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. Skill development includes critical thinking, development and defense of thesis statements, primary source analysis, and discussion.

Modern European History

This elective course is offered to sophomores and examines the major currents of European history from 1648 to the present. Topics 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 formulating and defending a thesis. Students also write a major research paper on the causes of the First World War.

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

This course covers the history of the United States from the beginning of European colonization through Lincoln’s election in 1860, focusing 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.

U.S. History I: Women in American History

This section of U.S. History I will focus on the history of women in the United States from the Colonial Era to the present day. The course will begin with a discussion of the roles of early women, including Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth. The course will then examine women’s role in the Civil War and the Progressive movement. From there, students will explore the women’s suffrage movement, women in the labor movement, and the roles played by women in both world wars and both “Red Scares.” The course will conclude with an exploration of the revival of the women’s movement, comparing, for example, the writings of Gloria Steinem and Phyllis Schlafly in debating the Equal Rights Amendment, and finally, an exploration of the current issues facing women today.

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 to 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.

U.S. History II: African American History

This course considers U.S. history from the perspective of African Americans. Beginning with an examination of the west African slave trade and the origins of the Middle Passage during the 16th century, this course considers key concepts and events in the racial history of the U.S. The development and spread of chattel and industrial slavery, the effects of emancipation and Reconstruction, the origin of Jim Crow laws, and the history of the struggle for civil rights up to today’s Black Lives Matter movement will be considered. Emphasis will be placed on examining the effects important events in U.S. history have had upon African Americans. Primary and secondary sources representing this perspective on U.S. history will be used throughout the course.

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, Sayyid 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 movement to other revolutions that have come before it.

The Great War

Over 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. Students in this class take turns leading class discussions and participate regularly in online discussions as well.

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 mix of Berber, Arab, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and sub-Saharan African cultures. 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 the colonial period, the course examines the emergence of political Islam and the women’s rights movement in modern Maghribi culture. Topics will 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 Islam, the youngest of the world’s great religions. 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.

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, 15 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. Students will learn about 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.

Russia, Past and Present

Students explore major themes of Russian history, including the impact of geography, Orthodox Christianity, autocracy, war, and an East-versus-West “identity crisis” on the Russian people. 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 will learn about the role of Russian intellectuals and revolutionaries in history and contemporary society and their continuing quest to find a solution to the challenges facing their country. By the end of the course, students come to appreciate Winston Churchill’s famous observation that Russia is indeed “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

A Study of the Constitution and Its Amendments

In this course, students analyze the seven articles and the 27 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 how contemporary issues such as secondary education and health care may 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 Great 20th-Century Crisis: World War II, 1939-1945

As the deadliest and most widespread conflict in human history, World War II is an endlessly complex and fascinating area of study. The course provides students with a multidimensional experience of some of the facets and narratives of this monumental war through exploration of historical documents, film, and literature. After an introduction to the turbulent legacy of the Great War, students explore the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe and Asia as well as the embattled status of democratic powers in the West. The war itself is then considered through the lenses of military, social, and political history. Topics include Nazi racial theory, the rise of Imperial Japan, American isolationism, and the shifting role of the Soviet Union throughout the war. Students are exposed to a variety of voices and narratives, including those of German civilians, Polish Jews, Belarusian partisans, Japanese Americans, and members of the French Resistance. The course concludes with consideration of the far-reaching effects of the war, including the lessons of the Holocaust, the advent of the Cold War, and the implications of nuclear weapons.

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 the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate and the American presidency, and the polarization of American politics in recent years. Students will also examine 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 requirement.

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