History

In the Upper School, students take at least two years of history: Western History to 1648 (freshman year) and two semesters of American History (junior year). In addition, the Department offers a year-long elective in Modern European History for sophomores, as well as a wide array of semester-long junior and senior electives. Upper School coursework builds carefully upon the Middle School foundation and sharpens students’ reading, writing, and research skills. Students learn to analyze primary sources with increasing sophistication at each grade level; reliance upon textbooks is minimal. In every course, students are encouraged to draw their own conclusions and to formulate original arguments. Upper School history courses also emphasize research papers; seminar-style, student-led discussions; and the use of new technologies in support of the curriculum.

Western History to 1648

This ninth grade course explores the history of secularism and religious faith in Europe and the Near East from ancient times through the early modern era. During the first semester, students explore the humanism of ancient Greece and Rome; the rise of monotheism - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - during Classical and medieval times; and the convergence of these secular and religious impulses during the Crusades of the High Middle Ages. Students then investigate the resulting transformation of Western society, exemplified in turning points ranging from the Magna Carta to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Students also study the explosion of secular and religious movements during the Renaissance and Reformation through 1648. Students write a major research paper; they are carefully guided through the various stages of composing this paper, from writing note cards through crafting a formal bibliography and citations. Skills stressed all year long include critical thinking, development and defense of thesis statements, primary source analysis, and discussion.

Modern European History

This elective course, offered to sophomores, examines the major currents of European history from 1648 to the present. Topics that are emphasized include absolutism under Louis XIV and Peter the Great; the Enlightenment; the causes and the significance of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era; the impact of the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, including capitalism, socialism, and Marxism; the rising power of nationalism and imperialism in the 1800s; World War I; the rise of totalitarian dictatorships during the inter-war years; World War II; and the Holocaust. Throughout the year, students continue to hone such skills as primary source analysis and the ability to formulate and defend a thesis. Students also write a major research paper on the causes of the First World War.

Introduction to Philosophy

Starting with the pre-Socratics, this course surveys major trends in ancient, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, and modern philosophy from roughly 300 BCE to 1900 CE. Along the way, students read and analyze the works of Plato, Aristotle, Ibn Sina, Al Gazali, Aquinas, Maimonides, Descartes, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant. This course examines the nature of philosophical inquiry while stressing the ancient Greek foundation for most philosophical questions. An emphasis is placed upon understanding the similarities between Western and non-Western philosophy. In order to understand the arguments of the philosophers, students are expected to do slow, careful readings of philosophical texts, and to respond to these texts in analytical prose.

U.S. History II: The United States Comes of Age — The Civil War through World War II, 1861-1945

This course begins with the national trauma of the Civil War and examines the subsequent emergence of the United States as a global power, through the end of the Second World War. As in the first semester, the nation’s growth - politically, economically, geographically, socially, and culturally - is analyzed. Class discussion and primary source documents continue to be emphasized. Note: All students must write a research paper in either U.S. History I or U.S. History II.

Civil War

This class examines in depth the causes, battles, and results of what Ken Burns calls “the most defining and shaping event in American history—so much so that it is now impossible to imagine what we would have been like without it.” Using mostly primary sources—not only print documents, but also maps, early photos, music, and poetry— students explore the origins of the conflict. When did its inevitability become evident? At what points in the 240 years before the first shots were fired were decisions made that would have great repercussions? Who were the individuals involved, both famous and little known? Was the conflict a “war between the states” or was it a “war of Northern aggression”? Finally, to what extent did a peace negotiated in 1865 simply change the nature of the ongoing conflict? The class requires considerable primary source reading, and students often lead discussions. Participation is required both online and in class.

U.S. History I: The Formation of the United States, 1600- 1860

Chronologically, this course covers the history of the United States from the beginning of European colonization through Lincoln’s election in 1860. The focus is on the country’s political, economic, geographic, social, and cultural growth. The evolving issues of slavery and the other forces that propelled the United States toward civil war are of major concern. Class discussion, analytical essay writing, and primary source materials are integral to the course. Note: All students must write a research paper in either U.S. History I or U.S. History II.

Enlightenment and Global Revolution

As states topple in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it is only fair to question whether the ouster of one government for another merits the term “revolution” or whether the fall of oppressive dictators has merely set the stage for other repressive regimes. What truly counts as a political revolution, and why do so many revolutions seem to end in failure? This course traces the history of modern revolutions, exploring both the historical and philosophical rubric of the American, French, Russian, and Iranian revolutions. Students read works by Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Marx, Trotsky, Arendt, Sayid Ibn Q’ttb, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Emphasis is also placed on the relevance of European Enlightenment thinkers on the formation of modern revolutionary ideals. The course concludes with an examination of the recent Arab Spring and an exploration of the ideological connections linking this social movement to other revolutions that have come before it.

The Great War

A century has passed since the beginning of the Great War, which President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed to be “the war to end all wars” but which, tragically, only opened the door to another, even more devastating world war a quarter of a century later. This course explores how and why the Great War changed the course of history. Historical documents, poetry, short literary works, and films are integral to the study throughout the semester. The course begins by looking at England and Germany, the two most powerful nations in the world as the 20th century began, and traces their collision course in the fateful years leading up to 1914. The focus, however, is the war itself and its consequences. Students examine the horrors of trench warfare along the Western Front. Although the course centers on the war in Europe, attention is also paid to the global reach of the war, including the participation of African troops and the impact of their experience on the subsequent rise of independence movements on the African continent. Other short- and long-term consequences of the war, including the early rise of Adolf Hitler, are also highlighted.

Headscarves and Heretics: Women and Islam in the Postcolonial Maghrib

Northwest Africa (the Maghrib) enjoys a cultural identity distinct from the rest of the continent. Though often considered an Arab region, the Maghrib is actually a complex m.lange of Berber, Arab, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and sub-Saharan African cultures. Amongst the very first regions to convert to Islam, the Maghrib enjoys an overwhelming Muslim majority while representing the westernmost pole of the Islamic world. Today the region is undergoing massive cultural transformation. Not only did the recent Arab Spring originate within the Maghrib, but the shifting economics, increasing urbanization, and booming population of the area have all contributed to rapid and sometimes shocking new social dynamics. This course examines two of the most dynamic modes of change in northwest Africa: the changing roles of women and the shifting forms of Islamic expression. Beginning with an examination of the colonial period, the course examines the emergence of political Islam and the women’s rights movement in modern Maghribi culture. Topics to be discussed include the role of the headscarf for modern women, the conflict between traditional and political Islam, and the emergence of a new and empowered female political class. Classical and contemporary sources are considered, and students have the opportunity to correspond online with feminists and political leaders within the Maghrib.

History of Islam

This course offers an introduction to the youngest of the world’s great religions: Islam. Using primary sources, secondary sources, sacred texts, ethnography, literature, film, and art, this class investigates the historical origins, the historical traditions, and the modern challenges of Islam. An attempt is made to stress the unity of Islam within the diverse ways of being Muslim. The course begins with an overview of modern Islam, focusing on how it is practiced on the edges of the Muslim world: Morocco and Indonesia. This course also looks at Muhammad as both a historical figure and a religious symbol. A discussion of the rapid spread of early Islam and the classical Islamic period follows. Students consider the role of Islam in the modern world and the effects of colonialism on traditional, non-Western modes of faith.

Russia, Past and Present

During much of this course students explore major themes of Russian history, including the impact of geography, Orthodox Christianity, autocracy, war, and an East vs. West “identity crisis” on the Russian people over time. Toward the end of the semester, the class examines 20th-century Russia since the Revolution of 1917, including the Soviet period and Russia in the post-Communist age. Students seek to understand the role of Russian intellectuals and revolutionaries in history and contemporary society and their continuing quest to find a solution to the tremendous challenges facing their country. By the end of the course, students come to appreciate Winston Churchill’s famous observation that Russia is indeed “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.”

A Study of the Constitution and Its Amendments

In this course, students analyze the seven articles and the twenty-seven amendments to the United States Constitution in depth. Students discuss the separation of powers, especially as it applies to the power to wage war. Beginning with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Marbury v. Madison, students work through each of the clauses in the Bill of Rights and later amendments, using Supreme Court decisions and those of lower state and federal courts to interpret their meaning. They also explore the extent to which contemporary issues such as secondary education and health care may or may not be subject to federal action under the Constitution. The course features student-led discussion, formal debates, and essays in which students are asked to decide cases as if they were judges.

The United States Since 1945

This course focuses on the United States since the end of World War II, addressing both domestic and foreign policy. Domestic issues include civil rights movements, Watergate and the American presidency, and the polarization of American politics in recent years. In addition, emphasis is placed on the role of the United States as a global power from the Cold War to the present, including U.S. relations with Europe, Central and South America, the Middle East, and the Far East. Primary source documents form the basis of class readings, and students are expected to be conversant about current events. Students take an active role in contributing to and leading class discussions. Prerequisite: Completion of U.S. History II.

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