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.

Click here to read the department's Mission Statement and Values.

Grade 9 students enroll in Global History I: The Individual in Society. Grade 10 students enroll in Global History II: Making an Interconnected World 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). Grade 11 students may take a second History and Social Sciences course with permission of the Department Head. In Grade 12, students may choose from a variety of History and Social Sciences electives. Variations to the above sequence require approval of the History and Social Sciences Department.

Courses

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. 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 completes the Global History sequence and satisfies the U.S. History graduation requirement.

Grade 9

Global History I: The Individual in Society

In Global History I, students face important moral questions about leadership and the role of the individual in society. The course helps students gain a sense of social responsibility and encourages them to become active global citizens. As part of their full year course of study, all Grade 9 history students take an opening unit drawn from the Facing History and Ourselves program. In exploring the Holocaust, students are challenged to consider human behavior, the place of the individual in society, the power of authority, the desire to be part of a group, the treatment of the other, and the psychology of obedience. In the next units, students continue to grapple with the relationship between individuals and society as they examine the rise of complex societies and regional empires globally in the ancient world, explore the environments in which world religions developed through an exploration of the roots of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and discover how the world became interconnected through overland and overseas trade and the regional networks. Writing and research skills are emphasized throughout the year. Open to Grade 9 students only.

Grade 10

Global History II: Making an Interconnected World

This yearlong course addresses how the highly interconnected, globalized world of today came to be, with a particular focus on the theme of exchange. Students study exchange in terms of goods and services, ideas, culture, technology, diseases, and conflict. Students explore how the global community first emerged around 1450 and how it developed to the present. The course begins with a unit on globalization in the twenty-first century, and then considers empire-building, early trade, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, the Atlantic revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, colonization and decolonization, World Wars I and II, and the Cold War, among other topics. Skills developed include critical reading of the textbook, primary sources, and other material, note-taking, research skills, and essay writing. In addition to enhanced skills and content knowledge, the course aims to foster global competency in students as they enrich their understanding of the diverse experiences and perspectives of the people globally.

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 recent globalization before going back in time to examine the following case studies from the middle of the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century: Trade, Conquest, and the Making of the Atlantic World; Ideology and Protest in the Age of Revolution; Constitutionalism and Distributions of Power; the American Civil War as a Catalyst for Social Change and State Formation; and Experiencing Industrial Society.

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

This course explores African American History from the age of European Exploration through to the end of the twentieth century. It seeks to provide a well-rounded, nuanced, and informed understanding of African-American history and culture with particular attention to the intersections of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and generational differences throughout American and African-American history. The course provides students with an opportunity to critically examine the role of African Americans in shaping our nation’s past, our contemporary nation, and the world in which we live. It explores issue such as the role of Africa in the making of African Americans; race in the early American Republic; the development of African-American institutions; the antislavery movement; the role of African Americans in defining the purpose and course of the Civil War; the elusive quest for freedom; black women’s activism; black internationalism; civil rights and human rights; and post-civil rights era social and cultural movements. Students engage with a variety of primary and secondary sources including articles, books, visual texts, music, and multimedia installations. Each unit is organized around a series of essential questions that provide a starting point for examination of the social, cultural, political, and economic organization of African Americans. Through the exploration of a variety of primary and secondary sources, students grapple with multiple perspectives and interpretations of the past and work to build a more coherent and nuanced understanding of major events and developments in American history.

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.

United States History: Gender and Sexuality Studies

How have societal and cultural expectations and rules concerning gender and sexuality shaped America and American institutions? How have individuals been empowered and silenced in American history by gender and sexual norms? This course is an adaptation of the U.S. History course which explores American History from 1453 to the Obama Administration by exploring chronologically organized case studies. Students investigate the forces that have shaped our nation through the lens of gender and sexuality with a particular focus on traditionally marginalized and less studied groups.

The course progresses chronologically starting in the early colonial period and uses the case study approach to examine specific topics relating to gender and sexuality. Topics may include the Salem Witch Trials, the trial of Anne Hutchinson, women in the American Revolution, founding fathers and the establishment of the Early Republic, anti-sodomy and anti-cross-dressing laws, the Market Revolution and the shifting of gender roles, women in antebellum politics in slave and free states, sports and manhood in the Gilded Age, the suffrage movement, gender and sexuality in the 1920s, women in the world wars, the Second Red Scare and attacks on homosexuals, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, second-wave feminism, the gay liberation movement, the AIDS crisis, decriminalization of homosexuality, and clashing conceptions of manhood in the twenty-first century. Students refine their skills in reading various types of sources, working collaboratively to decode and analyze documents, writing essays, and completing other sorts of projects.

Students who enroll in the United States History: Gender and Sexuality Studies course simultaneously enroll in the Gender and Sexuality in American Literature (AP English 11) course offered through the English Department. Participation in this Gender and Sexuality 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 juniors, 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 approval of the History and Social Sciences Department.

Advanced Placement Art History / Art History (Honors) (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 the transcript for completion of Art History (Honors).

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 Comparative Government and Politics/ U.S. Government and Politics (Honors)

Advanced Placement (AP) Comparative Government and Politics focuses upon the important themes and concepts in comparative government. Specific case studies include the United Kingdom, the European Union, Russia, the People’s Republic of China, Mexico, Iran, and Nigeria. Cross-country comparisons are made throughout the semester. While the course is highly conceptual, the key factual focus for each country is on how officials are elected and how the governments are structured.

Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics explores the political theory and everyday practice that direct the daily operation of our government and shape our public policies. The express purpose of this course is to prepare students to take the AP U.S. Government and Politics Exam. The course is taught on a college level and requires a substantial amount of reading and preparation for every class. The objectives of this course go beyond a basic analysis of how our government “works.” Students develop a critical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the American political system, as well as their rights and responsibilities as citizens.

Students simultaneously enroll in AP Comparative Government and Politics and in AP U.S. Government and Politics or U.S. Government and Politics (Honors) within the same year. The AP Comparative Government and Politics curriculum is completed in the fall of the year while the AP U.S. Comparative Government and Politics curriculum is completed in the spring. A senior who chooses not to continue in this course during Senior Spring Project receives credit on the transcript for completion of AP Comparative Government and Politics/ U.S. Government and Politics (Honors). 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 approval 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

This rigorous, multi-faceted course is designed to give students the foundational skills necessary to have an understanding of major macroeconomic topics: scarcity, opportunity cost, national income accounting, supply and demand, inflation, unemployment, the business cycle, fiscal policy, monetary policy, and international economics. Analysis of domestic and global current events supplements the economic theories and data studied in the course and encourages students to apply class concepts to recent headlines in domestic and international newspapers. Projects of varied scope and scale, short papers, blogging requirements, and classroom debates provide further avenues for students to explore the course material. Not only does the course seek to impart content and skills in the field of economics, but it also aims to contribute to students’ global competency through consideration of the interdependence, diversity, and complexity of the global economy. Finally, the course assessments serve to prepare students to take the Advanced Placement (AP) Macroeconomics exam in May. 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.

Prerequisite: Biology

History Research Seminar (Honors) (Grade 12 only)

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. 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.

Psychology

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.

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* (Spring)
  • Advocacy (Spring)
  • Applying Philosophy to Modern Global Issues* (Fall)
  • Business Problem Solving (Fall)
  • Climate Change and Global Inequality* (Spring, History/Science Interdisciplinary Course)
  • Entrepreneurship in a Global Context (Spring)
  • Gender Studies* (Spring)
  • Genocide & Human Rights* (Spring)
  • International Relations* (Fall)
  • Introduction to Legal Thinking (Fall)
  • Introduction to Investments (Fall)
  • Prisons and the Criminal Law (Spring)
  • Race & Society (Fall)

*Courses that fulfill BB&N’s Modern Global History Requirement

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

Courses not Offered 2019-20

  • 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
  • World Religions and Philosophies: Historical and Contemporary Contexts

Upper School Calendar