The World the War Made | Facing History & Ourselves
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The World the War Made

Students explore the ways that Emancipation and Radical Reconstruction altered the lives of many Americans.


One 50-min class period


  • History




English — US



About This Lesson

The devastation of the Civil War and the revolutionary ideas behind Emancipation and Radical Reconstruction changed the United States and the lives, circumstances, and opportunities of nearly every American. Centered on The World the War Made, Part One of Facing History’s video series about Reconstruction, and enhanced with activities and readings, this lesson will help to frame some of the ways in which the lives of Americans changed after the end of the Civil War. By watching the video and reading and analyzing historical documents, students will reflect on their own identities, what factors influence those identities, which parts of their identities are determined by their own choices, and which parts are determined by forces beyond their control.

This lesson is part of Facing History’s work on the Reconstruction era and part of a series of lessons focused on our Reconstruction videos. Use this lesson at the beginning of a unit on Reconstruction to engage students in a discussion about the many changes to Americans’ identities and the effects of those changes during this time period.

In addition to the suggestions below, see Lessons 1, 3, and 4 in The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy for background information about the ways that the lives of Americans changed in the aftermath of the Civil War.

  • How did the end of the Civil War change the lives of Americans? 
  • The aftermath of the Civil War ushered in a period of dramatic social, political, and economic change that transformed the choices and opportunities of every American. 
  • Americans’ diverging post-war experiences, which included both widespread death and destruction and the promise of Emancipation, complicated the task of reuniting the nation.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 3 activities
  • 1 video
  • 1 extension activity

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Lesson Plans


The Civil War and its aftermath changed the United States and the lives of nearly every American—their circumstances and opportunities—in numerous ways. Before looking at this moment in history, it will be helpful for students to reflect on the factors that shape their own circumstances, opportunities, and choices. Have students write a short reflection on the following question:

What and who shapes the choices and opportunities you have in your life?

After they have spent a few minutes recording their thoughts, use the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy to help students discuss their ideas.

The video The World the War Made explains many of the ways that American society, government, and the economy changed after the Civil War, as well as the way that these changes influenced the choices and opportunities individual Americans perceived in their lives.

Show the video The World the War Made. Before showing the video, share the following questions with students to guide their note-taking:

  1. According to Eric Foner, Americans in 1865 believed they were living in a different country than the one they inhabited before the Civil War. What were some of the fundamental changes that occurred as a result of the war?
  2. According to the scholars in the video, how did the war affect the experiences and perceptions of white Southerners? How were their lives different after the war?
  3. According to the scholars in the video, how did the lives of African Americans change as a result of the war? What were some of the opportunities that made freedpeople feel like they might be included as full members of American society?

After showing the video, ask students to reflect on the following question, first in their journals and then in a class discussion: 

How did the lives of Americans change as a result of the Civil War?

Extension Activities

A variety of documents from The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy shed light on how the lives of individual Americans were affected by the enormous changes of the Reconstruction era. Analyzing some of these documents will help deepen students’ thinking about what they learned from the video.

Ask students to read one or more of the following documents:

Materials and Downloads

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