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Social Studies - Glossary

Acequias (can be defined in both physical and a political context) As a physical structure, an acequia or ditch is typically a man-made earthen channel that conveys water to individual tracts of land. As a political organization, a community ditch or acequia is a public entity that functions to allocate and distribute irrigation water to the landowners who are its members.
Amendment (Constitutional) Changes in, or additions to, a constitution. Proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Ratified by approval of three-fourths of the states.
Articles of Confederation The first constitution of the United States (1781). Created a weak national government; replaced in 1789 by the Constitution of the United States.
Balance of Trade The difference between the total amount of exports and imports for a country in one year.
Barter The direct exchange of one good or service for another without the use of money.
B.C.E. and C.E. Before the Common Era (formerly known as B.C.) and Common Era (formerly known as A.D.).
Bicameral A legislative body composed of two houses.
Bill of Rights The first ten amendments to the Constitution. Ratified in 1791, these amendments limit governmental power and protect basic rights and liberties of individuals.
Business Cycle The periods of recession and expansion that an economy goes through because production does not increase continuously over time.
Cabinet Secretaries, or chief administrators, of the major departments of the federal government. Cabinet secretaries are appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate.
Capital Manufactured resources such as tools, machinery, and buildings that are used in the production of other goods and services (e.g., school buildings, books, tables, and chairs are some examples of capital used to produce education). This is sometimes called real capital.
Checks and Balances The Constitutional mechanisms that authorize each branch of government to share powers with the other branches and thereby check their activities. For example, the president may veto legislation passed by Congress; the Senate must confirm major executive appointments; and the courts may declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.
Citizen A member of a political society who owes allegiance to the government and is entitled to its protection.
Civil Rights The protections and privileges of personal liberty given to all U.S. citizens by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Command Economy A type of economic system where the resources are state owned and their allocation and use is determined by the centralized decisions of a planning authority (e.g., the former Soviet Union).
Common or Public Good To the benefit, or in the interest, of a politically organized society as a whole.
Comparative Advantage The idea that countries gain when they produce those items that they are most efficient at producing.
Concurrent Powers Powers that may be exercised by both the federal and state governments (e.g., levying taxes, borrowing money and spending for the general welfare).
Consumer A person or organization that purchases or uses a product or service.
Cultural Diffusion The adoption of an aspect (or aspects) of another group's culture, such as the spread of the English language.
Cultural Landscape The visual outcome of humans living in a place.
Culture The learned behavior of people, such as belief systems and languages, social relations, institutions, organizations, and material goods such as food, clothing, buildings, technology.
Demand How much a consumer is willing and able to buy at each possible price.
Democracy The practice of the principle of equality of rights, opportunity, and treatment.
Demographics The statistical data of a population (e.g., average age, income, education).
Distribution The arrangement of items over an area (e.g., geographical, demographical).
Due Process of Law The right of every citizen to be protected against arbitrary action by government.
Economic Growth An increase in an economy's ability to produce goods and services which brings about a rise in standards of living.
Ecosystem The interaction of all living organisms with each other and with the physical environment.
English Bill of Rights An act passed by Parliament in 1689 which limited the power of the monarch. This document established Parliament as the most powerful branch of the English government.
Entrepreneur A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.
Environment Everything near and on the Earth's surface. Natural or physical environment refers to climate, biosphere, hydrosphere, soil, and geology. Human or cultural environment refers to aspects of the environment produced by humans.
Erosion The lowering of the land surface by physical processes such as flowing water, landslides, glacial ice, waves, and wind.
Exchange Rate The price of one currency in terms of another (e.g., pesos per dollar).
Ex Post Facto Law A law that makes criminal an act that was legal when it was committed. (Latin: "after the fact").
Federal Reserve System A system of 12 district banks and a Board of Governors that regulates the activities of financial institutions and controls the money supply.
Federalism A form of political organization in which governmental power is divided between a central government and territorial subdivisions--in the United States, among the national, state, and local governments.
Federalist Papers A series of essays written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison that were published to support the adoption of the proposed United States Constitution.
Federalists Advocates of a stronger national government and supporters of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Feudalism Political and economic system in which a king or queen shared power with the nobility, who required services from the common people in return for allowing them to use the noble's land.
Fiscal Policy How the government uses taxes and/or government expenditures to change the level of output, employment, or prices.
Foreign Policy Policies of the federal government directed to matters beyond U.S. borders, especially relations with other countries.
Free Enterprise The freedom of private businesses to operate competitively, for profit, and without government controls.
Geographic Tool A device used to compile, organize, manipulate, store, report, or display geographic information, including maps, gazetteers, globes, graphs, diagrams, aerial photographs, satellite images, geographic information systems, and other computer databases and software.
Human Characteristics The pattern that people make on the surface of the Earth, such as cities, roads, canals, farms, and other ways people change the Earth.
Impeachment The act of accusing a public official of misconduct in office by presenting formal charges against him or her by the lower house, with a trial to be held before the upper house.
Incentive A benefit offered to encourage people to act in certain ways.
Inflation A general rise in the level of prices.
Initiative A form of direct democracy in which the voters of a state can propose a law by gathering signatures and having the proposition placed on the ballot.
Interdependence Reliance on people in other places for information, resources, goods, and services.
Isolationism The belief that the United States should not be involved in world affairs and should avoid involvement in foreign wars.
Judicial Review The doctrine that permits the federal courts to declare unconstitutional, and thus null and void, acts of the Congress, the executive, and the states. The precedent for judicial review was established in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison.
Land Use How people use the Earth's surface (e.g., urban, rural, agricultural, range, forest); often subdivided into specific uses (e.g., retail, low-density housing, industrial).
Landform A description of the Earth's shape at a place (e.g., mountain range, plateau, flood plain).
Latitude The angular distance north or south of the equator, measured in degrees along a line of longitude.
Legend The map key that explains the meaning of map symbols.
Longitude Angular distance east or west, almost always measured with respect to the prime meridian that runs north and south through Greenwich, England.
Macroeconomics The branch of economics which considers the overall aspects and workings of a national economy such as national output, price levels, employment rates, and economic growth.
Magna Carta Document signed by King John of England in 1215 A.D. that limited the king's power and guaranteed certain basic rights. Considered the beginning of constitutional government in England.
Market Economy System A system in which most resources are owned by individuals and the interaction between buyers and sellers determines what is made, how it is made, and how much of it is made.
Market Price The price at which the quantity of goods and services demanded by consumers and the quantity supplied by producers are the same. This is sometimes called the equilibrium (a condition in which things are in balance) price.
Market Any setting in which exchange occurs between buyers and sellers.
Mayflower Compact The document drawn up by the Pilgrims in 1620, while on the Mayflower, before landing at Plymouth Rock. The Compact provided a legal basis for self-government.
Microeconomics The branch of economics concerned with the decisions made by individuals, households, and firms and how these decisions interact to form the prices of goods and services and the factors of production.
National Security Condition of a nation's safety from threats, especially threats from external sources.
Natural Hazard A process taking place in the natural environment that destroys human life, property, or both (e.g., hurricane, flooding).
Opportunity Cost The value of the next best alternative that must be given up when a choice is made (e.g., the opportunity cost of studying on a Saturday night is the fun you are missing by not going to the dance).
Principle A basic rule that guides or influences thought or action.
Producers People who change resources into an output that tends to be more desirable than the resources were in their previous form (e.g., when people produce french fries, consumers are more inclined to buy them than the oil, salt, and potatoes individually).
Property Rights The rights of an individual to own property and keep the income earned from it.
Referendum A form of direct democracy in which citizens of a state, through gathering signatures, can require that a legislative act come before the people as a whole for a vote. The process also allows the legislature to send any proposal for law to the people for a vote.
Region A larger-sized territory that includes many smaller places, all or most of which share similar attributes, such as climate, landforms, plants, soils, language, religion, economy, government or other natural or cultural attributes.
Representative Democracy A form of government in which power is held by the people and exercised indirectly through elected representatives who make decisions.
Republican Government A system of government in which power is held by the voters and is exercised by elected representatives responsible for promoting the common welfare.
Resources Land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship used in the production of goods and services. A part of the natural environment that people value, such as soil, oil, iron or water.
Return How well you do by investing in one asset as opposed to another (e.g., if you buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood, you expect a better return when you sell it than if you buy a house next to where a new freeway is going to be built).
Revolution A complete or drastic change of government and the rules by which government is conducted.
Risk How much uncertainty accompanies your choice of investment (e.g., if you lend money to someone who has just escaped from prison, you are taking more of a risk than if you lend money to your mother).
Rule of Law The principle that every member of a society, even a ruler, must follow the law.
Scale The relationship between a distance on the ground and the distance on the map. For example, the scale 1:100,000 means that one unit of distance (e.g. an inch or millimeter) on the map equals 100,000 of these units on the Earth's surface.
Scarce A good or service that is insufficient in quantity to satisfy the demand or need for it.
Separation of Powers The division of governmental power among several institutions that must cooperate in decision making.
Sovereignty The ultimate, supreme power in a state (e.g., in the United States, sovereignty rests with the people).
Spatial Pertaining to distribution, distance, direction, areas and other aspects of space on the Earth's surface.
Specialization When a business focuses on producing a limited number of goods and leaves the production of other goods to other businesses. Specialization also describes how each person working to produce a good might work on one part of the production instead of producing the whole good (e.g., in a shoe factory one person cuts the leather, another person sews it, another glues it to the sole).
Standard of Living The overall quality of life that people enjoy.
Suffrage The right to vote.
Supply The quantity of a product or service a producer is willing and able to offer for sale at each possible price.
Tax Compulsory payment of a percentage of income, property value, etc., for the support of a government. Included within this definition are: Progressive Tax A tax structure where people who earn more are charged a higher percentage of their income (e.g., the federal income tax). Proportional Tax A tax structure where all people pay about the same percentage of their incomes in taxes (e.g., a flat rate tax). Regressive Tax A tax structure where people who earn more pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes (e.g., sales taxes).
Theocracy Any government in which the leaders of the government are also the leaders of the religion and they rule as representatives of the deity.
Totalitarianism A centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.
Treaty A formal agreement between sovereign nations to create or restrict rights and responsibilities. In the U.S., all treaties must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Senate.
Unitary Government A government system in which all governmental authority is vested in a central government from which regional and local governments derive their powers (e.g., Great Britain and France, as well as the American states within their spheres of authority).
United Nations An international organization comprising most of the nations of the world, formed in 1945, to promote peace, security, and economic development.
Urbanization The process whereby more people live and work in cities.
Voluntary Exchange Trade between people when each one feels he or she is better off after the trade (e.g., if you sell your old exercise bike for cash, you gain because you would rather have the cash than the bike, but the other person gains because he or she would rather have the bike than the cash).

 

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