay

After the research and presentation portion of lesson, students will complete a reflective essay considering the Arab Spring today.  Students should answer the following questions as part of reflective writing:


What is the status of the political movements today? How successful have the protests been? How do we measure their success? (Elections? New governments?) What have been the major obstacles to change? Why have some countries experienced violence? How has the response of the international community and the United States impacted various political movements? Why has the United States responded differently to protests in different countries?


Arab Revolution?

Compare the any of the movements in the Middle East with the American Revolution.  What are the similarities and differences between the two?


Factors to be considered as well

  • Religion
  • Lack of representation
  • New Mass Media
  • Economies suffered
  • External support
  • Slow results after initial success.


Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:


Group Presentation  Scoring Guide:   Topic:  ______________  Group:________________



Below Expectations

Meets Expectations

Exceeds Expectations

Communicates key issues (focus questions) re: curriculum








some aspects of  the developmental issues and curricular approaches; little or no evidence of  outside research or presenters’ experience


summarizes the developmental issues and appropriate curricular approaches; incorporates additional resources OR presenters’ experience


exceptional review of the key developmental issues and appropriate curricular approaches; incorporates additional resources AND presenters’ experience



Presentation Guide





0  (missing)

1 some of the key information is missing



summarizes key information

thoroughly summarizes key information;



Actively engage audience—technology, role play, simulation, drama, literature, other ideas


1 -5

presentation is limited to direct instruction


at least one activity or medium is used to engage the audience during part of the presentation


11-15 exceptional use of a variety of media and/or activities to engage the audience throughout the presentation



Equal participation in planning and presentation



more than one member does not plan or present


all but one member plans/presents



all members share equally in planning & presenting




Additional Comments








Total Points:  ______/30