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Lewis & Clark: For Educators: Teaching Units & Lesson Plans Lewis & Clark: The National Bicentennial Exhibition Exhibition Locations
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Teaching Units & Lesson Plans

Using Primary Sources


Target Grade Level:
Middle and High School, Grades 6 - 12

This unit takes a sociological approach to the military interactions between the Corps of Discovery and American Indians. A sociological approach emphasizes the connection between the military aspects of a culture, in this case weaponry, uniforms, and heroic ethos, and its values and priorities. Traditional military history emphasizing tactics, strategy, and battles will not be the focus of this unit. The first lesson looks at uniform and dress and its various purposes. Military costume is analyzed in terms of symbolic meaning and as a cultural artifact. Next, weapons are examined also in terms of the cultural insights they can provide. Finally, codes of heroic and warrior behavior are compared. Throughout the unit, modern connections and points of cultural similarities and differences are emphasized.


The ideals of a warrior reflect his culture.

The weapons, tactics, and strategies a society uses to fight its wars reflect the society's values, its economy, and its social organization.

Explore Connections to Today for this unit.


  • Do a society's values shape the way it fights its wars or do the warriors and soldiers shape society?
  • Do weapons and the technology that produces them tell us much or little about a culture?
  • Are uniforms meant to define one's own identity or send a message to the viewer?
  • What role do military service and military ideals play in socializing and shaping the values of individuals?


Students will:

  • understand the multiple purposes of uniform and dress in our culture today and in the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition
  • analyze and understand how different cultures define what it means to be a warrior or a hero
  • compare and contrast warrior ideals in two cultures
  • understand the ways in which dress can be a carrier of symbolic meaning and an arena of cultural exchange
  • examine the relationship between being a warrior and being a hero and what these words may mean in today's world


Students will:

  • analyze uniforms and dress in terms of symbolic meaning, as carriers of culture and as objects that are meant to be read
  • analyze weapons and their relationship to the culture that produces them
  • analyze and draw conclusions from primary source materials


Ongoing assessments as the unit progresses will include class discussion focused on key questions, group work with presentations, pre- and post-writing assignments, research-based projects, journaling, and the construction of Venn diagrams.


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