The National History Academy Program

What if you had the opportunity, not just to learn American history, but to live it?

Spend your summer walking in the footsteps of leaders who helped define and shape the American story, including Presidents, civil rights leaders, and soldiers who fought for the birth and survival of the nation. See and learn about seminal documents that shaped our history from subject matter experts and master teachers. Get behind-the-scenes access to historic sites no other program can provide.

What if you could do all of these things, and more, with like-minded people?

The National History Academy is a life-changing experience for high school students with an interest in American history, government, law, or cultural identity.

This 5-week Academy offers a unique blend of formal and informal learning with opportunities for first-hand experiences at the nation’s premier historic landmarks in Washington, DC, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The program explores the extraordinary events and leaders of American history from pre-colonial times to the 21st century with a special emphasis on the century of extraordinary change from 1765 to 1865. This was the period when the idea of America took shape and when this idea survived the trauma of Civil War.

At the same time, the Academy will focus on major themes—everyday life in the American colonies; the principles of liberty and equality embodied in America’s founding documents; the divisive and decisive debate over slavery; the transformation of the national economy through the industrial and transportation revolutions; and the social and cultural impact of the struggle for civil rights.

The National History Academy offers an inspiring and engaging learning environment. Each week, the students will travel Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to historic sites. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are spent in the classroom delving more deeply into historical topics.

Students will read primary source documents and engage in rich debate and discussion about significant periods in American history. The Academy will employ a hybrid of formal and informal learning methods through case discussion, reading texts, watching films and documentaries, and lectures by noted scholars. All of this will be further explored through collaborative learning experiences during the immersive on-site visits.

Comprehensive Curriculum

Our curriculum is designed to challenge students to participate and interact with fellow students and the historical sites we visit.  The experiential curriculum is built around three components: (1) Harvard Business School (HBS) history cases; (2) parliamentary debates; and (3) visits to the defining sites of American history.

Harvard Business School cases

The Academy uses the case method-based History of American Democracy curriculum developed by HBS Professor David Moss. This curriculum allows students to engage more deeply with the history they are studying as they explore sites and hear guest lectures by nationally recognized scholars.  The cases provide an interdisciplinary, multidimensional and contextual examination of key historical events, permitting students to consider the multiple viewpoints of historical debates and to place themselves in the shoes of the decision makers.

Better Angels debates

The National History Academy has partnered with Better Angels to utilize a parliamentary debate program designed to encourage civil discourse across the red/blue divide. This formal style of parliamentary debate allows students to discuss difficult and often emotionally charged topics by allowing them to direct their thoughts to a neutral party, the “Chair.” Students will engage in a series of debates during the summer, including self-selecting the topics, organizing their positions, and ultimately, chairing their own debates.  The debates allow the students to tackle challenging modern-day issues in contrast to the historical debates studied in the cases.  Through these debates, students are better able to understand the context of historical figures as real people struggling with difficult issues, just as we are struggling with, and forming their own opinions about, modern issues in the debates.

Historic Site Visits

The classroom work is then undergirded by visits to many of the defining historic sites in the region, including Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and Washington, DC; iconic National Parks such as Harpers Ferry, the C&O Canal, the Appalachian Trail, and the National Mall; the presidential homes and retreats of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Lincoln, and Eisenhower; numerous Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War battlefields, including Yorktown, Fort McHenry, Gettysburg, and Antietam, and sites related to the fight for Civil Rights, including places that tell the stories of Frederick Douglass, John Brown, W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The students have once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including seeing the Broadway hit Hamilton at the Kennedy Center, screening the movie Gettysburg in Gettysburg with the film’s director, Ron Maxwell, and participating in re-enactments of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, and a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter at the Smithsonian. The site visits truly “make history come alive.”

The combined impact of this experiential, collaborative and participatory learning improves critical and creative thinking skills while raising the self-esteem and self-confidence of our students.

The whole Academy experience is designed to produce three learning outcomes:

  • To understand the foundations of American democracy
  • To deepen the appreciation and understanding of the American experience
  • To encourage civic engagement and citizenry