Thematic essay question

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Thematic Essay Practice – Geography

US History/Napp Name: __________________
From the August 11th New York States Regents/ U.S. History & Government

Directions: Write a well-organized essay that includes an introduction, several paragraphs addressing the task below, and a conclusion.
Theme: Geography – Development of the United States

Many important events in United States history have been influenced by geography. Geographic factors or conditions include location, size, climate, natural resources, and physical features. These events in turn have had political, social, and economic impacts on the development of the United States.


Identify two important events in United States history and for each

Describe how a geographic factor or condition influenced the event

Discuss the political, social, and/or economic impacts of this event on the development of the United States

You may use any important event that was influenced by geographic factors or conditions.

Some suggestions you might wish to consider include the Louisiana Purchase, the construction of the Erie Canal, migration to California in the late 1840s, the Civil War, the purchase of Alaska, the building of the transcontinental railroad, the acquisition of the

Philippines, the building of the Panama Canal, the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the construction of the interstate highway system.

Gathering the Facts [Let’s Select Several Topics]:

  1. The Erie Canal

  • Proposed in 1808 and completed in 1825, the canal links the waters of Lake Erie in the west to the Hudson River in the east…

  • In order to open the country west of the Appalachian Mountains to settlers and to offer a cheap and safe way to carry produce to a market, the construction of a canal was proposed as early as 1768…It was not until 1808 that the state legislature funded a survey for a canal that would connect to Lake Erie. Finally, on July 4, 1817, Governor Dewitt Clinton broke ground for the construction of the canal. In those early days, it was often sarcastically referred to as "Clinton's Big Ditch". When finally completed on October 26, 1825, it was the engineering marvel of its day. []

  1. The Louisiana Purchase

  • The Louisiana Purchase (1803) was a land deal between the United States and France, in which the U.S. acquired approximately 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River for $15 million dollars.

  • As the United States had expanded westward, navigation of the Mississippi River and access to the port of New Orleans had become critical to American commerce.


  1. Migration to California in the late 1840s

  • The California Gold Rush, which occurred in the late 1840s, was one of the most compelling events in the history of westward expansion. Thousands of people caught “gold fever” and decided to go west in order to “see the elephant,” as the great adventure was often called.

  • Lightly populated by American Indians, Spanish missionaries, and traders, California passed into the hands of the United States as a result of the Mexican War of 1846-48.

  • A number of American settlers, including the ill-fated Donner Party, had already made the overland trek from the east, but the situation was about to be rapidly transformed. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, overseeing construction of a millrace [the rapid current of water that causes a mill wheel to turn] at Sutter’s Mill on the American River, noticed flakes of metal in the water. Various tests, including that the metal could be pounded flat unlike brittle pyrite (fool’s gold), convinced Marshall and his boss John Sutter that the material was in fact real gold. Despite their best efforts to keep the discovery a secret, word spread like wildfire and the mill was largely abandoned as workers caught the first cases of “gold fever.”


  1. The Purchase of Alaska

  • On March 30, 1867, the United States reached an agreement to purchase Alaska from Russia for a price of $7.2 million.

  • The Treaty with Russia was negotiated and signed by Secretary of State William Seward and Russian Minister to the United States Edouard de Stoeckl.

  • Critics of the deal to purchase Alaska called it “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox.”

  • Opposition to the purchase of Alaska subsided with the Klondike Gold Strike in 1896.

Look at the thematic essay question again. Which two events will you choose? By the way, you may choose an event on the suggestions list that is not included in the gathering facts section of this packet.

On the next page, complete the outline.

Event: ____________________ Event: _____________________

  • Describe how a geographic factor or condition influenced the event

  • Discuss the political, social, and/or economic impacts of this event on the development of the United States

  • Describe how a geographic factor or condition influenced the event

  • Discuss the political, social, and/or economic impacts of this event on the development of the United States

Additional Notes:

Additional Notes:

Write the Essay:

Body Paragraph:


Body Paragraph:




Highlight or underline the main points of the passage

“The U.S. is located in the center of the North American continent.  It is bordered by Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south. On the east is the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west, is the Pacific Ocean.  In addition to the 48 continental states, Alaska and Hawaii are included, for a grand total of 50 states…
Most of the United States has a temperate climate, but Hawaii and Florida are tropical, Alaska is polar/arctic, the Great Plains region is semiarid (dry, almost desert-like), and the Great Basin of the southwest is an arid (desert-like) climate.


The U.S. can be divided into many different regions (areas that share some common characteristics)…The United States can be divided into five geographic regions: The Western Mountains and Basins, the Great Plains, the Central Lowlands, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. This is only one way to classify the very diverse areas of America.

Not only does it have very different geographic regions, but the U.S. has a huge array of natural resources such as timber, coal, petroleum, and natural gas.  In addition, it has large metal deposits of copper, lead, uranium, gold, iron, nickel, silver and zinc. As you can imagine, the mining industry in the U.S. is extensive.
From the non-agricultural, arid land in the southwest, to the fertile central lowlands and coastal plains, there is an extremely variable array of landforms and land usage in the United States. 
One of the greatest obstacles for early settlers intent upon moving westward, were the Appalachian Mountains.  They extend, in an almost unbroken chain, from Maine to Alabama, with very few places to pass through.  Early settlers quickly found the Cumberland Gap (at the junction of modern-day Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) to be one of the easiest ways westward (and inland) from the colonies.


Four hundred miles west of the Cumberland Gap, settlers would encounter the largest river in North America,  At that point, the 2,552 mile long Mississippi River was nearly one mile wide, and over 100 feet deep.  Travelers had to go miles upstream to find a ford (a place to cross the river).


Once across the Mississippi River, the Great Plains made for fairly easy travel.  It was not until settlers saw the Rocky Mountains, that westward expansion slowed.  Most people were diverted either far to the south, or chanced high passes through the mountains, sometimes getting stranded in unpredictable winter snowstorms. Of course, early Spanish settlers had been venturing inland from the sixteenth century, and had made many contacts with the indigenous peoples of the southwest.”


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