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U.S. History: Document Based Questions

DBQ as Topic for Research

U.S. History

The following DBQs are from the SIRS Decades: 20th Century American Sources database by Proquest. You may need to frame your question from these suggested topics. Supporting documents can be found in that database.

  • Compare, contrast and evaluate remedies proposed at the turn of the twentieth century for assimilating immigrants and former slaves into full participation in American society.
  • Explain why Theodore Roosevelt is often called the nation's first "conservation president" and reconcile the apparent contradiction between his love of nature and his passion for big-game hunting.
  • Describe the role that religion played in American society at the turn of the twentieth century and, using your knowledge of the period, identify and discuss plausible causes for controversies that arose over the issue of separation of church and state.
  • Describe the lifestyles of rich and famous people at the turn of the twentieth century and explain why Progressive writers criticized them.
  • Hypothesize the cause-and-effect relationship between advances in medical science that cured or contained many epidemic diseases and changes in medical education that improved health care during the first decade of the twentieth century.
  • Summarize John Dewey's education philosophy and use it to evaluate U.S. assimilation policies in the schooling of Native American youth.
  • At the turn of the twentieth century, sensationalism in the media took the form of "yellow journalism." Define this term and its origins and discuss its pros and cons in the competition between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst for newspaper readership.
  • Theodore Roosevelt coined the term "muckrakers" to describe journalists during the Progressive Era who uncovered "dirt" about corruption in government and exploitation in large industries. Identify prominent muckrakers, the problems they investigated and describe the "dirt" they uncovered.
  • Identify racial stereotypes used in political cartoons about U.S. overseas expansion in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America and, using your knowledge of the period, discuss how those stereotypes may have influenced American policies toward the people living in each of the areas.
  • Identify legal issues that arose soon after the emergence of motion pictures as a new technology and describe how the issues were resolved.
  • International events before and during World War I dramatically changed the ethnic origin of many immigrants and challenged some citizens to redefine the qualifications for being American. Identify government policies that tried to filter out "undesirable" immigrants and deny existing ethnic minorities their access to equal citizenship rights.
  • In wartime, most governments restrict civil liberties. Describe restrictions imposed by the Wilson administration during World War I and public reactions to them.
  • Describe some of the issues that concerned workers and the public as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution and government's response to them.
  • Describe ways in which women participated in war mobilization during World War I and forecast their participation's impact on postwar female roles in the economy.
  • Summarize arguments for and against granting women the right to vote during the 1910s and identify tactics used by suffragists that led to successful passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
  • The introduction of new forms of entertainment usually attracts large audiences but often prompts censorship attempts by traditionalists. Discuss the validity of this statement with respect to the introduction of movies to American audiences in the early 1900s.
  • Using your knowledge of the causes of World War I, characterize the conflicting international and domestic pressures on President Woodrow Wilson to "keep America out of the war without sacrificing preparedness" and account for his ultimate decision to enter the war on the Allied side in April 1917.
  • Analyze news coverage about the Titanic passenger liner shortly after it sank in 1912. Based on your knowledge of the tragedy, identify aspects of the story that reporters emphasized and other aspects that they de-emphasized or failed to report.
  • Describe the uses to which art and literature were put in the 1910s and discuss the impact of European modern art on American audiences.
  • Describe some of the challenges engineers faced in building the Panama Canal and public reaction to its completion in 1913.
  • Describe the social and economic impact of veterans' demobilization in the United States following the end of World War I.
  • Trace the federal government's motives in imposing a federal income tax as early as the Civil War and discuss the extent to which it was progressive. In addition, describe public reaction to it when it was ratified as a constitutional amendment in 1913.
  • Describe how Henry Ford used the economic principle of specialization to produce cars efficiently and the marketing strategies he used to promote their sales.
  • Describe the economic problems the Federal Reserve Act, which established a central banking system in the United States, sought to address and summarize its major provisions.
  • Describe the roles and responsibilities expected of the average woman in the 1910s.
  • New developments in technology and advertising had a significant impact on consumer lifestyles and behaviors during the 1920s. Describe these new developments and hypothesize their impacts on consumers.
  • The statement "you can't legislate morality" is often used to oppose government regulation of citizens' private lives. Evaluate the statement's validity with respect to prohibition during the 1920s.
  • Some sociologists attribute the rise of organized crime throughout American history to new immigrant groups that have been denied access to legitimate economic activities. Assess the validity of sociological claims about the rise of organized crime during the Harding and Coolidge administrations in the 1920s.
  • Summarize the Harlem Renaissance movement's social and political content and hypothesize its influence on African-American culture during the 1920s.
  • The decade of the 1920s was sometimes called "The Jazz Age." Discuss the impact that jazz had on American lifestyles during the 1920s and assess its origins in slave culture and permanent influence on American culture.
  • The United States is often described as "a nation of immigrants." Compare and contrast the differences between public attitudes toward immigrants and government policy toward them during the decade.
  • Because of the experiences they chose to fictionalize and the manner in which they wrote, creative writers of the 1920s were often described as members of the "Lost Generation." Justify the classification of these writers as members of the Lost Generation.
  • Summarize the corruption charges leveled against the Harding administration in the Teapot Dome scandal. Discuss the extent to which they may have been politically motivated and characterize the role of whistleblowers and pressure groups that ultimately enabled the Coolidge administration to prosecute the case.
  • Discuss the economic and social impact of demographic changes in the U.S. population--with particular reference to the Great Migration--and technological developments in transportation during the 1920s that hastened the nation's transformation from a rural to an urban society.
  • Discuss the collision between traditional American values and scientific developments in the 1920s, a period that was characterized by the Scopes trial's debate over the teaching of evolution.
  • After ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920, the women's movement split over its future goals and strategies. Identify their differences and account for the rise of a controversial "new woman" during the decade--the scantily clad, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking "flapper girl."
  • Account for the wave of intolerance toward ethnic minorities that characterized American public opinion during the 1920s and assess the extent to which government agencies resisted public opinion in their enforcement of American law and equal treatment principles. Discuss with particular reference to the Ku Klux Klan's blatant vigilante tactics and the Sacco-Vanzetti murder trial.
  • Describe public reaction to the stock market crash of 1929 and identify tax, tariff and investment policies during the Harding and Coolidge administrations that redistributed wealth in America and may have led to the crash.
  • Describe how the clothing of the 1920s marked a turning point in fashion history and illustrated the spirit of the decade.
  • Describe ways in which literature, art and music reflected the Great Depression's impact on American culture and identify New Deal policies that supported artistic expression and were influenced by it.
  • Distinguish between the first New Deal and the Second New Deal, each of which lasted 100 days. Using your knowledge of the New Deal, cite examples of programs in each of its stages that met the needs for relief of the poor and unemployed, recovery of the economy and legislative reforms to blunt the impact of future economic downturns.
  • Characterize the major roles that Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt played in shaping and/or promoting New Deal policies and influencing public opinion during the Great Depression.
  • Assess the extent to which New Deal policies met African Americans' economic and political needs during the Great Depression and describe how African-American civil rights activists and others tried to influence those policies.
  • Using your knowledge of world events during the 1930s, classify President Franklin Roosevelt's foreign policies as reactive or proactive and discuss the extent to which his policies reflected a philosophy of internationalism or isolationism.
  • Explain how adverse weather conditions during the Great Depression increased the economic plight of American farmers. Contrast remedies offered by farmers with those enacted by New Deal programs, evaluating their effectiveness with respect to owners of small farms, large farms and farm laborers.
  • Discuss the role that communications media, such as radio, movies and public events, played during the 1930s in shaping and reflecting public opinion.
  • Explain how and why labor unions grew in membership and political strength during the 1930s. Describe their major grievances, cite examples of leadership skills and tactics they used to achieve their objectives and assess the extent to which New Deal policies and legislation met them.
  • Historians sometimes write that New Deal programs "saved capitalism" but failed to end the Great Depression. Compare and contrast criticisms of the New Deal by right-wing business groups and left-wing progressives. Summarize Franklin Roosevelt's reaction to these criticisms and U.S. Supreme Court rulings that resolved the constitutional issues involved.
  • Describe how the Great Depression affected the recreation and home life of American families in the 1930s.
  • Characterize the personalities and relationships among Big Three leaders Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin as they led Allied forces to victory during World War II.
  • Account for the U.S. government's decision to intern Japanese Americans during World War II, assess its validity and describe its impact on Japanese-American families.
  • Summarize the conflicting pressures the U.S. faced at the end of World War II on whether or not to share the atomic bomb secret with its ally, the Soviet Union. Justify President Truman's final decision not to share the secret and evaluate the impact it may have had on the emerging Cold War.
  • Despite the U.S. military's segregation policy during World War II, many members of minority groups, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, defied stereotypes and proved their valor and their value in the war effort. Describe some of the achievements and sacrifices they made.
  • Define "suburbia," account for its rise and discuss its impact on American family life in the post-war period.
  • Identify key turning points that ultimately led to the Allies' defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and summarize their significance.
  • Describe the sacrifices that government asked Americans on the home front to make during World War II and assess their relative hardship.
  • Describe the purposes of the GI Bill and assess its impact on America's postwar economy.
  • Revolutionary developments in science and medicine hallmarked the postwar period. Identify some of these developments and their impact on the quality of American health care.
  • Describe the types of entertainment that Americans enjoyed during the 1940s and contrast them with your own entertainment favorites.
  • List roles that women played in World War II, assess the impact their contributions had on the war effort and contrast their wartime roles with those society expected them to assume in postwar America.
  • Identify some of the issues that creative artists and writers addressed in the 1940s and summarize the ways in which they portrayed them.
  • Discuss ways in which international organizations and agreements developed by allied leaders during the 1940s contributed to the maintenance of peace and international order.
  • Discuss President Eisenhower's reasons for expanding the Interstate Highway System and changes that Congress made to his vision in its ultimate bill that he reluctantly signed into law in 1958.
  • Describe ways in which the 1950s economy both adapted and permanently changed women's traditional roles in American society.
  • Describe the tactics of Civil Rights activists during the 1950s and evaluate their effectiveness.
  • On a sketch map locate "hot spots" around the world that provoked hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1950s. Explain their significance in terms of the U.S. policy of containment.
  • On an annotated timeline trace the origin, purpose, combatant nations, duration and outcome of the Korean War.
  • Rock music was a popular form of entertainment in the 1950s. Describe its origin and message and explain why youth loved it and their elders hated it.
  • A small cohort of Americans who were born in the 1930s and came of age in the 1950s were called the "Silent Generation." Discuss characteristics they shared and account for the name they were given.
  • Evaluate espionage charges made against Communist spies during the 1950s and argue the grounds for executing Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
  • In his farewell address to the nation, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the "unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military complex. Account for his concerns and summarize his vision for peaceful, international cooperation in science and space research.
  • Chronicle the changing political relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1950s.
  • Summarize the rationale behind President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program and describe some of its major achievements.
  • Discuss the fashion styles of the 1960s, the changing social values they symbolized and traditional society's reactions to them.
  • Identify minority grievances during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement; then classify protest strategies and evaluate their effectiveness in achieving government redress of minority grievances.
  • On an outline map of the United States, depict the results of the 1960 presidential election and postulate the reasons for John F. Kennedy's narrow victory over Richard M. Nixon.
  • Chronicle events that led to the Bay of Pigs invasion and suggest lessons its failure might teach future generations.
  • Describe the challenges that Cesar Chavez faced in organizing California farm workers and characterize his unique qualities that enabled him to become a successful labor leader.
  • Compare and contrast feminist demands for equal rights in the 1960s with government and institutional programs that tried to achieve them.
  • Define the term "counterculture," list values and beliefs held by members of the 1960s' counterculture and account for its popularity.
  • Using your knowledge of the 1960s, discuss the extent to which its major films reflected its "turbulent" history.
  • Discuss the background and motives behind the Kennedy administration's desire to compete with the Soviet Union in the space race, with particular reference to the "revolution of rising expectations" in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
  • Analyze the presidential election results of 1960 and 1968 and describe the circumstances surrounding Richard Nixon's change in fortune that enabled him to win the election of 1968 by a wide margin but lose the 1960 election by a slim margin.
  • Compare and contrast justifications made by the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations for continuing American participation in the Vietnam War.
  • Using your knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, discuss the extent to which major Warren Court decisions were "strictly" or "loosely" constructed.
  • Describe the themes and origins of American architecture created in the 1960s and discuss the extent to which the structures reflected political and social developments that occurred during the decade.
  • One of President Richard Nixon's major foreign-policy achievements was opening diplomatic relations with Communist China. Identify issues that divided the two countries and describe how they were resolved.
  • Using your knowledge of Native-American history, identify resonant themes, issues and actions that characterized the group's civil-rights movement during the 1970s and assess the extent to which the U.S. government responded to their grievances.
  • The 1970s is often described as the "Me Decade." Identify trends in personal behavior that sustain this view and evaluate its authenticity.
  • Explain why Richard Nixon won reelection to the presidency in 1972 despite increasing opposition to the Vietnam War and widespread charges that in the Watergate scandal he had abused the nation's trust.
  • Identify major feminist issues of the 1970s and assess the extent to which they were achieved.
  • Describe challenges the U.S. faced as a globalized economy emerged in the 1970s, and evaluate the policies it enacted to meet them.
  • Discuss the validity of the generalization that the Vietnam War taught Americans not to trust military solutions to international problems.
  • Summarize the three impeachment articles against President Richard Nixon and evaluate President Gerald Ford's 1974 decision to pardon Nixon.
  • Discuss the extent to which sports, movies and television reinforced or challenged American values of the 1970s.
  • Discuss the motives, origins and strategies of U.S. involvement in the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
  • The purpose of education in any society is to transmit values, beliefs, behaviors and skills to the next generation. Consider what American society sought to transmit in the 1970s.
  • Creative writers and artists often reflect an era's social and cultural values. Discuss the correlation between literature of the 1970s and the decade's contemporary issues.
  • Using your knowledge of the Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt corollary, analyze the consistency of U.S. Latin-American policies and interventions during the 1980s.
  • Identify strategies that Surgeon General C. Everett Koop used to protect the public's health in the 1980s and discuss the extent to which his credentials and behavior might serve as a model for other appointed officials in the federal government.
  • After examining samples of 1980s political cartoons, evaluate award-winning editorial cartoonist Herbert Block's statement that "a cartoon often gets at the truth more directly than a 10,000-word article." Summarize challenges that political cartoonists faced in the 1980s and discuss the role that this type of journalism plays in promoting public understanding of current events.
  • Discuss the extent to which popular movies reflected American social concerns and values during the 1980s.
  • Describe goals of the ecumenical movement that occurred among major U.S. religions in the 1980s and cite developments that prompted its formation.
  • Chronicle milestones in the struggle for women's rights that occurred during the 1980s and hypothesize their impact on public opinion.
  • Identify and discuss issues that divided the U.S. Senate over presidential Supreme Court nominees in the 1980s.
  • Summarize the principles of "supply-side economics" and evaluate its major criticisms.
  • Identify religious issues that concerned parents about their children's education in the 1980s and debate the role that religion should play in public-school education.
  • Compare and contrast spending priorities set by Democrats and Republicans during the 1990s and pinpoint issues on which the parties compromised.
  • Identify issues that divided Americans about immigration reform in the 1990s and evaluate reforms that were suggested.
  • Debate the ways in which economic globalization benefits or harms American businesses, workers and consumers.
  • Identify controversies that arose over radio and television's powerful influence on society and discuss suggestions that were made or could be made to resolve them.
  • Discuss ways in which the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions sought to reconcile the religious right with feminist theologians in their mutual pursuit of spirituality.
  • Compare characteristics of major terrorist attacks against the United States during the 1990s and synthesize a definition of terrorism that applies to all of the examples.
  • Characterize the roles that individuals and groups played in changing public attitudes toward AIDS in the 1990s and identify those that were most effective.
  • Describe the Internet's impact on education during the 1990s and forecast how it might innovate schooling in the future.
  • Define "green" architecture and describe how it seeks to encourage energy conservation and preservation of the environment.
Document Based Question Topics - Upper School Library Pathways