Upper School
US Curriculum


The Upper School history curriculum, from required courses to senior electives, is grounded in the basic understanding of the historical enterprise.
Students develop and apply reading, writing, note-taking, oral, visual and analytical skills to the acquisition and analysis of historical facts. Our students engage in independent research, learn how to make effective fact-based historical interpretations, to understand their own inherent intellectual biases, and to appreciate that their acts of interpretation are a perpetually incomplete undertaking within the ongoing effort to understand history’s impact and the perspectives we gain from it.

History Required Sequence

List of 3 items.

  • History 9: Sources of Modernity

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits
    Required for ninth-graders.

    The ninth-grade course develops both content and skills that form the basis for further historical investigation throughout the Upper School. The course treats the period 1400-1789 through an examination of key questions whose resolutions have given rise to the modern world. These questions include conflicts focused on cultures, economies, religions, political philosophies and power structures, and intellectual and artistic currents. Key conflicts may include: Aztec/Spanish contact; cross-cultural contact and conflict between Europeans and Africans during the slave trade; the clash of scientific, economic, and philosophic ideas during the Renaissance and the ensuing religious tumult of the Reformation; Tokugawa power and isolationism as a response to European trade and religious expansion; the ascendancy of the Qing dynasty and the origins of a problematic interdependence on global trade and conflict with European trade and religion; conflicts over power sharing between king and subjects in Britain and in France and the revolutions they engender.

    Within the context of the study of content, the course aims to build basic historical skills in areas such as reading, writing, and research and to apply more general skills such as note-taking, oral presentation, and visual skills to the particular demands of historical endeavor.

    As in English 9, students not meeting a minimum standard of competency in writing in History9 may be asked or required to enroll in a writing workshop or to participate in some other program to support their writing.
  • History 10: United States History, Colonization to 1900

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits
    Required for sophomores.

    The course treats the history of the US from the colonial period to its emergence as a world power around the turn of the twentieth century. Within that scope, the course considers the vast changes in the US under the impact of westward movement, immigration, economic and military growth, and expanding global significance. The course exposes students to the transformation of American society from a largely homogeneous one to a socio-economically diverse one, from a largely agricultural one to a largely industrial one. It presents the political and economic choices faced by the country over the time period, most potently the choices that led to Civil War in the middle of the nineteenth century. It explores the development of uniquely American culture, increasingly distinct from its antecedents. It asks about the inclusion of various demographic groups within the fabric of that emerging society. Finally, the course examines the impact of nineteenth century nationalism and imperialism on an America newly victorious in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

    As in English 10, students not meeting a minimum standard of competency in writing in this course may be asked or required to enroll in a writing workshop or to participate in some other program to support their writing.
  • History 11: The Twentieth Century World

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits
    Required for juniors. (In special circumstances, may be taken senior year, with permission of the department head.)

    Using as its springboard the emergence of the US as a major world power as a result of the Spanish-American War and World War I, the course explores the increasingly inter-connected global world of the twentieth century. Central to that consideration is the primacy of US power (economic, military and cultural), the global uses of that power and global reactions to that power. The two world wars and their aftermaths are significant concerns, as are the overarching realities of post-World War II bipolar geopolitics. The course considers far-reaching regional studies: the Middle East and Asia as targets of colonization and also during decolonization; the European totalitarian regimes of mid-century; race in both the US and South Africa; proxy wars of the Cold War period; the end of the bipolar world and the emergence of non-state threats are among the topics considered.

    Students who are successful at both History 10th-grade and 11th-grade history often take the AP examination in US History. History faculty hold review sessions for that examination in the spring of each year.

History Major Electives

List of 6 items.

  • History Electives Information

    Major and minor history electives are open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. When enrollment space is an issue, preference will be to seniors, juniors, and then sophomores. The department encourages you to consider your history choices over a three-year period so that you have the best chance of taking all the history electives you want to take.
  • Economics

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits

    Economics is the study of the choices people make about how to use scarce resources, such as time, money, and the natural world. How much time should I study for a test, and how much time should I hang out with friends? Is there a “best” way to decide?

    Economics tries to figure that out. What should businesses produce? What if some people can’t afford a place to live? Should the government build more schools, or more tanks, or less of everything? Exactly how bad is it to cut down a rainforest? How do we make these decisions? Economists have offered many answers to these questions, and some of these answers have had profound effects on modern history.

    This course will attempt to understand the questions, the answers, and those profound effects. In doing so, we will examine the principles of micro-and macroeconomics, such as supply and demand, the theory of the firm, competition/monopoly, the Classicals and the Keynesians, fiscal and monetary policy, and more.
  • Modern European History

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits

    While the past 100 years were known as “the American Century” and the next 100 may be “the Chinese Century,” the fact remains that many of our global mechanisms, institutions, legal and cultural norms have roots in the past 500 years of European history. The curriculum spans the era when Europeans first exploded onto the global stage. It continues through the Renaissance and religious wars, empire-building and revolution, Napoleon, industrialization, world wars, Communism, the EU, environmentalism, and the current uncertain moment. By spring the course arrives at the present moment with its multiple issues, such as immigration, the rise of the new nationalism, prospects for a common European identity, the challenge posed by Russia, among others. Among other topics, this course explores a) the creation of modern politics, including democracy; b) intellectual breakthroughs, particularly in science; c) the development of the modern economy –markets, finance, trade, industry, agriculture and skilled labor; d) the role of wars and peace in shaping Europe and the world; e) cultural innovation in visual arts, literature, and music; f) shifts in moral values, philosophy, and religious belief.

    While the course is not officially designated as such, it does provide a sound foundation for students wishing to take the AP exam. There is a range of assessments, including short oral presentations. Course-related activities include the notorious “Diplomacy” game and two optional and popular European pizza-and-film evenings.
  • Government and Politics: The United States and the World

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits

    This course examines government and politics from both domestic and international perspectives. In an era of diminished interest and participation, this course aims to instruct and engage students in the political process. By reading, discussing, and writing about secondary texts and current events, students will gain both a historical and contemporary point of view of the vagaries and complexities of political systems.
  • History of Media & Culture

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits

    This course examines the history of media in the United States from the emergence of the penny press in the 19thcentury to the rise of “new media” in the 21stcentury. In studying the development of newspapers, film, broadcasting, and digital media, the course’s primary focus is the historical relationship between media and democracy. How have communications technologies influenced the ways in which citizens both understood and participated in public life, and how have Americans shaped media to meet the requirements of a democratic society? To answer these questions, the course investigates not only the media’s impact on public opinion, political behavior, and policymaking, but also how government has shaped technological innovation, the political economy of the media, and freedom of expression.

    Finally, we will look at the relationship between culture, democracy, and the market, and how the media have configured public discourse, with particular attention to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and class. Throughout the course, students will work to analyze the institutional development of communications technologies, the print, visual and digital texts they have produced, and contemporary responses to those media from both theoretical and empirical perspectives, and to develop their own historical interpretations through original research.
  • American Law

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 3 credits

    This course is designed to begin to explore how the law works and give students some actual experience in doing what lawyers and judges do. It consists of the following units/topics:

    1) What is Law? To start off the course we will examine the different sources of law (statutory, case law, etc.) and the organization of the American court system, and get a basic understanding of how laws are used. In examining how our system is structured, students will identify and discuss biases and perspectives in the legal system;

    2) Criminal Law and Juvenile Justice: This topic will fascinate students who consume shows like Law & Order. In this unit they get a deeper understanding of the challenges behind criminal justice such as balancing protecting the community with rehabilitation for the offender;

    3) Individual Rights and Liberties (Constitutional Law): The U.S. Constitution is a unique and rich source of personal rights that has made the United States an example to the rest of the world. But how to interpret the Constitution and the rights it affords has been a long, difficult, and ongoing process. Some of the most interesting debates contained in the law can be found in this field of law. Some topics will include: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Due Process, The Right to Privacy, Discrimination. This unit may vary year-to-year depending on what issues the Court is addressing in its current term. During this unit, students will closely read Supreme Court cases and interpret the decisions of the justices

    4) Torts (A Civil Wrong): Almost everyone is aware of the “lawsuit,” but most people don’t really understand the principles behind lawsuits. This unit will bring this concept into focus and highlight some different kinds of torts and provide examples by examining real cases.

    5) Evidence & Trial Procedure: Students will learn how to communicate clearly and effectively by learning trial advocacy skills including how evidence is presented, how to conduct direct and cross-examinations, how to make objections, and how to apply laws to evidence in order to make legal arguments, etc.

History Minor Electives

List of 10 items.

  • History Electives Information

    Major and minor history electives are open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. When enrollment space is an issue, preference will be to seniors, juniors, and then sophomores. The department encourages you to consider your history choices over a three-year period so that you have the best chance of taking all the history electives you want to take.
  • Contemporary Issues Seminar

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits

    A seminar that is characterized by discussion, Contemporary Issues focuses on themes, topics, and controversies. In that sense, it’s not simply a current events course that chases yesterday’s news headlines. Instead, it examines the context of behind recurrent stories. This approach enables students to more skillfully analyze both events and trends as they continue to develop in the future. In addition to discussion, class activities include debate and student presentations. The curriculum is typically designed by the teacher during the first half of the course. During the latter half students propose and select topics that interest them in particular. Class participation comprises 50% of the course grade, so active engagement is essential.
  • Topics in the History of Warfare

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits

    Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with preference to seniors in the case of over-enrollment.

    The course offers alternating curricula, identified here as “Topics A” and “Topics B,” so that both are offered over the course of two years. Students may repeat the course so as to take both curricula, but may not repeat the same curriculum. Topics A and Topics B need not be taken in sequence. “Topics B” will be offered in 2021-2022.


    Topics A will focus on the development of warfare between the Napoleonic Wars and the First World War. It will begin by looking at the horror of 1914; on million total casualties inflicted over a two-month period, numbers so staggering that the belligerent nations were forced to dig in across a massive line stretching from the English Channel to Switzerland. Moreover, soldiers in East Africa, Poland, the Balkans and the Dardanelles suffered similar fates.

    While it is easy to say that technological innovation is the only culprit responsible for the losses of 1914, an in-depth examination of both tactical and philosophical views of warfare suggests otherwise. The combination of misguided military science and the lethality of new weapons left commanders in the position of having radically to alter the way war was fought. The armies of 1914, which would not have been out of place on the Napoleonic battlefield, were nearly unrecognizable by 1918.

    We will build a bridge from Napoleon to those first few months of World War I, with the express purpose of tracking the changes, both tactical and technological, which led to the catastrophe of 1914.


    Topics B will focus on the evolution of warfare from roughly the 1920s to the modern age. A specific emphasis will be placed on how and why WW2 became the total war that it did, and how technology brought total war to frightening lengths, resulting in the drop of the first atomic bombs. We will study the development of mechanized warfare, air combat, and small unit tactics, as well as the philosophies behind those decisions which date back to both the First World War and the Spanish Civil War.

    As we dive deeper into the material, we’ll look at the ways in which military science changed due to WW2, with the increase in what Clausewitz would call “limited wars”. We will study the United States’ involvement in Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, and the first Gulf War, as well as the many conflicts in the Middle East throughout the 20th century. The course will end with the War on Terror, which saw a complete shift in the way war is justified and how it is waged.

    Throughout the course, we will study the impact of war on the fighting soldier, specifically when it comes to PTSD and other traumas. We will do so through primary sources. We will also look at the ways in which civilians were impacted by conflicts, and the resultant peace movement around the era of Vietnam. Finally, the course will emphasize the portrayal of war in everything from science fiction to American literature as a mirror of the Cold War and beyond.
  • Historical Simulations in World Leadership

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 2 credits

    This course will focus on a variety of historical periods and events of the post-WWI world, all of which share one primary theme: dynamic, systemic change to an existing structure or society.

    As we explore this material, each unit will require students to participate in a historical simulation to put them in the shoes of the decision makers. Students will need to use all of their skills—reading, research, writing, verbal skills, and collaboration—as the necessary tools to advance their positions and make decisions that will solve or shed light on the problem at hand. They will take on the role of important dignitaries, revolutionary leaders, politicians, military commanders, and, in some cases, the average person living through an important historical event.

    Students will use various types of writing, both critical and creative, in order to demonstrate competence and reflection. This may take the form of research, speeches, journal entries, and short stories, among other mediums. In each case, students will be working and thinking through the lens of the simulation itself.

    Students will engage in simulations covering topics drawn from the following list, from which we choose as the year progresses.
    • World War One and the Paris Peace Conference
    • The Partition of India and the Conference on the 3 June Plan
    • The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis
    • Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution
    • Somalia and the Crisis of 93
    • Modern Sudan
    • The United States, 9-11, and the Iraq War
  • Southern Odyssey, a Global Context Course

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 2 credits
    Application required of all students; enrollment limited

    The interdisciplinary nature of the course will enable us to bring this distinct region alive.

    From the birth of gospel on slave plantations to the rhythms brought over by West Africa or their Caribbean immigrant descendants in Cuba or Haiti to the wailing of Delta bluesmen, from the chain gang escape genre to “My Cousin Vinny,” from Faulkner’s stream of consciousness to Toni Morrison’s spectral visions, the South inhabits the most fertile corner of the American imagination.

    It also is the source of the country’s early capital accumulation, the birthplace of most early presidents and, in many ways, the crossroads of its most violent conflicts. Its story is fundamental to understanding who we are as a nation.

    Students who sign up for the course would commit to participating in a 12-day spring break trip to visit important Southern historical, cultural, and natural landmarks.

    A study of history, environment & culture will provide the course foundation. The curriculum will focus on a range of themes and questions among which may be:

    · Geography & climate: environmental factors shaping settlement & current life
    · Culture mix: Native, English, Scots-Irish, African/Afro-Caribbean, French, and Spanish
    · Economic foundations: farming, textiles, coal, fishing & oil
    · Race & class: the long legacy of slavery, segregation, and class inequality
    · Did the Civil War ever end? The resiliency of neo-Confederate ideology
    · “Gimme that old-time religion:” Christian fundamentalism & Southern society
    · Incubator of American sounds: gospel, blues, bluegrass, jazz, and soul
    · Grits, God, guns & good-old-boys: what lurks behind those Southern stereotypes?
    · The South & the American literary imagination
  • Art and Society: Medieval and Renaissance

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits

    This course will investigate the ways in which groups of people who were considered outside the mainstream were represented during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance. It will consist of the following units/topics:

    1- “Bright lights, big foreheads”
    What was considered beautiful by the standards of the time? What were standard ways in which things were traditionally represented and what were meaningful counterexamples.

    2- “Jousting on Snails”
    It is difficult to see why such strange images were painted into the margins of medieval texts. Why were they there? Who was represented there and what were their odd peccadillos? Were these the meaningless doodles of bored scribes? If not, to what extent did these images shed light on the text or its patron?

    3- “Sorcerous Jews and Muslim astronomers”
    What were the sources of fear and suspicion of Jews and Muslims at this time? To what extent did literacy, science and speculative philosophy seem demonic? How was this represented in art?

    4- “Cloaked”
    How were gender and sexuality represented in clothing, nudity and general appearance? What ideas about femininity or masculinity were current?
  • Debate

    3 Meetings per cycle/0 credits
    Open to all Upper School students.

    Debate will provide students opportunity within the school day to prepare for scheduled debates. Students will be able to improve their research skills, their ability to put forward a cogent argument and their public speaking skills. Students who sign up for the course are expected to participate in interscholastic debates. These debates occur on Saturdays throughout the school year. Students who wish to take part in competitive debates must sign up for this elective if their schedules allow. Students whose schedules do not allow them to enroll in this course may be allowed to participate on a case-by-case basis.
  • Being Human

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits

    This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of human nature and identity. How do we make sense of the human animal in all its complexity both as individuals and in relation to each other and the world? A tasting menu of brief but rich readings and intriguing visual texts will inspire and fuel conversations in this seminar-style class. Informal writing, journaling, discussions, and interviewing will culminate in student-developed essays and projects. Units include

    Evolution’s Child: How does the biology of our species determine what we are in the world? We are animals with a glorious ability to reflect. Is theability to think a biological adaptation that is useful but ultimately meaningless? Are we biologically determined to the point where freedom is an illusion?

    Institutions That Shape Us: How do institutions shape, limit, and liberate us? What is authority? Which institutions have authority?How does authority gain legitimacy ?

    A Brief History of Individual Identity: To what extent is the understanding of ourselves shaped by how other people view us? How do we use social media to curate our public selves? How have we been at odds with our own identities and with the identities of others?
  • Independent Research in English and History

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 2 credits.
    Open to Juniors and Seniors.

    IREH offers students the opportunity to conduct advanced research and writing at the college level under the guidance of English and History faculty. Students will develop their own topics or research questions, review the scholarly literature in the relevant discipline(s), understand and employ the research methodologies relevant to their research, and write on the research question, ultimately producing significant research essays.

    Students may choose to research and write on questions in English or History, or they may develop interdisciplinary questions touching on both. While much research can be carried out using resources available at Hackley, we will support students in developing relationships with scholars whose own work is relevant to the students’ research.

    Students may complete the course in one academic year, or, should their research require it, and with approval of the relevant instructors and department chairs, may continue the course for a second year.

    Enrollment in IREH is by application to the relevant department(s). Students wishing to pursue research in English should direct an application to the English Department Head. Students wishing to pursue research in History should direct an application to the History Department Head. Students wishing to do interdisciplinary research in both departments should direct applications to both Department Heads.

    Students should submit at the time of course registration an application consisting of a short statement (approximately 250 words) explaining why they would like to pursue this course of study and what topic they think they might like to explore. Department Heads will then seek the recommendation of the students’ current teachers in the appropriate disciplines.
  • Collaborative Storytelling and Role-Play Gaming

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 2 credits.
    Enrollment limited.

    This interdisciplinary course will use roleplay gaming and collaborative worldbuilding as a means to analyze literature and historical periods, write creative fiction, and foster social learning. The structure of course units will involve building a fictionalized world and characters based on literary and historical texts and films, and then roleplaying scenes and scenarios to foster ideas for individual student writing and group presentations.

    In addition to role-playing, creative writing, and making presentations for class, students will learn about game system creation, reflect on metagaming, and lead games as the head storyteller—which requires public speaking and improvisation skills.

    Potential game modules may include Collaborative Worldbuilding by Trent Hergenrader, Vampire: The Masquerade by White Wolf, Dungeons and Dragons by Wizards of the Coast, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games, and Dread by The Impossible Dream, among others.