Territorial Acquisition in the United States

Territorial Acquisition in the United States

An overview of United States territories, their history, and their value.


5 - 8


Geography, Physical Geography

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Begin by explaining to students the United States has 16 territories. There are five major territories, which include American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The remaining lands are uninhabited. Define territory as a land that is partially self-governed under the authority of another government, in this case the U.S. government. Also, explain territories can be incorporated, meaning residents are given the same privileges as U.S. citizens, or a territory can be unincorporated, which means citizen’s rights are limited and defined by the U.S. Constitution.

Ask students: Why would a nation want territories? Note that economic, military and political power all play a role. Who benefits from territories the administrating country or the territory?

Refer students to the infographic. As a class, go over each territory and the provided information, then discuss how the United States benefited from its territories. Organize students into small groups and assign each team one territory from the infographic (in the case of the territories that form the Remote Islands Wildlife Refuge, the group will look at all the islands; Navassa Island and the two Banks can also be studied together). Each group will research their territory and answer the following questions:

  • Is the territory incorporated or unincorporated?
  • How did the United States acquire the territory?
  • What was the benefit in having the territory (location, natural resource, economic, or military)?
  • What benefit does the territory enjoy from the United States?

Afterward, have student groups present what they have learned about their territory to the class, and write a short essay describing the benefits and drawbacks of being a U.S. territory.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Roza Kavak
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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