James Rosengarten, Department Chair

An appreciation of historical context is central to understanding the world around us. Our study of history is an exploration of human experience: the ways diverse peoples have differed in their ideas, institutions and cultural practices, the ways experiences vary by period and nationality and social circumstances, and the ways people(s) have struggled with each other. We ask our students to make connections between the past the world they now inhabit and to ponder the question - How did we get this way?

All Upper School students take World History in grade 9 and American History in grade 11. Most students also take Global History: World War I to Present in grade 10, and virtually all take a history elective in grade 12. See below for a listing of our broad range of electives. Our history courses emphasize the analysis of primary sources in the development of critical thinking and original argument. Grade 11 students complete a capstone, primary source-based piece of original research as part of the American History course.

Interested students may also join clubs such as Model United Nations, the Debate Team, and Mock Trial, where knowledge and a deep understanding of the origins of current events is essential.

World History: Religions & Revolutions

This course introduces students to the Upper School history curriculum. First, we address Chinese philosophies, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We then examine periods in history covering themes, ideas, and movements beginning with the Reformation in the 16th century and ending in the late 19th century. Themes include: the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, the Atlantic revolutions, industrialization, class and gender, along with a set of 19th century ideologies and movement, such as nationalism, liberalism, and imperialism. The course emphasizes analytical reading and writing and the analysis of primary sources. In addition to traditional quizzes, tests and writing exercises, students will complete two research projects. They will also participate in a conflict/resolution role-play exercise and a character project where they use their research skills to play a historical character. This course is required for all grade 9 students.

Global History: WWI to Present

To understand the present and contemplate the future, it is essential that we attempt to discover what caused the world to be the way it is today. This course covers events and ideas from the last 100 years that have shaped the world we live in now. Students will examine the 20th and 21st centuries closely as they begin doing more of their own analysis of primary sources and practice looking at events through particular historical lenses. Students will study social and political movements of the century, such as nationalism, communism, feminism, and environmentalism. They will learn some of the basics of micro and macroeconomics, along with studying major 20th century events, such as World Wars, ensuing treaties, and the changing face of the world during and after the Cold War. In addition to written sources, examples of 20th century art, architecture, and film are viewed as historical artifacts. Scheduled current events days help students make connections between the past and the present. Six historical role plays flesh out the dynamics of international issues. Students will improve their argumentative and persuasive writing, as well as their online research skills, with historical databases offered through the Blackburn Library. The themes of conflict resolution, civil disobedience, and reconciliation permeate the entire course. This course is not required but it is recommended as it is the only grade 10 history offering.

American History

The objectives of this course include: exposing students to a wide range of primary sources relating to American history, giving them an opportunity to work directly with the sources, sharpening their communication skills – both oral and written – and improving their ability to see the present in terms of the past. The course encompasses the period from the early colonization by England in the 17th century to the beginning of the 21st century. Particular emphasis is placed on the Constitution in the latter part of the fall. The middle of the course surveys the 19th century from the election of Jefferson in 1800 to the War with Spain. The final study covers a series of units on 20th century topics, among them, the World Wars, the Depression, the Civil Rights Era, and the Cold War. During the second half of the year, each student works on a primary source-based research project beginning in January with topic selection and continuing to the beginning of May when final drafts of the papers are due. This course is required for all grade 11 students.

History Elective Courses

Open to students in grades 11 and 12. With the exception of Modern European History Seminar Advanced, all history electives are one semester long.

Modern European History Seminar Advanced

This yearlong course surveys European history from the era of absolutism and the Enlightenment through the end of the Cold War. Traditional landmarks of the period (the French and Industrial Revolutions, Imperialism and the New Imperialism, and the Great War among them) form the core of our progress through the last three centuries. We also examine smaller and human-sized phenomena, such as the development of the modern family and the changing nature of work. Readings for this class include a text, primary sources, and several brief works on the history of culture and technology. Active participation in class discussions is expected, and students write several short research papers. Open only to grade 12 students.

Capitalism and Consumption: "Getting and Spending"

This semester-long class looks at consumption in history: how we buy and sell, what is made for buying and selling, and what goods mean to a society. The focus is on the period since industrialization, with some emphasis on contemporary America. Readings, discussions, and written assignments will cover topics like advertising, manufacturing, and the depictions of goods in literature and film. In addition, students engage in more focused individual study and research on a topic of their choice and examine their roles as shoppers and consumers.

History of World Architecture Advanced (to 1900)

Like written primary sources, architecture conveys history. In this semester-long class, students will learn to “read” and analyze buildings, and they will read secondary sources about architecture, as well as written primary sources. This course will cover the basics of both Western and non-Western world architecture. Students will learn to look critically at buildings and use the physical structures as evidence to support historical arguments. We will also study developments in architectural theory, as well as city planning, urbanism, and landscape design. A day-long field trip into Philadelphia will reinforce major concepts.Assessment will be based on in-class essays, quizzes, papers, and a final exam. Students will learn to recognize and identify a number of the world’s most important buildings and architectural styles. This course will cover different material than American Architectural History through Philadelphia Buildings, which is offered in the second semester.  

Creating Africa Advanced: European Racism, the Diaspora, Colonialism and Identity

This semester-long course is an exploration of how people came to see and think about Africa as a distinct part of the world. The story is partially the product of three sources: the European slave trade, the creation of a diaspora community in the Americas, and resistance to colonialism in Africa.  The course will explore culture, identity and narratives from the 17th century through the 20th century. A main theme will be the trans-Atlantic dimension of African identity and how people from a variety of backgrounds took stands on issues of social justice and equality both in the Americas and against racist colonial policies in Africa.

(This course has not yet been approved as a core course by the NCAA Eligibility Center. If you intend to participate in Division I or II college athletics, please review your overall course selection with your college counselor before registering for this course.)

Intro to Philosophy: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful

This semester-long course is a theme-based introduction to philosophy. The study of philosophy allows students to explore their own views as they encounter many of the ideas from the traditional western canon. We tackle classic questions, such as how we explain existence (ontology) and how we know anything in the first place (epistemology). We also address proof of the existence of God and of the immortality of the soul. We examine selfishness as we do a broad theoretical and practical examination of ethics. Political philosophy is examined, as well as the philosophy of art. Themes are examined historically to see how philosophers have built on each other’s ideas throughout the ages. Our main text, Donald Palmer’s Does the Center Hold? is supplemented by various writings by philosophers from ancient to modern times.  

International Relations

This semester-long course surveys a number of areas and topics, such as the Middle East, the Korean Peninsula, Iraq, India-Pakistan, and Europe in Transition. The United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations are also studied. The class is divided into groups of two or three students who are jointly responsible for keeping up with developments in a particular area of the world throughout the school year. These regional “desks” provide the basis for classroom activities, including role-plays and simulations, in addition to discussions and presentations. Up-to-the-minute examination of world events provides the ongoing framework; to facilitate this, daily copies of The New York Times act as our “textbook” for this class.

American Architectural History Through Philadelphia Buildings

This semester-long course will survey American Architecture with a focus on Philadelphia from colonial times to the present. No city has better specimens of American architecture than Philadelphia, so we will take two or three field trips into Philadelphia. Students will analyze buildings, and they will read secondary sources about architecture, as well as primary written documents. Students will learn to look critically at buildings and use the physical structures as evidence to support historical arguments. Assessment will be based on quizzes, projects, and a class-presentation. We will also study developments in architectural theory, as well as city planning, urbanism, and landscape design. This course will cover different material than History of World Architecture, which is offered in the first semester, so students could take either or both.

Modern Chinese History

This semester-long course covers modern Chinese history, starting with the rise of the Qing Dynasty in the mid-17th century to the end of the 20th/beginning of the 21st century as the Chinese Communist Party shapes and reshapes itself, opening doors to international trade and interaction. It will be a survey course of important internal events in China, as well as foreign interactions, both of which shape China as an independent country and as a player on the world stage.After building the scaffolding of knowledge about events in China, students will use the skills they have already acquired to interpret various primary sources, as well.We will find ways to utilize art, performance, and religion to enhance our understanding. David Kenley’s Modern Chinese History, as well as other secondary sources, will be used. We will also read primary sources, many coming from David G. and Yurong Y. Atwill’s book Sources in Chinese History: Diverse Perspectives from 1644 to the Present.

Resistance and Reconciliation: The Evolution of Race & Ethnicity in the U.S.

This semester-long course examines historical issues of race and ethnicity in the United States. This class will explore the many ways in which concepts, discourse, and legislation surrounding race and ethnicity have evolved. The course seeks to deconstruct systems of power that contribute to the problem of racism and identify how the interrogation of race and ethnicity relates to social justice. Students will explore a number of critical topics throughout the class, including how race and ethnicity connect to issues of occupation, incarceration, education, poverty, violence, and labor throughout history. Legislation, judicial case studies about, and media portrayals of racialized populations will be evaluated to develop a strong understanding of the role of institutions in defining how various racial and ethnic communities are seen in the world. Throughout the course, students will engage in debates, simulations, reflective journaling, and community interviews.

Modern Africa Advanced

This semester-long course will explore the development of independent African states in the aftermath of WWII and some aspects of the complex colonial legacy. This course will address issues of national identity, as well as cultural, social, economic, and political themes. It will also look at Africa’s changing role in the world through the Cold War and its growing significance in 21st century world. Semester one, Creating Africa, is not a prerequisite for this course.

(This course has not yet been approved as a core course by the NCAA Eligibility Center. If you intend to participate in Division I or II college athletics, please review your overall course selection with your college counselor before registering for this course.

Women's History in the United States

This class will roughly follow the grade 11 American History course but focusing on American women, moving from Colonial America to the present day. Along the way, we will look at women’s health, clothing, writing, sexuality, marriage, and activism. We will focus on primary sources that reflect women’s experiences, as well as the movies and documentaries that will give us a clearer sense of what society demanded of women. Our readings will be split between the historical and the present day; we will read a women’s studies text to help us discover what is happening in 2017 America.