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?

National History Academy offers a life-changing experience for high school students with an interest in the history, law and government of the United States of America.

Our 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.

National History Academy offers an inspiring and engaging learning environment. Each week, you will spend three days visiting our country’s seminal historic sites and three days in the classroom delving deeply into major themes related to those site visits.

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

Comprehensive Curriculum

Our curriculum is designed to challenge you to participate and interact with your fellow students and the historical sites we visit.  The experiential curriculum is built around four components: (1) Harvard Business School (HBS) history cases; (2) parliamentary debates; (3) a speaker series and (4) visits to the defining sites of American history.

Harvard Business School cases

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

Better Angels debates

National History Academy partners with Better Angels on a parliamentary debate program designed to encourage civil discourse. This formal style of debate allows you to discuss challenging modern-day issues in contrast to the historical debates studied in the cases. You will engage in a series of debates during the summer, including self-selecting the topics, organizing your positions, and ultimately, chairing your own debates.  Through these debates, you will be better able to understand the context of historical figures as real people struggling with difficult issues, just as you are struggling with and forming your own opinions about modern issues in the debates.

Historic Site Visits

National History Academy is built around learning at many of the defining sites of American history.  But you will not just take a tour as a member of the general public would.  You will gain behind-the-scenes access, often visiting with the Executive Director of the site.  On many of these visits, a scholar will talk with you and spend part of the day with us.

Historic site visits provide context and truly “make history come alive.” Over the course of the summer, you will visit over 30 important places that help tell the American story, 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 . You will also have once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In 2018, Academy students saw the Broadway hit Hamilton at the Kennedy Center and screened the movie Gettysburg in Gettysburg with the film’s director, Ron Maxwell.

These immersive site visits reinforce what you will learn in the classrooms with the Harvard Business School history case studies and parliamentary debates. The combined impact of this experiential, collaborative and participatory learning will improve your critical and creative thinking skills and prepare you for college.

Watch what our students have to say about this unique learning approach here.

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