History and Social Sciences

The study of history and social science serves to prepare students to be thoughtful, active participants in our democracy. The curriculum provides a framework for students to understand present-day cultural, economic, political, and social conditions by teaching them the essential interrelatedness of the individual to society, of our country to other nations and cultures, and of the past to the present. Throughout the curriculum, studying complex historical and social issues helps students refine their knowledge of human nature; studying the past and present also helps them become informed citizens of the future in an increasingly global society. Students’ exploration of the United States and its diverse heritage develops their understanding of themselves as members of American society. Students’ exploration of world cultures teaches them the value of cross-cultural inquiry both as an end in itself and as a means of gaining a deeper perspective on their own society.

Students at all levels are encouraged to develop and sharpen their powers of reasoning. They are asked to examine both primary and secondary source materials and to analyze and interpret historical situations. They become skilled in weighing arguments from every segment of the community, examining opinions, evaluating options, and judging outcomes. They gain a fundamental knowledge of geography and a vital understanding of economic systems. Literature, music, and art are often integral to their cultural investigations.

To encourage disciplined thinking, students learn how to organize their thoughts and perceptions in clear, logical prose in a variety of writing forms: short essays, briefs, scripts, editorials, research papers, and occasional field work.

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Grade 9 students enroll in Global History I: Early World Civilizations. Grade 10 students enroll in Global History II or United States in the Modern World I. All Grade 11 students are required to take a full-year U.S. History course (students who take U.S. in the Modern World I in Grade 10 take U.S. in the Modern World II in Grade 11). In Grade 12, students may choose from a variety of History and Social Sciences electives. Variations to the above sequence require permission of the History and Social Sciences Department.


Global History Sequence (Global History I & Global History II)

At the dawning of the twenty-first century, we live in a global community. The world has grown smaller, trade and finance have created a global economy, communications technologies have built pathways for the global exchange of ideas and information; at the same time, we also face global environmental and overpopulation problems. But the process of globalization is not new. The Global History sequence seeks to answer the question: “how did we get here?” By taking a global approach to human history that focuses on the processes that have brought us to this point, these two courses look at all major regions of the world, from the Neolithic Revolution to the Digital Age. Although Global History I and II are tightly coordinated, each course operates as an independent unit. Grade 10 students can also choose to enroll in the two year course, The United States in the Modern World, which will complete the Global History sequence and satisfy the U.S. History graduation requirement.

Grade 9

Global History I: Early World Civilizations

As part of their full year course of study, all Grade 9 history students take an opening unit drawn from a traditional BB&N offering “Facing History and Ourselves.” Students are challenged to consider the relationship of individuals and society, the psychology of obedience, and the impact of extreme situations on human behavior. This unit deliberately raises great moral questions and aims to promote in each student a sense of social responsibility, and citizenship. Students then focus on the spread of humankind across the globe, the Neolithic Revolution, and the rise of complex societies and regional empires in different areas of the world—from China to Peru. Students also examine how regional empires created the environment in which world religions developed and explore Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course concludes with a look at the importance of overland and overseas trade and the regional networks that connected China, India, Africa and The Middle East, and then Europe and the Americas. Open to Grade 9 students only.

Grade 10

Global History II: Making an Interconnected World

This course commences with an overview of the global community at the dawn of the twenty-first century and is a preliminary introduction to the benefits and challenges of globalization. In 2014-2015, students explored the positive impact of global communications technologies, the environmental impact of the Gulf oil spill, the challenges posed by North Korea to international peace, the role of China in international trade, and the relationship between Islam and the West. How and when did this global community first emerge and how has it spread? Answering this question is the substance of this course, which picks up where Global History I left off: at the beginning of the 1500s, societies that had developed in relative isolation came into sustained contact. This contact was driven by the needs of a rapidly changing Europe and an evolving Atlantic trade with Africa and the Americas. Thus the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, numerous political revolutions, and the Industrial Revolution play a significant role on the transformation of the world. Imperialism, colonization, and decolonization are the centerpieces of this course. The year concludes with the global wars of the first half of the twentieth century, the Cold War, the rise of American global dominance and the challenges to that dominance today. Open to Grade 10 students only.

United States in the Modern World I

United States in the Modern World I is a two-year course of study that examines both the development of modern nations around the globe from the early 1300s to the present, as well as the serendipitous creation and eventual development of the United States as a superpower. Given the fact that it follows multiple national narratives at the same time, this course is meant for those students who have an interest in a more conceptual history course. Enrollment is limited.

The first year of the course begins with the impact of the Mongol invasions and the devastation of the Black Death throughout Eurasia, highlighting the interconnected world that developed as a result. In the wake of those two pan- Eurasian events and well into the eighteenth century, the central focus of economic power lay largely in China, India, and the Ottoman Empire, with Europe, a peripheral region, slowly seeking a way to gain access to those centers. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, Europe had become the dominant player in those global economic systems. As part of their precipitous rise, Europe established colonies in the Americas. In time, the British-American colonies matured and evolved into the United States. Still, it was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the U.S. had generally resolved through a Civil War two critical questions—the federal nature of the government and the form of labor that would service its economy. Throughout the first year, students are challenged to understand the role that contingency plays in human history. The second year of the course picks up the story in the nineteenth century and focuses on the emergence of the United States as a superpower and later, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, as the world’s lone superpower. The course investigates the domestic and international causes, processes and context in which America’s dominance emerged. Students are asked to delve into the American foreign policy tradition by exploring key documents and ideas, as well as the main ideologies that have dominated the world since the eighteenth century. In addition, because the story of America‘s emergence as a superpower has often been colored by “exceptionalist” claims to a unique destiny, students are asked to explore, understand, and question those claims. Students develop their skills by reading various types of sources, taking notes, analyzing documents, writing essays, and researching and writing a major paper. Map work is covered in several distinct units during the year. Open to Grade 10 students only.

Grade 11

United States History

This course explores American history from 1453 to the Obama Administration by exploring chronologically organized, problem-based units. Each unit is designed to help students find meaning and make their own informed interpretation of past events. Through the exploration of primary and secondary sources, students are challenged to look at multiple perspectives and interpretations of the past, and this allows students to build a coherent understanding of the major events in our nation’s history. Each unit centers on a series of key questions or problems that get at the heart of American politics, culture, and society including: what is the role of pro-government and anti- government traditions in American politics? How inclusive is American democracy? What does it mean to be an American? How is the United States' economic and cultural modernity unique? And, what is America’s role in the world? Students refine their skills in reading various types of sources, working collaboratively to decode and analyze documents, and writing analytical essays.

United States in the Modern World II

This is the second part of a two-year course. Students enrolled in United States in the Modern World I are expected to enroll in United States in the Modern World II.
Prerequisite: United States in the Modern World I

Junior History Honors

The Honors designation, open to all students taking History during at least the winter and spring of their junior year, seeks to recognize students who excel in history. To receive the Honors designation, students will earn an honors grade (determined by a panel of history teachers) on two of three extra assignments. One assignment is offered each trimester and focuses on different types of history sources (primary and secondary).

History Electives

The courses below are open to Grade 12 students and to students in Grade 11 wishing to take a second History and Social Sciences course. All electives require permission of the History and Social Sciences Department.

African-American History

African-American History examines the broad range of experiences of African-Americans in the United States of America. The course opens with a discussion of how slavery and the presence of peoples of African descent helped to shape the American imagination of the early republic. The course devotes particular attention to slave narratives, the end of the Civil War, and the reformulation of race relations during Reconstruction. Students closely survey the thought and leadership of those who tried to provide visions for the role of African-Americans in the nation, such as Douglass, Garrison, Truth, Walker, Stowe, Washington, Wells-Barnett, DuBois, Garvey, Locke, Rustin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. A substantial portion of this course is dedicated to exploring the role of race in contemporary American society. African American History is a seminar-style course that relies heavily on class discussion. Students read narratives, explore primary and secondary sources, watch a selection of films and documentaries, and can expect to write papers and create projects as primary forms of assessment.

Advanced Placement European History

What led to the rise of the west? What are its consequences, both positive and negative? These central questions guide the study of European history as students examine the forces (economic, social, political, intellectual, and artistic) that helped to shape the world today. Through scrutiny of primary and secondary sources, films, novels, and field trips, students learn about the major developments, discoveries, events, people, trends, and key turning points of the period from the high Renaissance (approximately 1450) to the present. Writing skills are emphasized.

Advanced Placement Human Geography

What are the environmental consequences of squatter settlements in Sao Paulo? Does gentrification mean conflict between new and old residents in urban ethnic neighborhoods like the North End? What social and economic impacts do large refugee populations have on host countries? What are the consequences if the market desires a greater variety of food and at cheaper prices? Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography seeks to answer questions like these by studying the patterns and processes that have shaped the human understanding, use, and alteration of the earth. The course takes a local to global case study approach to explore key topics including population and migration; cultural patterns and processes; the political organization of space; agriculture, food production, and rural land use; industrialization and economic development; and cities and urban land use. This discussion-based course provides opportunities to use Geographical Information Systems technology and to move out of the classroom with local field studies that enhance learning.

Advanced Placement Macroeconomics

A day has not gone by in recent memory without a major news story regarding the state of the global economy. This rigorous, fast-paced course is designed to give students the foundational skills necessary to have an understanding of the major macroeconomic topics: scarcity, opportunity costs, GDP, supply and demand, inflation, unemployment, fiscal policy, monetary policy and the Fed, exchange rates, and international economics. Analysis of current events supplements the historical theories and data studied in the course. Frequent journal reviews and classroom debates allows students to apply these concepts to recent headlines. The assessments are designed to prepare students to sit for the Advanced Placement Macroeconomics exam in May. Seniors who wish to prepare for the Advanced Placement exam or to continue study in economics may enroll in the economics mini-course as a part of the Senior Spring Project.

Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics

This course focuses on the philosophical and institutional foundations of the American political system. Particularly, students investigate the various roles that the Constitution, public opinion, political parties, campaigns and elections, interest groups, the media, and the various institutions of the federal government—the President, Congress, Judiciary, and the Bureaucracy—play in the development of federal public policy. Throughout the course, students enhance their reading, writing, and oral presentation skills. Regular viewing of the news and videos supplements the text, as do readings from selected classics of political philosophy.

Honors History Research Seminar

In this course, students research and write a 15- to 20-page history research paper with the goal of submitting the finished paper to a student conference or journal. In addition, students organize, host, and present their papers at a virtual history research conference held at the end of the second trimester (open to other schools). The paper assignment represents a step up from the junior research paper in that it asks students to write a longer paper, to do more research, and to incorporate a greater number and variety of primary sources. Students are also expected to use a richer base of secondary sources, most of which should be scholarly publications that can help them to shape their thesis in response to historians’ debates about their topic. This course makes extensive use of seminar discussion and meets at least twice a week. In addition, some of the student-teacher conferences, peer editing, collaborative workshops, and teacher feedback on preliminary work take place online using such technologies as Skype, blogging, discussion boards, and document-sharing. Other activities might include field trips to local research libraries and archives. Students interested in this course are expected to meet with the course instructor during the spring of their junior year to discuss possible research ideas and select an appropriate Summer Reading. Interested students are required to complete a short application. Enrollment is limited to 8 students.

Modern American Culture and Society

This is not your average history course. Part history, part sociology, part literature, and part pop culture, students learn about family, class, race, gender, and social mores in an effort to understand how Americans live and why they live the way they do. Conducted in a seminar (discussion) format, much of the course is taught by the students. Short popular culture reports on topics like art, music, sports, film, food, and fashion of each decade, and more in depth projects on documentary photography, television, and advertising are the principal assessments. In addition to primary and secondary texts, the course relies heavily on movies and documentaries relevant to the themes under discussion.


Throughout history there have been numerous examples of people demonstrating boundless acts of generosity as well as committing hideous atrocities. This range of human behavior has been and continues to be a fascination for people. This course explores this fascination by adopting a scientific approach toward the traditional topics in Psychology: development, the brain and behavior, social influence, learning, sensation and perception, cognition, personality, and abnormal behavior. Throughout the course, students seek to better understand, explain, predict, and control people, their behaviors, and mental processes, as well as their environments. Lecture, research, simulations, and outside readings are utilized in the investigation of behaviors ranging from conditioned reflexes to creative and social behavior.

World Religions: Historical and Contemporary Contexts

Understanding of today’s world requires study of its major religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Students learn about the development of these religions and the way in which they have influenced and been influenced by their historical contexts. Students read portions of the sacred texts of these faiths, including selections from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Qur'an, the Rig Veda, the Baghavad Gita, the I Ching, the Tao Te Ching, and the Analects. Assignments include tests, essays, and a research paper on a topic of the student's choice.

Courses not Offered 2016-17

Global Economics
Latin American History
Modern China
Politics in a Global Age
Russian History
The United States in the Nuclear Age World History Since 1945

Upper School Calendar

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