Smithsonian

Step One: Physical Features of the United States

  • Ask students to think of two or three physical features in the United States that serve as barriers to travel. Encourage them to think of physical features found throughout the country. List their ideas on the board.
  • Distribute physical maps of the United States. Lead the class in the exercise of locating on the map the physical features they have listed. Identify and locate additional physical features not included on students’ lists.
  • Explain that after the Revolutionary War and through the nineteenth century there was a push to expand settlement opportunities in the West. The U.S. government went about acquiring land by using tactics such as war, treaty, and purchase. Once the land was acquired, there were many obstacles to its use, including physical features that served as barriers to travel.
  • Tell students that they will analyze primary source documents and artworks to determine the hardships that specific physical features created for those who traveled west.