Social Studies Overview: GED Test Prep (page 3)
On the GED, questions about history will include both world and U.S. history. Many history questions will ask you to interpret and analyze a photograph, map, chart, or graph.
Defining "Social Studies"
Social studies is the study of how people live every day. It explores many aspects of life: the physical environment in which people live, the beliefs and traditions they follow, and the societies they form and inhabit. Social studies include many different fields, broadly described as history, civics and government, economics, and geography. Each of these four categories is related. To understand an event or a complex issue, you would examine all four branches of social sciences. For example, if you were studying the stock market crash of 1929, you would explore what was happening in the country at the time (history); how the free enterprise system works (economics); what programs and policies were implemented to safeguard against another crash (civics and government); and how this event affected people in different areas of the country and why (geography).
This article introduces you to key terms and time periods from the history branch of social studies. The exercises in this chapter will help you review the information you learn and are similar to those on the GED Social Studies Exam.
The Beginnings of Civilization
Early humans lived in nomadic groups that followed the animal herds they hunted. Over time, these nomads settled in areas with a fresh water source, fertile soil, a hospitable climate, and plentiful animal life. From cave drawings, artifacts, fossils, and skeletal remains, scientists have learned about early humans and their communities. Artifacts of stone tools like hammers or axes are some of the earliest evidence of human culture. As communities grew, a system of bartering—trading goods or services—developed. Forms of government—systems that organized societies—also evolved. Through trade routes and wars, human cultural achievements spread between places and some civilizations became empires with large land holdings. For example, the area of Mesopotamia (see map below) gave rise to several ancient civilizations—Babylonian, Sumerian, Phoenician, and Greek.
Religion, or belief in a spiritual reality, is an influential part of human culture. Early belief systems, including those of the Egyptians, Greeks, and the early Roman Empire, were polytheistic, meaning they revered more than one god. The Jewish tribes of Israel were monotheistic, believing in one all-powerful god. See the table. In the Far East, there were religious practices that were polytheistic and others that were monotheistic.
Exercise 1 (See answers below)
Choose the best answer to the question based on the information you learned in the chart.
- What conclusion can you make based on the information in the chart?
- All major religions believe in a single, all powerful God.
- Most religions developed in the last millennium.
- Religion is not a force in today's world culture.
- Many of the world's major religions have influenced human culture for more than a thousand years.
- All of today's major religions had their beginnings in the Middle East.
The Middle Ages
As the Roman Empire began to fracture in the fourth and fifth centuries, a period that historians refer to as the Middle Ages began in Western Europe. During this time, Western culture centered on Christianity as the Roman Catholic Church gained authority and missionaries spread Christian ideas. A new social organization called feudalism developed. Based on an agricultural society, this system divided people into classes. The ruling class consisted of nobles, while the majority of people were in the peasant or serf class. Between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, European Christians led a series of wars called the Crusades to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. Although they did not achieve this goal, the wars brought Europe in contact with Arab culture, stimulated commerce between regions, and increased geographical knowledge. By the fourteenth century, wars, famine, and the spread of the bubonic plague, or Black Death—an infectious disease that killed up to one-third of all Europeans—weakened the feudal economy.
In the 1400s, a rediscovery of Greek and Roman literature led to the humanist movement in Europe, which called for a return to classical ideals. As Western Europe regained stability, a period of intellectual development began. The Renaissance, meaning "rebirth," led to advances in the sciences, music, literature, art, and architecture. During its height in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, artists like Piero della Francesca, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Rafael contributed works praised for their grandeur and sense of harmony.
The New World
European exploration of North America began in the tenth century when Viking explorers landed in Greenland and Newfoundland. However, Christopher Columbus's landing in the Bahamas in 1492 had a greater impact on the history of the world because he brought news of his exploration back to Europe. Under the service of Spain, Columbus sailed west, hoping to discover a quicker trade route to Asia. He landed in the Caribbean instead. His historic journey marked the start of European exploration and colonization in the New World. (See the table.)
Age of Enlightenment
The Enlightenment describes a period in Europe and America during the eighteenth century in which philosophers celebrated rational thought, science, and technological progress. The scientific developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries acted as a precursor to the Enlightenment. Galileo Galilei, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Isaac Newton contributed new ideas about astronomy and physics that challenged the conventional understanding of the physical world. Later, the philosophy of John Locke influenced attitudes about the role of the individual in society and challenged the notion that knowledge is inborn. The works of the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau shaped political and educational theory, as did the ideas of Immanuel Kant in Germany, David Hume in England, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in the American colonies.
Select the best answer based on the paragraph about the Age of Enlightenment.
- Which of the following statements about the Enlightenment is an opinion?
- The proponents of the Enlightenment believed in rationality.
- The Enlightenment philosophers challenged formerly held beliefs.
- The Enlightenment was an international movement.
- John Locke contributed the most to the Enlightenment philosophy.
- Hume, Kant, Jefferson, and Franklin shared a faith in human reason.
- Which of the following was the most likely factor that contributed to the beginning of the Enlightenment?
- scientific discoveries in the previous century
- the French Revolution
- the Crusades
- missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe
The French Revolution (1789–1799) ranks as one of the most important events in European history. Increased criticism of the monarchy by Enlightenment thinkers, unequal taxation, and persecution of religious minorities all helped encourage political upheaval. Food shortages and economic depression were an even more immediate cause. Parisians revolted in 1789 by violently overtaking the Bastille, a prison in Paris. Aristocrats, including the king and queen, were beheaded. Political unrest followed until Napoleon Bonaparte emerged as a leader in 1799 and declared himself emperor in 1804. Although it appeared to be a failure at the time, the Revolution created a precedent for representative governments around the world. It also introduced revolution as a means of seeking different kinds of freedom.
The Industrial Era
By the mid-nineteenth century, changes in technology began to transform Europe and the United States from societies with an agricultural base to ones with an industrial base. This period is called the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of steam-powered engines, the invention of machines that increased the output of cotton textiles, and the advent of the railroad are some of the technological changes that increased the speed of production and transportation of goods.
The doctrine of laissez-faire appealed to factory owners of the Industrial Revolution. Supported by economists like Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, this doctrine stated that economic systems work better without intervention by government, and that markets were guided by an "unseen hand" that saw to it that everyone's best interests were served. The Communist Manifesto, a document of communist principles, presented quite a different viewpoint on industrialization and free market economies. Authored by German writer Karl Marx in 1848, the Manifesto described the history of society as a history of class struggles between the ruling class and the exploited working class. Marx believed that free-market economies widened the divide between the wealthy and the poor, and that ultimately the poor working class would overthrow the powerful capitalist class of the Industrial Revolution, resulting in a new, classless society. His ideas later influenced Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the formation of a Communist state in Russia.
World War I
World War I (1914–1918) involved 32 countries, including many European nations, the United States, and other nations around the world. By the war's end, 10 million soldiers were killed and 20 million wounded. The assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne by a Serbian nationalist was the immediate cause of the war, but conflicts between European nations over territory and economic power were also factors. Two coalitions of European nations formed. The Central Powers included Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Allied Powers included Great Britain, France, Serbia, Russia, Belgium, and Italy. The fighting ended in 1918 when the Allies defeated German forces. With the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the war officially ended. One of the most destructive wars in European history, World War I left European powers in enormous financial debt and greatly weakened.
The Russian Revolutions of 1917
Peasant and worker uprisings led to two revolutions in Russia during 1917. The first overthrew Tsar Nicholas II, an absolute monarch. A provisional government took control but could not solve the problems that led to the uprising, mainly the devastating effect of the country's involvement in World War I. Vladimir Lenin and a group of revolutionary socialists called the Bolsheviks took power. The Bolsheviks hoped to transform Russia into a classless society called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). However, the Communist regime that they created became increasingly authoritarian and eventually controlled the economic, social, and political life of the nation. After Lenin's death, Bolshevik Joseph Stalin became the dictator of the Soviet Union. He ruled with total and often brutal control. The Communist regime continued to hold power until its collapse in 1991.
World War II
World War II (1939–1945), the deadliest and most destructive war in history, began between Germany and the English and French, but later included all of the major powers of the world. The rise of fascism—an Italian term for a military-based totalitarian government—as well as the effects of economic depression fueled the conflict. Also, the peace settlements of World War I had left three powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan—dissatisfied, and each wanted to increase its territory. In Germany, Adolf Hitler of the German National Socialist (Nazi) Party promoted national pride and offered scapegoats for the country's economic problems: the Jews, Roma peoples (or gypsies), various Slavic groups, and homosexuals. His racist policies led to the persecution and murder of millions of Jewish people and other groups, an atrocity now known as the Holocaust.
Germany, with Hitler in power, began an aggressive campaign in Europe, invading Czechoslovakia. Hitler then created an alliance with Italy and Japan to form the Axis Powers. When Germany invaded Poland, Great Britain and France entered the war. By 1940, the only Allied force to resist German occupation was Great Britain. However, Great Britain gained an ally when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.
Although the United States at first sought to be neutral in the conflict, events forced it to enter the war. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a U.S. military base in the Pacific. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States joined the Allied forces and helped turn the war in its favor. In May 1945, Germany surrendered. In August 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, and soon after dropped another on Nagasaki. Five days later, Japan surrendered.
World War II devastated entire cities, and both civilians and soldiers suffered. Tens of millions of people were killed. The war revolutionized warfare by introducing nuclear weapons. Politically, power shifted away from Great Britain and France, and the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as world powers. After the war, the Soviet Union kept control of its occupation zones and took power in Eastern Europe. This expansion threatened the West and started the Cold War, a struggle for power between the capitalist West and the Communist bloc that lasted until 1989.
Use the information from the passage about World War II to answer the questions.
- Which of the following was NOT a likely consequence of World War II?
- death of millions
- the end of racism
- destruction of cities
- shift in world power
- threat of nuclear war
- Based on the information about World War II, which of the following is a likely assumption as to why Hitler rose to power?
- Hitler's totalitarian government exercised absolute power.
- Many citizens resisted the rise of the Nazi Party.
- Germans wanted a powerful leader who would lift them out of financial chaos.
- Germans needed a leader to fend off British and French aggression.
- Nazi propaganda techniques were not successful.
A New Nation
After Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492,Western Europe began colonization of the Americas. Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, and England had vast holdings in the New World. A group of English migrants called Puritans—people seeking to purify the Church of England—started settlements in New England. One group, known as the Pilgrims, landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. These settlers established the Plymouth Colony and created the Mayflower Compact, an agreement that said the colonists would make decisions by the will of the majority. This became the first instance of self-government in America. Throughout the British colonies, forms of self-government developed.
The Declaration of Independence
In the mid-eighteenth century, England and France fought over land in the upper valley of Ohio in the French and Indian War. England gained control of all territory east of the Mississippi, but the war left the country deeply in debt. To pay off the debt, King George III and British Parliament established ways to tax the colonists. The Stamp Act of 1765 required that all printed material—newspapers, legal documents, and other papers—bear a British stamp and that colonists pay for these seals. The Townshend Acts of 1767 placed new taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea. Boston merchants began boycotting English goods. When three shipments of tea arrived in Boston Harbor in 1773, angry citizens threw the cargo overboard in an incident that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.
In punishment for this protest, England closed the port of Boston and passed the Intolerable Acts, which limited the political freedom of the colonists. This led to further protest; in 1775, fighting between the colonists and the British marked the start of the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, a document that describes the American ideal of government and lists the injustices of the king. The Second Continental Congress, a meeting of representatives from the 13 colonies, approved the declaration on July 4, 1776.
The U.S. Constitution
The colonies won their independence after seven years of the Revolutionary War. The new states created a system of government under the Articles of Confederation. This framework limited the power of the central government and allowed the states to act as separate nations. It was a flawed system incapable of addressing issues such as national defense, trade between states, and the creation of a common currency. In 1787, leaders met and created a new system of government, which it defined in the United States Constitution. The states approved the Constitution in 1788.
The Constitution outlines the fundamental principles of the American republic. It defines the powers of Congress, the president, and the federal judicial system, and divides authority in a system of checks and balances so that no branch of government can dominate the others. To calm the fears of those who believed a central government would interfere with individual freedoms, the framers of the Constitution added the Bill of Rights. These ten amendments to the Constitution safeguard citizens' rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Learn more about the Constitution in the Civics and Government review section of this book.
Read the following question and select the best answer.
- Which of the following was a consideration in creating the Bill of Rights?
- dividing power between the three branches of government
- creating a judicial system
- forming a strong central government
- ratifying the Articles of Confederation
- securing the liberties of individuals
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the United States expanded its territory. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the country by buying land from France through the Louisiana Purchase. Under President James Monroe, westward expansion continued. Despite this growth and the country's increased wealth, economic and cultural differences between regions developed. Sectionalism—each section of the country supporting its own self-interests instead of the nation's interests—took root. The Northeast relied on an industrial economy while the South had an agricultural economy supported by slave labor. One major issue concerned whether new states in the Union would become free states or allow slavery. A group called the abolitionists believed slavery was wrong and wanted it banned throughout the nation. In 1857, the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court increased the hostility between the North and South. In the case, Dred Scott, a slave, argued that because his owner moved to a free territory, he should be free. The Court ruled that slaves were not citizens and, therefore, could not sue. It also ruled that it could not ban people from bringing slaves to free territories.
The Civil War
Abraham Lincoln, whom the South considered a threat to slavery and to the rights of states to govern themselves, was elected president in 1860. Eleven southern states withdrew from the Union. They formed a separate government called the Confederate States of America. Here is the division between free and slave states in 1861:
- Free States
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Slave States
- North Carolina*
- South Carolina*
- New Mexico
In 1861, Confederate soldiers opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Civil War began. The "War Between the States" lasted four years and eventually killed more than 600,000 people. It also destroyed an estimated $5 billion in property. The war ended in 1865 after the surrender of Robert E. Lee, the most important general of the Confederacy. Four million slaves were freed during the period of Reconstruction that followed the war. Five days after the Northern victory, a Confederate sympathizer assassinated President Lincoln. Resentment and division between the South and North continued for decades after the war's end.
From 1860 into the next century, the United States experienced an explosion of industrialization. Just as the Industrial Revolution changed Europe, it altered life in the new nation. Abundant natural resources, technological advances, railroad expansion, and a new wave of immigrants in the workforce made industrial growth possible. Businesses began to operate over broad geographic areas and grew into large corporations. Tycoons of the steel and oil industry, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, controlled much of the marketplace. The powerful industrialists supported the policy of laissez-faire: They believed government should not interfere with business.
Large-scale production changed the workplace. Laborers were more likely to work in large factories than in small workshops. Machines and unskilled workers replaced skilled workers to keep costs down. Many worked long hours doing monotonous work in dangerous conditions. As a result, national labor unions began to form to protect the rights of workers. The first national labor union was the Knights of Labor, which organized in 1869. In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) formed, joining together a network of local unions. Led by Samuel Gompers, an immigrant cigar maker, the union rallied for improved hours, wages, and working conditions. Reformers, called the Progressives, wanted to curb the power of big business and protect working people. Among other goals, progressive reformers wanted to end child labor and introduce a minimum wage. Through their efforts, government at the local, state, and national level began to regulate business. Learn more about labor unions in the Economics review section of this book.
Use the information about big business to select the best answer for each question.
- Which of the following slogans would industrialist John D. Rockefeller most likely support?
- Live Free or Die
- Our Union, Our Voice
- Equal Pay for Equal Work
- That Government Is Best Which Governs Least
- Big Government
- Which of the following was NOT a goal of the Progressives?
- improve workers' safety
- stop antitrust legislation
- increase government regulation
- prohibit child labor
- establish a minimum wage
The Great Depression
In the 1920s, the country enjoyed a prosperous period. Business expanded and investors speculated in the stock market, often borrowing money on easy credit to buy shares of a company. Money flowed into the stock market until October 24, 1929, when the market collapsed. Investors lost fortunes overnight, businesses started to close, workers were laid off, and banks closed. The stock market crash of 1929 marked the onset of the Great Depression, which lasted through the 1930s. By 1933, unemployment reached 25%, more than 5,000 banks were closed, and over 85,000 businesses had failed.
Elected in 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt started a relief effort to revive the economy and bring aid to people who were suffering the effects of the depression. He called his program the New Deal. In what is now called the First Hundred Days, Roosevelt and Congress passed major legislation that saved banks from closing and regained public confidence. The sidebar lists some of the important measures passed in 1933, the first year of Roosevelt's presidency.
The New Deal brought relief, but did not end the depression. The economy did not revive until the nation entered World War II in the 1940s. However, the New Deal had long-lasting effects: It expanded the powers of the central government to regulate the economy, and it created "safety-net" programs that would assist citizens.
- Coats and Car Seats: A Lethal Combination?
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Child Development Theories
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Social Cognitive Theory
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- GED Math Practice Test 1
- Problems With Standardized Testing
- The Homework Debate