Curriculum

History

The Upper School history curriculum includes an examination of European history, non-western societies, and U.S. history. Three years of history—to be taken in the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades—are required. Ninth grade students are required to take The West and the World. As tenth grade students, all students must complete a year-long requirement devoted to area studies. Eleventh grade students must take History of the United States. Exceptions are only made for students who are attending School Year Abroad and approved semester programs, who may take History of the United States in the 12th Grade or in Summer Studies. Any rising 11th grader may take History of the United States in Summer Studies in the summer preceding 11th grade with approval from the Academic Dean in consultation with the History Department Head. All 12th grade history courses are electives.

Classes

The West & The World

1 credit; year course
Open to: 9
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

Ninth grade students at Sidwell Friends School begin their career as historians with The West and The World a year-long survey that explores the birth of the modern world. The course provides historical perspective on the contemporary world and devotes special attention to Europe as an engine of change. The course is, by design, a survey of the major developments in European History from the Renaissance to the Cold War. The West and the World constructs a narrative for students, but it also exposes them to the forces that have shaped the world in which we live: tradition, individualism, nationalism, revolution, war, capitalism, modernization, democracy, globalization, and the meaning of progress. Much like United States history in the 11th grade, this course is a survey that does not merely stress content. Rather, this course offers opportunities for students to contemplate the beauty of, and challenges offered by, Europe as it assumed its place in the world during the first global age. The course makes significant use of primary sources and students are expected to write a research paper in the spring semester that analyzes a substantive primary source of their choice.

History of Africa

1 credit; year course
Open to: 10
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

"Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth." Moments after the Union of South Africa, journalist Sol Plaatje articulated a reality that frames the essential questions of the first semester: how did a political minority create the conditions for domination in South Africa? And, in the face of hegemony, how did South Africa's native sons challenge white rule? We will explore the roots of racism in South Africa, apartheid rule, and the spectacular movement that brought white rule to an end. The semester will conclude with an in-depth look at South Africa today (from Mandela to Zuma). In the second semester, we will build on the theme of democracy in Africa. Part colonial studies, part development economics, and part opportunity to marvel at the human spirit, the second semester readings seek to explicate the relationship between race, development, and democracy in the "black Atlantic." First, we will look at a pre-colonial society (the Mande) and the traditions that continue to sustain it in post-Independence Mali. Next, we will explore the meanings of freedom that took shape as black peoples on either side of the Atlantic sought to shape their own destinies after colonial rule. We will then look at the historical experiments of Haiti, Rwanda, the Congo, and African Socialism in Tanzania. Course materials include a reader (rather than a textbook), short stories, and films. Students will write a research paper in the second semester on a topic of their choice.

History of East Asia

1 credit; year course
Open to: 10
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

This course explores, in the first semester, the philosophical, religious, social, political and economic foundations of East Asian civilization from a historical perspective and through literature and art. The geographical focus is primarily on China and Japan, but we also look at Korea, Vietnam and inner-Asia. The first semester covers the broad period from the Bronze Age to the eighteenth century, just prior to the full impact of Western imperialism. In the second semester, the course explores the development of modern East Asia through the impact of Western imperialism in the nineteenth century, the rise of nationalism and revolution in the twentieth century, and the emergence of East Asian economic power and globalization in the present. The course is designed to help students encounter a historical tradition outside the Western experience, to expose students to primary sources in translation, to introduce different approaches to the study of history, and to help students better understand our world today and the historical forces that have shaped it. In addition to primary source documents, the course uses literature, films, and material from the instructors own research on modern China. Students will write a research paper in the second semester on a topic of their choice.

History of Latin America

1 credit; year course
Open to: 10
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

Latin American history involves the complex duality of indigenous cultures and Iberian colonialism. This course begins with understanding the indigenous roots in Latin America, as well as the culture of Spain at the time of New World exploration. Key issues shaping the region's subsequent politics include authoritarianism and democracy, development and dependency; and poverty and inequality. Topical issues include indigenous rights, religious and political violence, and U.S. policy in Latin America. In addition to studying the political and economic history of the region, students will have an opportunity to study art and literature representative of various historical periods.

History of the Middle East

1 credit; year course
Open to: 10
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

This course focuses on the history of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the first weeks of the course, we begin by reviewing the civilizations and empires that existed in the region in the ancient and pre-modern period, such as the Canaanites and ancient Israel, the early Caliphates and the Ottoman Empire. We will also discuss the religions of the region and the foundation of Islam. We then slow down and investigate the modern period in more depth, focusing on specific case studies and conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, the watershed events of 1979, and recent conflicts (up to the Gaza War of 2008-2009). Students will write a research paper in the second semester on a topic of their choice.

History of the United States

1 credit; year course
Open to: 11, l2 (by permission of the Academic Dean)
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

This full-year course offers a survey of American history from colonial times to the present. The class places emphasis on political, social, economic, diplomatic, and military events that have shaped the nation's development. Particular attention is paid to the study of the United States Constitution and to the role of history in shaping American society as it is today. Independent research, on a topic of the student's choice, is a key component of the course, and considerable class time is devoted to the analysis of primary materials. Course requirements also include take-home essays, unit tests, and semester exams.
 

American Studies

1 credit; year course
Open to: 11, l2 (by permission of the Academic Dean)
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

American Studies is a survey course which explores the cultural, social, political and intellectual history of the United States from the colonial period through the 1970s. Emphasis is placed on the reading of primary materials, and special attention is given to recurrent themes in American culture, as well as to the interpretationof national myths and symbols. Art, architecture and popular culture are also considered as aspects of the American experience. Independent research, on a topic of the student's choice, is a key component of the fall semester; in the spring, the research focus shifts to the study of American material culture.

Art History Survey I

Part I: Caves to Cathedrals
1/2 credit; first semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

In the first semester of Art History, we will begin with several scholarly inquiries into the nature of artwork: What is art? How can we study it? How and what does artwork communicate? Approaching the subject as a reflection of its time and as a projection of the human experience, we will move from the ancient cave paintings of the Paleolithic era to the soaring churches of Gothic Europe during the course of the semester. We will also explore painting, sculpture, graphic arts and architecture from the great civilizations of Egypt, Greece and Rome, marking the stylistic developments of each culture. Along the way, we will have several non-Western units, examining artwork not only for its aesthetic qualities, but also for the particular worldview that it conveys. As part of the experience, we will also visit local collections and galleries during the semester to experience the artwork firsthand. Students can expect to write several thematic essays in addition to regular in-class assessments, short presentations, and a final exam.

Art History Survey II

Part II: Renaissance to Contemporary Art
1/2 credit; second semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

It is not necessary for students to have taken the first semester to enroll in the second. In Art History II, we will explore artwork from the Renaissance to the modern movements of the twentieth century. This several-hundred year period is one of great political and social change in the West, reflected in artwork that becomes more secular and individualistic over time. Students will become familiar with artistic styles and trace how these develop and change in different periods; just as important, they will also gain an understanding of the social and historical contexts of the works we study. To deepen this experience, students will engage in primary source analysis, finding the voices of artists revealed in letters, diaries and even manifestoes. We will also study non-Western art as global influences are further established in the contemporary era. During the semester we will take trips to local collections and exhibitions. Students can expect to write several thematic essays in addition to regular in-class assessments, short presentations, and a final exam.

Black Atlantic and the Quest for Freedom

1/2 credit; semester course
Open to: 12 Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

When sugar was king, a world took shape that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean and brought together West Africa, the United States, and the Caribbean. This course will examine in great depth the historical forces that created an unbound nation--The Black Atlantic. We will trace the movement of African peoples, traditions, and ways of being across the Atlantic Ocean. We will examine critically the economic, intellectual, artistic, spiritual, and political forces that have shaped the western hemisphere and our place as citizens in it. We will also explore two divergent paths in the pursuit of freedom: the first in Haiti and the second in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Taken together, these case studies allow us to pose questions about race, racism, identity, historiography, and the heroic quest for black freedom in the 20th Century. This course has no pre-requisites of any kind, is open to every senior, and represents a major departure from the material covered in History of Africa. Students can expect to read scholarly articles, short stories, and primary sources as well as view excerpts from relevant films. Assessments include essays and a final project.

Comparative Religion

1/2 credit; semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week.
Prerequisites: None

Students in this course will explore the beliefs and practices of the world’s major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. To ground the study, the course begins with an introduction to religious theory and method, sampling works from such thinkers as Emile Durkheim, William James, and Mircea Eliade. Students will then spend the majority of the course examining the major traditions’ formative texts and contemporary movements, tracing the evolution of each tradition into the modern era. During our study of Hinduism, for example, students will read selections from The Bhagavad-Gita and Upanisads, later relating these key works to the life of Gandhi and his satyagraha movement. Over the course of the semester, students can expect to write several comparative thematic essays in addition to focused in-class assessments and a final exam. This seminar is best suited to those students who are prepared for a high level of analysis and eager to discuss the role of religion not only in history, but in the overall human experience.

Global and Comparative Environmental History

1/2 credit; semester course
Open to: 12 Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

Mosquitoes, disease, water, trees, vermin, predators, climate, terrain. At its core, Environmental History investigates the interactions among humans, the nonhuman world, and human institutions. The purpose of this course is to introduce students to major concepts, tools, and works in the field. During the semester, we will explore historical relationships between environment and society from a global perspective, beginning prior to the agricultural revolution and ending in the modern era. Throughout the class, the nonhuman world will intersect with some of the major themes in world history, including the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago and the rise of centralized societies; Mesopotamia, China, America and the political power of harnessing water; imperialism and colonialism in the Americas and the South Pacific; the impact of the nonhuman world on war and warfare; and European, American, and Asian industrialization. This is a seminar course, and students will be evaluated based on some combination of classroom participation, presentations, and essays.

Modern China: History From the Grassroots

1/2 credit; semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week.
Prerequisites: None

Students in this course encounter the history of Modern China over the last 150 years from the grassroots village perspective, and through a variety of disciplinary lenses: anthropology, cultural geography, folklore, spatial analysis. Based on the instructor’s research in a village in Sichuan province over the last two decades, the course challenges the History of the nation-state with local histories, and poses big questions—of imperialism, nationalism, revolution, and economic globalization—in a small place. Course content covers late imperial China to the impact of Western imperialism and the rise of revolutionary nationalism, with particular focus on the Chinese communist revolution at the local level and the dramatic economic and environmental transformations of China over the last thirty years. This is a seminar course, and students will be evaluated based on some combination of classroom participation, presentations, and essays.

Political & Philosophical Thought I

1/2 credit; first semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

For millennia, intellectuals and philosophers have posed a number of fundamental questions: what is the purpose of human existence? How can one live the ideal life? What is the role of human reason? What is the ideal relationship between the individual and society? What is the ideal political structure? What is the nature of the relationship between the citizen and the state? How should humanity ultimately govern itself?

This course will address these questions by examining a number of key texts that illustrate the various ways that men and women have attempted to explain the universe and their own place within it. In our discussions, we will touch not only on political theory and philosophy, but also on theology, economic and scientific theory, ethics, and historiography. Our readings will center on Western Europe (although not be fully limited to it) and will proceed chronologically, beginning in the ancient world and concluding at the Enlightenment.

The course is conducted as a seminar and class time will focus almost entirely on discussion of the assigned texts. Written assignments include two short essays, weekly reading assignments, and a final exam. The reading will include works by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas More, Rene Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith.

Political & Philosophical Thought II

1/2 credit; second semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

This course is a continuation of Political and Philosophical Thought I - although students may take the second course without having taken the first - and will explore the same themes and ideas, with a focus on texts from the Enlightenment to the mid-20th century. Assignments and class work will also be the same.

The reading will include works by Voltaire, Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, and Mohandas Gandhi.

Perspectives on American Government

1/2 credit; semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisite: History of the United States or American Studies

This course studies the structure and workings of the government of the United States. After beginning with a review of the Constitution, students will examine in detail: the three branches of the national government and their powers and interaction; federalism and states' rights; the role of elections, political parties, interest groups, and the media in influencing public policy; and various civil rights, civil liberties, due process, and privacy limitations on governmental action. An important objective of the course will be to discuss each of these institutions and issues in light of: (i) specific historical ideas and events; and (ii) specific contemporary political issues and disputes. The course will include two case studies on Watergate and the "national security state."

This course is best suited to students who are committed to extensive reading from a wide variety of sources. In addition to the Constitution, generous use will be made of historical documents, speeches, public reports, and judicial decisions, as well as more recent articles by scholars and journalists. Class format will consist of lectures and seminar-type discussions. Among other requirements, students will prepare and present a paper on a public policy dispute of their choosing.

Economics & Political Economy

1/2 credit; first semester course
Open to: 12
Meets 4 times a week
Prerequisites: None

Economics & Political Economy surveys the progression of economic thought and activity from premarket society to the present. Major developments covered include the emergence of markets, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the rise of the public sector, socialism, modern capitalism, and globalization. Historical material and current events provide a context for exploring practical and ethical dimensions of societal approaches to economic development, poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability. In addition to reading from an Economics textbook, students will be expected to read the newspaper and hand-outs. Assessments include group-work, tests, and a final exam.