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 American and Global History: Case Studies I. All Grade 11 students are required to take a full-year U.S. History course (Students who take American and Global History: Case Studies I in Grade 10 take American and Global History: Case Studies 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, American and Global History: Case Studies I and II, 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. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

American and Global History: Case Studies I

American and Global History: Case Studies is a two-year course of study that examines global processes as well as the serendipitous creation and eventual development of the United States as a superpower from 1453 to the present. This course utilizes a series of thematic, self-contained, problem-based case studies and encourages students to develop the critical-thinking skills of the historian by exploring primary and secondary sources organized around essential questions. This course is appropriate for all learners; it relies not only on written assessments but also on project-based assessments using a variety of media.

In the first year of the course, students explore the period between 1453 and 1914 by examining the following case studies: Trade Networks and Colonization between 1250 and 1700; The American Revolution as Revolutionary Struggle; A Revolution of Thought: Ideas of the Nineteenth Century; Slavery and Industrialization: American Slavery and the Textile Industry; State Formation and Civil War; and Migration Patterns, 1300 – 1914.

Open to Grade 10 students only. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

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 History: African-American History

United States History: African-American History examines the broad range of experiences of African Americans from 1453 to the Obama Administration. 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. Through the use of primary and secondary sources, students examine major events in the African American community. The course devotes particular attention to slave narratives, the end of the Civil War, and the reformulation of race relations during both Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movements. The course closely compares the thoughts and leadership styles of those who tried to provide visions for the role of African Americans in the nation, such as Douglass, Walker, Washington, Wells-Barnett, DuBois, Truth, Stowe, Garvey, Locke, Hamer, King, Rustin, 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 refine their skills in reading various types of sources, work collaboratively to decode and analyze documents, and write numerous analytical essays.

Students who enroll in the United States History: African-American History course simultaneously enroll in the African-American Literature: Race and Identity (AP English 11) course offered through the English Department. Participation in this African-American Studies Program is noted on a student’s transcript.

American and Global History: Case Studies II

This is the second part of a two-year course. In this course, students explore the period between 1914 and 2016 by examining the following, potential case studies: Colonial World Wars (I and II); U.S. Government Redefined (the New Deal and After); The Cold War; Decolonization; Civil Rights (Plessy to the Voting Rights Act of 1965); and Globalization in Culture and Economy.

Students enrolled in American and Global History: Case Studies I are expected to enroll in American and Global History: Case Studies II. Any exceptions to this rule must be granted by the department. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

Prerequisite: American and Global History: Case Studies 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 must satisfactorily complete (as determined by a panel of history teachers) 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. Some electives require permission of the History and Social Sciences Department.

Advanced Placement Art History (Grade 12 only)

This course tells the story of painting, sculpture, architecture, and the decorative arts by focusing on 250 specific works of art spanning human history from antiquity to the present. It meets three times each week, with a Friday afternoon double-block in the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA); we will also visit the Harvard Art Museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and several other sites. During MFA visits, three students each week lead class by giving presentations about individual masterpieces in the museum’s collection that supplement the material studied earlier in the week. The course may include a trip to Florence during the first week of Spring Break. Enrollment is limited.

Students who wish to take the Advanced Placement exam may remain enrolled in the course during Senior Spring Project or prepare the final unit, on contemporary art, independently. A student who chooses not to continue in this course during Senior Spring Project and does not complete the final unit receives credit on his or her transcript for completion of Advanced Art History.

This course fulfills one year of the two-year History and Social Science graduation requirement but does not fulfill the required second year of the Arts Department graduation requirement. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

Advanced Placement Comparative Government and Politics/Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics

Advanced Placement (AP) Comparative Government and Politics provides an introduction to the wide, diverse world of governments and political practices that currently exist. This course requires students to go beyond individual political systems to consider international forces that affect all people in the world, often in very different ways. Six countries form the core of the course: Great Britain, Russia, China, Mexico, Iran, and Nigeria. The political history of these countries and their current political regimes are examined to illustrate how important concepts operate in different types of political systems.

Regardless of one’s individual political perspective, it is important to understand concepts and facts that form the basis of government and politics in the United States. In Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics, students analyze concepts that will allow them to stay current and engaged with government and politics throughout their lifetime, no matter how much the particular landscapes may change over the years. The major sections of the course are: Constitutional Underpinnings; Political Beliefs and Behaviors; Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media; Institutions of National Government; Public Policy; and Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Through bi-weekly seminars, students in this course also study U.S. foreign policy.

Students simultaneously enroll in AP Comparative Government and Politics and in AP U.S. Government and Politics within the same year. A senior who chooses not to continue in this course during Senior Spring Project receives credit on his or her transcript for completion of AP Comparative Government and Politics/Advanced U.S. Government and Politics. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

Prerequisite: U.S. History. Juniors who have not yet completed a U.S. History course need departmental permission to enroll in this course.

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 Geographic Information System technology and to move out of the classroom with local field studies that enhance learning. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

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. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

Environmental Studies (Advanced)

Learning Locally, Thinking Globally

In the early nineteenth century, German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt wrote, “In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.” Following Humboldt’s lead, this course combines science and history to consider the ways humans interact with the natural world. Units drawing simultaneously from both disciplines emphasize systems thinking to examine how societies encounter the challenges of resource use, conservation and preservation, and population growth, from the twentieth century through present day. Through lenses ranging from local to global, this course examines how shifting perceptions of nature, facts, and values over time influence our choices. Field work and case studies enable students to utilize both scientific and historical thinking skills, gain practical tools for understanding the complexity of our world, and emerge with a contemporary understanding of ecology.

This is an interdisciplinary course offered through the Science Department and the History and Social Sciences Department. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

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. Depending on a student’s research interests, this course may fulfill the Modern Global History requirement.

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. Students give popular culture reports on topics such as art, music, sports, film, food, technology, and fashion. These are complemented by in-depth examination of key points in our modern history: the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, the Sixties, the Vietnam War, and the AIDS crisis. 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 and Philosophies: Historical and Contemporary Contexts

Understanding of today’s world requires study of its major religions and philosophies. In this course students learn about the development of traditions of thought and the way in which they have influenced and been influenced by their historical contexts. Students may study Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism and 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. Students discover how the two disciplines intersect by examining the major branches of Philosophy: Aesthetics, Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Logic. Selections from various primary sources provide a brief overview of the traditional cannon and an in-depth study of diverse contemporary theorists. The range of readings includes philosophers of different genders and from various cultures from around the world. Students explore current philosophical controversies concerning such matters as global justice, morality, personal identity and individual rights, perception and reality, freedom and responsibility, and terrorism and civil liberties. This course is discussion-based, and assignments include tests, essays, and a research paper. This course fulfills the Modern Global History requirement.

Global Online Academy Courses

The following history and social sciences courses are offered to students in Grades 11 and 12 through Global Online Academy:

  • 9/11 in a Global Context (Fall and Spring)
  • Advocacy (Spring)
  • Applying Philosophy to Modern Global Issues (Fall)
  • Climate Change and Global Inequality (Spring, History/Science Interdisciplinary Course)
  • Entrepreneurship in a Global Context (Spring)
  • Gender Studies (Spring)
  • Genocide & Human Rights (Fall)
  • Introduction to Investments (Fall)
  • Prisons and the Criminal Law (Spring)

For more information on these courses, please refer to the Global Online Academy section of this Program Planning Guide.

Courses not Offered 2018-19

  • African-American History
  • Global Economics
  • Latin American History
  • Modern China
  • Philosophy
  • Politics in a Global Age
  • Russian History
  • U.S. in the Modern World I and II
  • The United States in the Nuclear Age
  • World History Since 1945

Upper School Calendar