The main focus of the history department is to guide students towards a better understanding of the complexities and challenges of our modern world, the richness and importance of its past, and the diverse peoples and traditions that have shaped it. The department emphasizes the skills of careful reading, respectful, focused listening, critical research and analysis, thoughtful writing and speaking, as well as professionalism. The History sequence also aims to help students experience the joy of discovery that comes with robust inquiry, and offers students a wide array of opportunities to challenge their thinking and assumptions by hearing multiple perspectives.
Learning that connects to the outside world
Even young children have an awareness of the world around them. So we begin with the understandings and interests of children and feature lots of hands-on activities. Our lower school students have studied urban gardens, murals in Philadelphia, and inventors and inventions. We regularly visit Reading Terminal Market, JFK Plaza, Chinatown, Sister Cities Park, the Magic Garden, Schuylkill River Park (Taney) and other areas of interest to make classroom learning come alive. In third and fourth grade, students study American history and take advantage of our city setting to explore colonial America and the American Revolution. Classes visit the Constitution Center, Elfreth's Alley, the Franklin Court and other historical sites to directly experience "the power of place." Students view history through lenses of migration, class, status, wealth, education, access and power that serve to broaden their study to other time periods and to connect to contemporary society and culture.
Dive deep into civics and culture
Fifth graders study American civics with an emphasis on understanding state and local government. Sixth graders closely examine ancient civilizations with an added emphasis on geography. Seventh graders study American History from the pre-colonial period to the end of the Civil War, complete with an in-depth study of their own family history. And eighth graders examine ancient civilizations, traveling all the way to New Mexico to conduct research.
Global and modern history and politics in yearly courses and electives
History courses are required in ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades. The department offers semester electives in the senior year. Several of our courses present students with interdisciplinary experiences--particularly in art and music--as well as interdivisional activities. The core courses provide a foundation for understanding civilizations and their relationships to traditional cultures, as well as challenges faced in the modern world. Periods of history in China, Japan, Africa, Europe and India, for instance, are selected for exploration in the ninth and tenth grade years. In eleventh grade, students examine U.S. History with an emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries. Electives like Geography: Location Philadelphia, the History of Muslim Civilization, Liberty & the Law, The Schuylkill River: A Biography, Introduction to Philosophy, and Comparative Government offer students a look into more specific topics in politics and the social sciences, including many that more deeply examine modern and local political and social issues. A major feature of the history program is the development of research and writing skills. The ninth-grade curriculum includes several research projects, including a research essay, and the presentation of a work of art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Students in tenth grade history write numerous historical arguments that challenge them to review, reflect on, and synthesize information from across multiple units to answer questions. In eleventh grade, students spend a full year researching and writing about a contemporary political issue for the Modern Issues Project and interview policymakers in Washington, D.C. as a component. These courses incorporate skills such as discovering and assessing primary and secondary sources, annotating readings, developing and outlining arguments, citing and paraphrasing sources, editing, creating web content, delivering oral presentations and more.
History 9: Modern World History
Throughout the year, students use primary texts and a range of secondary sources to study select eras and themes of revolution and transformation, including the Renaissance, 18th-century scientific and political revolutions in Europe and the Americas, their influences from and effects on the diverse peoples of Africa and Asia, conquest and colonization, and periods of early industrialization. Students will explore these eras using the thematic lenses of government, civil rights, religion, the arts, family, gender and commerce. The course will also feature specific units on Philadelphia history and studies of the experiences of Native American tribes. During the year, students visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art five times, making connections between the Museum’s relevant collections and their studies. This culminates in a museum morning, where each student presents a work of art to classmates and parents. The ninth-grade skills sequence assumes students will apply both critical and creative thought to their work. Students' history skills in active reading and annotation, summarizing, outlining, oral presentation and a variety of writing types are developed through class lectures, discussions and a series of project-based activities.
History 10: Modern World History II
Building on many themes and questions from Modern World History I, Modern World History II will focus on major world transformations from the 19th-21st centuries, looking closely at Africa, Latin America, Russia, China, India and more. This course will explore imperialism, industrialization, communism, World Wars and movements for independence and civil rights. Students will examine these themes and topics from multiple points of view, so as to study the ways in which global interactions produce both short and long term consequences for all parties involved. In addition to making modern connections throughout the course, students will also look at discrete 21st-century historical and political topics. Throughout the year, students will work to develop and hone the necessary skills to be successful historians as well as reflective and empathetic global citizens. These skills include analyzing historical sources and evidence, 21st-century research literacy, and analytical and thesis-driven writing.
History 11: U.S. History and Politics
James Baldwin wrote, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Why? How have debates over race, class, gender, politics, war, and more shaped America over the centuries? What parallels can we draw between the past and present? This year-long course covers U.S. History from pre-Columbian times to today, focusing especially on events since 1860. Note that this course has no textbook; instead, we will analyze a variety of sources, from art to articles, speeches to interviews, and movies to memoirs. Students will practice many skills, including research, writing, close reading, public speaking, and collaboration. We have an exciting year ahead!
Twelfth Grade History Electives
African American History
This course is a survey of Black Studies from the African background to the African-American present. Topics include an exploration of the origins of Black studies as both an academic discipline and grassroots movement; the European slave trade and Middle passage experience; enslaved Africans and African Americans in British North America; African Americans and the American Revolution; Slavery and Antebellum America; Civil War and Reconstruction; African Americans in a Globalizing America to the Second World War; Cold War and Civil Rights; Black Power to the so-called “post-racial” America. Skills targeted in this course: enhanced literary analysis, nonfiction writing, critical thinking and live presentation.
The American Presidency
It goes without saying that most people in the US (and around the world) would say that the presidency is at the center of the American political system and the most important political office in the land. This course examines the sources and limits of presidential power and the process of how presidents are elected into office. We will also explore how the presidency has changed over time and the ways various presidents have governed and conducted themselves while in office. Since the 2020 presidential election is right around the corner, we will also pay close attention to how the race for the White House is unfolding and consider the impact that events may have on the American political and social landscape for years to come.
Introduction to Economics
This basic course will cover economic ideas such as opportunity cost, the production possibilities frontier, exchange/trade, the market, the theory of supply and demand, price controls, gross domestic products, consumer price index, etc. This is not intended to be an AP course. A major goal is to empower students to develop strategies to help them make effective decisions by weighing benefits and costs.
History of Popular Music (cross listed in Music Dept.)
We will explore the development and history of American Popular Music through the lens of 4 different time periods and regions: Roots music in early 20th century New Orleans, the Great Migration in mid-century Chicago and New York; the Civil Rights Era in Detroit and Memphis, and the modern era in Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York. Academic readings, primary sources and listening will be part of this study as we examine historical and cultural influences, cross-pollination, and the evolution of new styles of music. No prior musical experience is required.
Liberty and the Law
This course provides an introduction to the American legal system, covering constitutional law and the appeals process, as well as criminal and civil law. Students explore the foundational concepts, procedures and principles in our common law system, as well as the history of our legal institutions and civil liberties. In doing so, students also consider broad questions about the role of law in society, the interaction between the different branches and levels of government, and the relationship between people and their governments. Students examine many sources, including the Constitution, case law at the state and federal levels, journal articles, films, editorials, and more. Participation in seminar-style discussions, debates, presentations (oral and visual), and writing are major components of the course, and students will also take part in several field trips around Philadelphia to visit courtrooms and talk with judges, lawyers, and other professionals in the field.
This course will serve as an introduction to the ways in which private citizens have been able to use a variety of activities and resources, including volunteer and non-governmental avenues, in assisting and challenging law enforcement and the courts. The course will examine the ways in which citizens have effectively used various forms of media in the pursuit of justice, especially in those cases where it appears that justice has been delayed or denied. This has involved solving cold cases (unsolved criminal investigations which remain open pending the discovery of new evidence), challenging prosecutorial conduct, and appealing wrongful convictions. We will focus extensively on the history and evolution of Philadelphia’s own Vidocq Society and will in fact have the unique opportunity to meet with the group’s founder(s) and discuss the nature of their work. Students will examine a growing national trend of private citizens actively working to bring closure to America’s enormous body of unsolved crimes and will use a variety of sources, including books, articles, podcasts, and other related social media. One of the questions this class will address is the nature of justice. How might Quaker values be expressed in greater citizen pursuit of true justice using 21st means?
Asian American History
What is Gold Mountain? Where is Angel Island? What is the Yellow Peril? Who were the 442nd? What is orientalism? And, what is a “model minority”? This course offers participants a historic overview of the experiences of Asians in America from the 19th century to the present day. We will examine the push and pull factors associated with the migration of Asians to America and unpack the social and legalized forms of discrimination that they faced. We will explore topics associated with community formation, the lives of workers, the experiences of women, and the roles Asian Americans have played in the struggle for civil rights. We will also investigate how Asian Americans are represented and portrayed in popular culture and learn about the contributions that Asians have made to the American cultural landscape including Philadelphia.