American Revolution vs. Arab Spring: Teaching with Primary and Secondary Source Documents

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
2-3 class periods (85 minute blocks)
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
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.

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.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)
  • 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  • Students are required to analyze and interpret historical documents.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.
Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • Students will distinguish between primary and secondary sources
  • Students will acquire and apply investigative skills to locate and use sources
  • Students will learn how information and experiences affect, are interpreted, and evolve from different frames of reference, people, and culture
  • Students will articulate the implications of cultural diversity, as well as cohesion, within and across groups
  • Students will collect, study, and use primary sources to compare, contrast, and articulate cultural diversity, events, and impact from the past to the present


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 Knickmeyer . 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.  This article covers the ongoing political struggles in Egypt post-revolution.

The Arab World’s Youth Army” by Ellen Knickmeyer . 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 sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, 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