Aug 6, 2010

Low Stress Tips for Acing U.S. History—AP or Other Familiar Forms

American history is pretty much a rite of passage for college-bound students. Whether we’re talking about a general survey course, the International Baccalaureate “History of the Americas,” AP U.S., or the ever-popular US/Virginia history hybrid, at least one full high school year will be devoted to explorers, civil war heroes, and no less than 44 presidents of the United States.

But it doesn’t have to be painful. In fact, there are a number of enjoyable “high tech” ways to brush up on events of the last several centuries as part of a no-stress summer prep program that will get you in great shape for charging through history and tackling AP’s in May or SAT Subject Tests at the end of the school year.

To begin your summertime adventures in American history, try tuning in to BackStory with the History Guys. Trust me—there’s no heavy lifting here. You can listen on your local NPR affiliate or download a relatively painless dose of U.S. history (including back programs) onto your iPod and then go about your business jogging, mowing the lawn, sunbathing, or otherwise zoning out around the house.

And here’s the secret: these guys (professors from UVa and the University of Richmond) are really funny. Starting with topics ripped from today’s headlines, BackStory spends an hour exploring history from the perspective of “History Guys,” each of whom represents a century in American history. Over three years, they’ve covered everything from the startling history of American courtship to partisanship and the press. Did you know Puritans encouraged couples to sleep together before marriage? Check it out.

If an hour is too much commitment, you can find snippets of history offered as downloads at the iTunes store, including a free series entitled Moments in American History. I particularly enjoyed the “Entertainment and Teen Culture” segment since it squarely placed blame for the roots of teen rebellion on my grandmother.

Or if you want to dig a little deeper, check out some real university professors on iTunes U. Recommended lecturers include Yale University’s David Blight and Stanford’s Jack Rakove, both of whom offer fairly specific U.S. History courses online. The Do It Yourself Scholar recommends several survey classes and is a wonderful resource for the serious student or the hobbyist.

There are also podcasts specifically geared to the AP U.S History curriculum. One produced by David Shocket is designed to go with the AP U.S. History book America Past and Present by Robert Divine. And McGraw-Hill also offers U.S. History quiz set "apps" which subtly advertise “your score on an AP exam can mean the difference between acceptance into the college of your choice and disappointment.” Yikes!

So why all the sudden interest in US history?

“Because that was now…and this is then”—The History Guys.

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