The 1867 Treaty of Cession, in which the United States purchased Alaska from the Russian empire, marked an unusually peaceful transition. The purchase of Alaska was done under amicable circumstances, and both Russia and the U.S. felt they gained from the Treaty.
In this lesson, students use primary sources from Russia and the U.S. to examine the respective Russian and American rationales for agreeing to the sale.
- Analyze primary sources and identify the point of view;
- Articulate arguments for a specified position on the Alaska Purchase;
- Present arguments in a debate.
The following materials will be used in this lesson.
This project will investigate the pros and cons that the Russian and American governments considered on the issue of the sale of Alaska. Student teams will investigate different perspectives and present their particular perspective in the form of a debate. There should be two Russian perspectives, one supporting and one opposing the sale. Similarly, there should be two American perspectives, one supporting and one opposing the sale.
- Start with a discussion of the thought processes that go into the purchase and sale of a product. Note the complexity of factors involved in weighing a decision. A simple list does not distinguish between primary and secondary factors.
- If necessary, review the US history of purchasing large areas of land (Louisiana Purchase, Florida, Texas, Gadsden Purchase).
- For background on the Alaska Purchase, direct students to read The Alaska Purchase, which includes links to both the U.S. and the Russian copies of the Treaty of Cession. Ask them to study and compare the documents and consider what differences they see between them.
- Divide students into small groups and allow time for them to study Map of Russian America or Alaska Territory. 1867. Distribute the Primary Source Analysis Tool for students to record their thoughts. Before beginning the activity, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Maps to focus student analysis and discussion.
- Wrap up the activity with a discussion of what can be learned about Russia’s settlement of the Alaska territory from the map. What questions do students have that cannot be answered from studying the map?
- Divide students into groups to research the perspectives identified. If necessary, there may be more than one group representing each perspective.
- Explain that each team will be assigned a particular perspective about the sale to research. Each team will present its arguments about the Alaska purchase during a debate. All students should begin their research by reviewing the sections Key Players in the Alaska Purchase and Russia and the Sale of Alaska in The Alaska Purchase. Each team assignment includes primary sources to analyze as part of the research.
- Direct each group to the student page for resources to begin their research. Provide Primary Source Analysis Tools for students to record their thinking, either individually or preparing one per group per item. Monitor small group discussions, using questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus student analysis and discussion. Additional research may be required.
- Allow students time to analyze the primary sources, doing additional research as needed.
Activity Three: The Debate
- Student groups will participate in a debate representing the perspective that they researched. Groups may elect and prepare one person to represent them in the debate, or all group members may participate, taking turns presenting. A written presentation may be required at the teacher’s discretion.
- Close out the lesson with a discussion of what questions they have about the Alaska Purchase that can’t be answered by studying the primary sources in this lesson. Then, encourage them to identify where they might go to find answers to their questions.
Evaluate student participation in the group research process as well as the debate.
The debate rubric might consider the following:
- Thoroughness of knowledge
- Effectiveness of the arguments presented
- Teamwork between members
- Quality of presentation including degree of enthusiasm and confidence
Adapted from a lesson by Roger Pearson