Historic Parallels

Grade Level



Comparing nations or world areas is difficult; more challenging still when comparing highly technologically-developed nations like the United States with nations that have not as yet achieved equal levels of wealth or technology. To avoid the possibility that students make negative comparisons between any African nation and the U. S. today, it may be helpful to remind them that the U. S. was once 'a developing nation.' Many of the conflicts, problems and achievements of modern Africa have their parallels in U. S. History.


The major goal of this activity is to make students aware of the concept of 'a developing nation,' with careful regard that they understand that while the process is not always smooth, nations can and do learn from each other.

Gauging Student

The progress indicators cited reflect desirable end goals. Teachers should be prepared to use a wide variety of observational, testing and authentic achievement evaluation measures in judging the progress of students.

By drawing parallels between events in the history of the U.S. as a 'new nation' and those of African nations that are going through the development process, students will be able to weigh information and deal with the 'development' process in a fair and honest manner. While historic parallels are often misleading since no events are exactly parallel, the development of analogical thinking is an important step in students' intellectual growth; teachers should specifically structure activities which will allow the students to achieve this skill.


Initial Data for
and/or Process

Prepare the students to deal with the notion of 'parallelisms,' and master the skill of dealing with analogies. If the teacher can present personal instances of parallels to his / her own experience (family, friends, incidents), this will help student orientation for this activity. Present the first parallel instance in the handout, and with the help of very specific maps visible to all, discuss the similar circumstances. Divide the class into small groups and assign several of the parallel instances to each group, along with sufficient reference materials for them to analyze the circumstances of the parallel examples. Each of the groups will present their parallels and explain what data they have discovered to find whether the parallel is on target.

After completing the parallels, give students an opportunity to draw some generalizations about the ideas of: parallels; analogies; development; 'new nation' status; and colonial experiences (not necessarily in that order!).

Other Possible

An exercise such as this one has additional parallels in most areas of the world (the experience of India, Australia, Brazil, etc.), and that should be kept in mind as one approaches those areas of the world for study.

Local history can be best studied in the context of larger historic contexts (e.g., what is the parallel story locally during the American Revolution? The Civil War? Any major event of American History?)

Adapted from "Historic Parallels," by H. Thomas Collins. Project LINKS, George Washington University.