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

    5 meetings per eight-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 1300-1789 through an examination of key questions whose resolutions have given rise to the modern word. These questions include conflicts focused on cultures, economies, religions, political philosophies and power structures, as well as 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 philosophical ideas during the Renaissance and the ensuing religious tumult of the Reformation; and conflicts over power sharing between king and subjects in Britain and in France and the revolutions they engendered.

    In studying this time period, the course also aims to build basic historical skills in such areas as reading, writing and research and to apply more general skills, such as note-taking, oral presentation and visual analysis to the particular demands of historical endeavor.
  • United States History, Colonization to 1900

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Required for sophomores

    The course treats the history of the United States from the colonial period to its emergence as a world power around the turn of the 20th century. The course considers the vast changes in the U.S. 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 19th century. The course explores the development of a 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 19th century nationalism and imperialism on an America newly victorious in the Spanish-American War of 1898.
  • Twentieth Century World History

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Required; may be taken in junior or senior year

    Using as its springboard the emergence of the United States as a major world power by 1900, the course explores the increasingly interconnected global world of the 20th century. Central to that consideration is the primacy of U.S. power (economic, military and cultural), the global uses of that power and global reactions to that power. The two world wars and their aftermath are significant concerns, as are the overarching realities of the Cold War.

    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 U.S. and South Africa, proxy wars of the Cold War period and the end of the bipolar world and the emergence of non-state threats.

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 limited, preference will be given by seniority.
  • Economics

    5 meetings per eight-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, 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

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Open to juniors and seniors or by instructor permission

    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 European Union, environmentalism and the current uncertain moment.

    By spring, the course arrives at the present day with its multiple issues, such as immigration, the rise of the new nationalism, prospects for a common European identity, the challenge posed by Russia and more. Among other topics, this course explores:
    • the creation of modern politics, including democracy;
    • intellectual breakthroughs, particularly in science;
    • the development of the modern economy — markets, finance, trade, industry, agriculture and skilled labor;
    • the role of wars and peace in shaping Europe and the world;
    • cultural innovation in visual arts, literature and music; and
    • 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

    5 meetings per eight-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

    5 meetings per eight-day cycle/3 credits
    Open to juniors and seniors or by instructor permission

    This course examines the history of media in the United States from the emergence of the penny press in the 19th century to the rise of “new media” in the 21st century. 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

    5 meetings per eight-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 we will 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, and discrimination. This unit may vary year-to-year depending on what issues the Supreme 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 do not 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 7 items.

  • History Electives Information

    Major and minor history electives are open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. When enrollment space limited, preference will be given by seniority.
  • Contemporary Issues Seminar

    3 meetings per eight-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 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. Class participation comprises 50 percent of the course grade, so active engagement is essential.
  • Being Human

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/2 credits
    Open to all Upper School students

    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 the ability 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?
  • Great Books Seminar

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/2 credits
    Open to juniors and seniors or by instructor permission
    This course allows students to dive into some of the most influential and enduring works of literature, philosophy, theology, history and political science. Students will have the opportunity to engage with these texts in a critical and thoughtful manner, focusing purely on the texts themselves for fundamental truths about themselves and the world, including such themes as the nature of morality and justice, what is truth and how do we distinguish truth and falsehood, conceptions of the divine, how to best organize and design political communities, and the nature of self and consciousness, to name just a few. Importantly, texts are organized in such a way that they speak to each other on similar questions across time, allowing students to see how these questions have been addressed by different authors and perspectives, equipping them with a broader understanding of the world in which we live.

    The class is designed as a St. John's College seminar, with no lectures and an emphasis on collaborative learning through purposeful dialogue, structured around a series of close readings and discussions of key works. Each class would focus on a particular text. Class participation is the lifeblood of the class. In addition to discussion, each trimester, students will be required to produce a 3- to 5-page paper examining a theme, idea or question raised through our readings. The purpose of the course is to expose students to classical works from antiquity through modernity that have shaped our human understanding of the world and to encourage students to deepen their skills reading and analyzing more complex texts critically and independently. 

    Readings may include selections from:
    • Homer’s “Odyssey” and “Iliad”;
    • Plato's "Republic" and other dialogues;
    • Thucydides, Herodotus and Polybius;
    • Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
    • Aristotle's “Nicomachean Ethics,” “Politics” and “Metaphysics”;
    • Augustine’s “Confessions”;
    • Confucius’ “Analects”;
    • the Hebrew Bible and Gospels;
    • Hindu and Buddhist texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and selections from Early Buddhist Discourses;
    • Medieval, Renaissance and modern works, such as Basho, travel journals and haiku;
    • Descartes’ “Meditations” and Machiavelli’s “The Prince”;
    • Sophocles, Aristophanes, Ibsen and Shakespeare; and
    • Short stories and poetry from various authors.
  • Independent Research in Oral History and Storytelling

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/2 credits
    Open to all students by application

    This course will allow students to explore how memory shapes our understanding of the past through the creation and interpretation of oral history. The first part of the course will focus on building interview skills through both hands-on practice and the study of interview-based works, such as podcasts and documentaries. In the latter part of the course, students will design and carry out an inquiry-based project rooted in their own original oral history research. These projects might include a documentary-style film or podcast, traditional research paper or a journalistic or literary piece.  Put another way, students will learn how to listen to people’s stories in order to tell a story of their own.

    This course requires a short application, which will be reviewed in combination with the student’s overall academic record in English and/or History. The application link can be found on HOL. Students currently taking Independent Research may enroll in these courses for a second year with the permission of their instructor.
  • Independent Research in History

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/2 credits
    Open to juniors and seniors by application

    This course offers students the opportunity to conduct advanced research and writing at the college level under the guidance of 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. 

    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. 

    This course requires a short application, which will be reviewed in combination with the student’s overall academic record in History. The application link can be found on HOL. Students currently taking Independent Research may enroll in these courses for a second year with the permission of their instructor.
  • Historical and Literary Analysis via Role-Play Games

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/ 2 credits
    Enrollment limited

    This interdisciplinary course will use role-play gaming and collaborative world-building 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 meta-gaming 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.