School Improvement in Maryland

Social Studies Glossary

Social Studies State Curriculum Glossary

Amendment (Constitutional):

Changes in, or additions to, a constitution. In the United States 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:

First constitution of the United States, 1781. Created a weak national government, replaced in 1789 by the Constitution of the United States.


The right to control or direct the actions of others; legitimized by law, morality, custom or consent.

British Constitution:

Unlike our Constitution, the British Constitution is not one written document. The British Constitution consists of written documents, such as historic charters, court cases, and acts of Parliament and unwritten customs and practices. The written “law of the constitution” includes the Magna Carta, English Petition of Rights and the English Bill of Rights.


An individual or group of people who purchase resources, goods and/or services.

Capital resources:

The goods that are manufactured and constructed by people and used to produce other goods and services, including but not limited to factories, warehouses, roads, bridges, machinery, ports, dams, and tools; also called capital goods. (Money is not a capital resource.)

Checks and balances:

Constitutional mechanisms that authorize each branch of government to share powers with the other branches and thereby check each other’s 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.


A member of a political society who therefore owes allegiance to and is entitled to protection by and from the government.


Status of being a member of a political society; one who owes allegiance to the government and is entitled to its protection and to political rights.


An autonomous state consisting of a city and surrounding territory.

Civil law:

All law that does not involve criminal matters. Civil law usually deals with private rights of individuals, groups and businesses.

Civil rights:

Protections and privileges given to all United States citizens by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.


A culture that has developed systems of specialization, a written language, arts, sciences, religion, and government.

Command economy:

An economic system in which economic decisions made to answer the basic economic questions of “what”, “how”, and “for whom” is made by an authority such as a feudal lord or a government-planning agency.

Common good:

That which benefits society as a whole; health, safety, and welfare. Also known as public good.

Community improvement:

Citizen actions aimed at improving the community.


An individual or group of people who use resources, goods and services to satisfy economic wants.

Consumer goods:

Goods for satisfying people’s needs rather than for producing other goods and services.


The use of resources, goods, and services to satisfy economic wants.


Learned behavior of people, which includes their belief systems and languages, their social relationships, their institutions and organizations, and their material goods - food, clothing, buildings, tools, and machines.

Decision-making process:

A process used to solve a problem in social studies including; identify a problem, explain the pros and cons of alternate choices, make a decision based on the choices available, and identify the opportunity costs of the choice made.


The different quantities of a resource, good, or service that will be purchased at various possible prices at a given point in time; demand is generally presented as a schedule of prices and quantities. It can also be represented graphically as a demand curve.


A form of government in which political control is exercised by all the people, either directly or through their elected representatives.


The spread of people, ideas, technology, and products across space and through time.


The movement, transfer, or disbursement of goods and services from the point of production to the point of consumption.

Due process of law:

The right of every citizen to be protected against arbitrary action by the government.

Economic growth:

Growth that occurs when increasing amounts of goods and services are produced over the long term; generally measured as GDP (gross domestic product) or GDP per capita and compared on a quarterly and annual basis. Economic growth is a goal for which economies strive in order to improve the material standard of living of the society.

Economic institutions:

The formal and informal structures which guide or characterize economic activity in a society, which may include but are not limited to households, families, corporations, government agencies, banks, labor unions, cooperatives, stock exchanges, the use of money, collective bargaining, traditions, controlling values and beliefs, and systems of property ownership

Economic resources:

The natural, human and capital resources that are used to produce goods and services; also called factors of production.

Economic system:

The collection of institutions, laws, activities, controlling values and human motivations that collectively provide a framework for economic decision-making of individuals and groups in a society; the organizing structure a society chooses to answer the basic economic questions of what to produce, for whom to produce (who gets the goods and services) and how (and how much) to organize resources to produce goods and services.

Economic wants:

Human needs and desires that can be satisfied by consuming goods and services, including but not limited to such needs as hunger, thirst, protection from the elements, and good health and such desires as entertainment and a pleasing physical appearance; sometimes described as survival wants and luxury wants.


The study of how people, individually and in groups (families, businesses, governments, organizations) choose to use their relatively scarce productive resources to satisfy their wants.


Everything in and on earth's surface and its atmosphere within which organisms, communities or objects exist.

Equal protection under the law:

The idea that no individual or group may receive special privileges from nor be unjustly discriminated against by the law.


A form of political organization in which governmental power is divided between a central government and territorial subdivisions.


A system for organizing and governing society based on land and service; found in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Foreign policy:

Politics of the federal government directed to matters beyond United States borders, especially relations with other countries.

Free trade:

Exchange of goods and services without barriers of trade.

Geographic characteristics:

Physical and human characteristics of a place or region.

Geographic tools:

Devises used to compile, organize, manipulate, store, report or display geographic information, including maps, globes, graphs, diagrams, aerial and other photographs, satellite-produced images, geographic information systems, and computer databases, as well as other software.


An integrative discipline that brings together the physical and human-made dimensions of the world in the study of people, places, and environments. Its subject matter is earth’s surface and the processes that shape it, the relationships between people and the environment and the connections between people and places.


Physically tangible objects that can be used to satisfy economic wants, including but not limited to food, shoes, cars, houses, books and furniture.

Gross domestic product (GDP):

The total dollar value of all final goods and services produced in the country in a year.

Gross national product (GNP):

The annual income earned by U.S. owned firms and U.S. residents

Human characteristics:

Traits that are used to describe the peoples of places, past and present; their religion, language, settlement pattern, economic activity, political system and their modification of the environment.

Human development index (HDI):

The Human Development Index (HDI), published annually by the UN, ranks nations according to their citizens’ quality of life rather than strictly by a nation’s traditional economic figures. The criteria for calculating rankings include life expectancy, educational attainment, and adjusted real income.

Human resources:

The health, strength, talents, education and skills that humans can use to produce goods and services: also called human capital.

Human-made features:

A sub-category of human characteristics of places and regions that include features on the earth’s surface constructed by people, including but not limited to village, town, city, building, roads, airports, canals, dams, port, bridges, and monuments.


A significant practice, relationship, or organization in a society or culture.


The condition in which events in one part of the community, state, nation or world or one sector of the economy affects events in another part or sector; occurs as a result of the loss of self-sufficiency which accompanies specialization and, hence, the need to exchange resources, goods and services with other producing and consuming units.

Interest groups:

An organized body of individuals who share some goals and try to influence public policy to meet those goals.

International Monetary Fund:

IMF is an international organization of 184 countries established to promote monetary cooperation and exchange stability. The organization also fosters economic growth and high levels of employment and provides temporary financial assistance.


The process of using savings or resources to increase the economy's productive capacity; investment in capital goods occurs when savings are used to finance the production of new capital goods and/or new technology to increase productivity; investment in human capital or human resources occurs when the health, education and training of the population are increased.

Judicial Review:

The power of the courts to determine the constitutionality of the actions of the legislative and executive branches of government. The precedent for Judicial Review was established in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison.

Land use:

The way in which humans use the earth’s surface. Uses are classified as urban, rural, agricultural, forested, etc., with more specific sub-classifications useful for specific purposes.


Synonymous with map key; used to explain the symbols on a map.


The position of a point on the earth's surface expressed by means of a grid (absolute) or in relation (relative) to the position of other places.

Manifest Destiny:

A mid 19th-century belief in the inevitability of United States expansion to the Pacific Ocean.

Map elements:

Essential components of a map such as the title, author, date, compass rose, scale, legend, border, grid, source information, and index.


An arrangement wherein buyers and sellers can exchange resources, goods, and services. A market may be a physical place such as a store or an auction gallery, or it may occur through other arrangements such as a telephone and Internet transactions; a market is said to exist whenever or wherever a buyer and seller enter into an exchange.

Market economy:

A system of decentralized economic decision making in which consumers, producers, workers, savers and investors interact in markets through the forces of demand and supply to set prices in order to answer the basic economic questions of what, how and for whom.


The different means of communicating information to reach large audiences.


The act or process of people moving from one place to another with the intent of staying at the destination permanently or for a relatively long period of time.


A policy of aggressive military preparedness.

Mixed economy:

An economic system, which primarily relies on the forces of supply and demand to set prices (market economy), but also uses a variety of government interventions to cope with macroeconomic stability and market failures.

Monetary system:

The way people in an economy choose to use money to exchange goods and services.


That which is accepted as payment in the exchange of resources, goods and services; also serves as a unit of account, permitting its use in pricing resources, goods and services; serves as a store of value for purchasing in the future, serves as a standard of value to allow comparison of the actual or perceived value of resources, goods and services.


In geography, the interaction across earth space that connects places. This interaction occurs with flows of human phenomena, such as goods, people, and ideas


A cultural concept for a group of people bound together by a strong sense of shared values and cultural characteristics, including language, religion, and common history.

Natural resources:

The renewable and nonrenewable gifts of nature that can be used to produce goods and services, including but not limited to land, water, animals, minerals, trees, climate, soil, fire, seeds, grain and fruits.

Opportunity cost:

The foregone benefit of the next best alternative when an economic decision is made.


The feelings, attitudes, and images people have of different places, peoples, and environments.

Physical characteristics:

Traits that are used to describe the natural environment of the place. Physical or natural characteristics may be related to climate (e.g., polar), vegetation (e.g., rainforest), soil (e.g., prairie), landform (e.g., mountain), and body of water (e.g., bay).

Physical features:

A subcategory of physical characteristics of places and regions derived from the physical environment, including but not limited to landforms (mountain, hill, plain, plateau, valley, beach, desert, island, peninsula and marsh) and continents, and bodies of water (ocean, river, creek, bay, lake, sea).


Parts of the Earth's surface, large or small, that has been given meaning by and for humans. They include: continents, islands, countries, regions, states, cities, neighborhoods, villages, rural areas, and uninhabited areas. Places usually have names and boundaries.


A definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions. Policy may be set by governments, non-governmental organizations or other groups.

Political party:

Any group, however loosely organized, that seeks to elect government officials under a given label.

Popular Sovereignty:

The rule by the people.


What is paid to buy a resource, good or service, and what is received when a resource, good or service is sold.


A basic rule that guides or influences thought or action.


An individual or group of people who combine economic resources to make goods and/or services.


The act of creating goods and services by combining economic resources.


The amount of output that is produced per unit of input; usually expressed in terms of output per unit of time.

Public goods:

Goods or services which are provided by government, generally in cases where the private sector will not provide them because the conditions of non-exclusion and/or shared consumption make it unprofitable for private businesses to do so.

Public policy:

Government responses to public issues.


An area with one or more common characteristics or features, which give it a measure of homogeneity and make it different from surrounding areas.

Relative distance:

The amount of separation between two places. When using a map, relative distance is found by measuring the length of a line between two places.

Rule of law:

The principle in which the law applies to government officials as much as to ordinary citizens.


The condition that exists when individuals, businesses and the economy as a whole do not consume all current income.


The measure of distance on a map as it compares to actual distance on the earth’s surface.


The condition that results from the imbalance between relatively unlimited economic wants and the relatively limited resources, goods and services available to satisfy those wants.


An individual or group of people who exchange resources, goods or services for monetary or non-monetary gain.

Separation of powers:

The division of governmental power among several institutions that must cooperate in decision-making.


Physically intangible actions that can be performed to satisfy economic wants, including but not limited to medical care, dental care, haircuts, education, police protection, fire protection, national defense.

Settlement patterns:

The spatial distribution and arrangement of human habitations, including rural and urban centers.

Socioeconomic goals:

Broad social goals that relate to economics and guide individuals and society in making decisions; social economic goals will vary in priority from one country to another and from one time period to another, depending on the nature of the political, social, and economic goals of the society and the political, social, and economic conditions which exist at the time.


Supreme and absolute authority within territorial boundaries


The production of a narrower range of goods and services than is consumed by an individual or group.

Standard of living:

The quantity and quality of goods and services available in an economy.


The different quantities of a resource, good or service that will be offered for sale at various possible prices during a specific time period; supply is generally presented as schedule of prices and quantities; it can also be represented graphically as a supply curve.

Sustainable Development:

The development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Mandatory payment to the government.

Thematic map:

A map representing a specific theme or topic; for example population density, climate, growing season, grain production, transportation routes, oil production.


To engage in the exchange, purchase or sale of goods.


A situation that occurs when choices or decisions involve giving up (trading off) some of one thing to get more of something else.

Traditional economy:

A system wherein economic decisions that people and groups make to answer the basic economic questions of “what”, “for whom” and “how” generally repeat the decisions made at an earlier time or by an earlier generation.

World Bank:

A specialization of the United Nations. It is one of the world’s largest sources of development assistance with a primary focus on helping the poorest people and the poorest countries.