The Four P’s of U.S. Imperialism at the end of the 19th Century.


This lesson is designed for a high school level U.S. history class. It could be adapted to fit the APUSH curriculum but for the sake of this post the lesson is tailored to the garden-variety U.S. history class typically taught in 10th-11th grade. This lesson could be expanded and designed to take an entire class period, but for the purpose of this post it should take roughly 25-30 minutes.


The tail end of the 19th century is often breezed over in many history classes, usually seen as something of a bit of a slump between the frenzies of the Civil War/Reconstruction era and the brashness of the Progressive Era with its looming world conflicts and economic downturns on the horizon. This lesson unfortunately does little to remedy the brevity of these sordid omissions, but it certainly can and will give the student a glimpse of how the U.S. came to be an imperial power. By analyzing primary documents, political cartoons of the time, and the actual words of historical figures that held sway over the order of events that transpired, Students Will Be Able To create a definition of imperialism as it pertains to world powers at the time, specifically the United States with regard to the four “P’s”.

  1. There will be a brief intro by the teacher, then students will be broken up into 4 groups and asked to read the text pertaining to one of the four P’s. They will then each fill out their table on a Google Slide.
  2. Each group will then share their findings with the class on their respective topics.
  3. The class will then either read quotes from prominent figures of the day or analyze political cartoons from the time period and determine which of the four P’s the documents represent.
  4. Finally, as a class, we will then come up with a collective definition of imperialism as it pertains to the United States during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
  1. Four P’s Texts

2. Google Slide containing the four P’s activity, as well as examples of quotes and political cartoons (link will be provided in Zoom)

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

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