Explore our Curriculum

History and Social Science

The History and Social Science Department strives to provide students with an understanding of past events and the differing viewpoints of those who participated in them. We seek to encourage the development among our students of certain historical skills: intelligent questioning, gathering and interpreting data, analyzing concepts, recognizing the significance of historic occurrences, understanding cause and effect, and synthesizing information to produce one’s own interpretation of the past. As a natural consequence of encouraging the development of these skills, we teach students to express their ideas with clarity and vigor in both class discussion and in their writing. Ultimately, we hope that the study of history will become for them a life-long process and provide them with an awareness of complexity and ambiguity as they confront ethical choices in their own lives and seek to unravel meaning in the worlds around them.
  • America in Iraq (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course may be taken separately or in conjunction with the full year exploration of America’s empire from the Philippines to Iraq. Despite the limited scope of the title, this course will actually examine wider Western and American policy in the Middle East, beginning with the sectarian rivalries and neocolonial economic relationships developed by the post-World War I mandate system. The United States will replace Europe as the sponsor of regime change actions in the 1953 coup in Iran, which will have an impact on U.S.-Iranian relations before and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Events in Iran are essential to understanding the U.S. relationship with Iraq, and therefore significant time will be spent on understanding both countries, their relationship with each other, and their place in U.S. security policy. American involvement in two Afghanistan wars—the resistance against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and the U.S. occupation after 2001, are also important to understanding the narrative of American goals in the region.
     
    Nevertheless, the majority of this course will focus on the three different U.S. conflicts in Iraq in the past forty years: the Iran-Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. While only the last two were commanded and fought directly by American military, neither would have happened had the United States not supported Saddam Hussein’s regime in the first war against Iran. This course will examine all these events as individual policy choices, including: their successes, their failures, and their effects both on the stability of the Middle East and the American body politic.
     
    Particular to this course is a negotiation component that will employ methods developed by the former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. No previous experience in negotiation is required, but students should be ready to engage in extended simulations, role plays, and oral assessment exercises. In addition, all students should enter this course with a thorough grounding in the foundation skills for historical study taught in World and the West, including critical reading skills and familiarity with questions of source reliability and providence. Completion of the American History requirement is strongly recommended, but not required. Participation is particularly important in this course, and so students should be ready to engage regularly in spirited but civil class discussions. Reading may include Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (Kinzer) and Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as If Your Life Depended on It (Voss).
  • America in the Philippines (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course may be taken separately or in conjunction with the full year exploration of America’s empire from the Philippines to Iraq. This series of electives examines the expansion of American military, political, and economic power into Asia; and its effects on the home front in the United States. The Philippine-American War (1899-1913) was a foreboding sign of what was to come. This war changed the size, nature, and readiness of the U.S. military. Today’s debates over global economic integration, nation-building, military force, and religious extremism echo the scrutiny over American policy that started in the Philippines. Today’s headlines could have been ripped from last century’s newspapers: they informed readers on the latest troop deployments overseas, the high rates of what was then called melancholia in returning soldiers, and Senate investigations into military abuses.
     
    This course will begin with a history of American expansion across North America to the Pacific Rim, including early U.S. interference in Japan, China, and Hawaii. It will slow down for a more in-depth discussion of the inciting war against Spain, the decision to purchase and colonize the Philippines, the development of counterinsurgency strategy, the experience of African-American regiments in the Philippines, the course of specific campaigns in the southern islands, the development of civil colonial policy, and the structure of the Philippine Commonwealth. At the end of the course, we will examine how Americans and Filipinos forgave past grievances to work together against the Japanese in World War II. This cooperation allowed the U.S. to grant the Philippines independence on schedule in 1946 and created a strong bilateral (and neo-colonial) relationship that would extend into the Cold War. Finally, we will discuss the status of the U.S.-Philippine relationship today in the shadow of growing U.S.-Chinese competition.
     
    All students should enter this course with a thorough grounding in the foundation skills for historical study taught in World and the West, including critical reading skills, familiarity with questions of source reliability and providence, and comfort with writing sophisticated argumentative essays. Completion of the American History requirement is strongly recommended, but not required. Participation is particularly important in this course, and so students should be ready to engage regularly in spirited but civil class discussions. Reading may include How to Hide an Empire (Immerwahr) and Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (Kinzer).
  • America in Vietnam (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course may be taken separately or in conjunction with the full year exploration of America’s empire from the Philippines to Iraq. This series of electives examines the expansion of American military, political, and economic power into Asia; and its effects on the home front in the United States.
     
    The winter term will examine the controversial American war in Vietnam from the point of view of both cultures, focusing on why it divided their populations and how it changed the political landscape of each country. It will study the causes of conflict during and after World War II, the path towards US involvement in Vietnam, crucial turning points in the conflict such as the Tet Offensive and the My Lai Massacre, and the impact of the war on American society. The class will place special emphasis on the experience of soldiers on the ground using visiting veterans, autobiographical sources, and selected works from the body of fiction written about the war (such as The Things They Carried, A Rumor of War, Bloods, and A Viet Cong Memoir).
     
    All students should enter this course with a thorough grounding in the foundation skills for historical study taught in World and the West, including critical reading skills, familiarity with questions of source reliability and providence, and comfort with writing sophisticated argumentative essays. Completion of the American History requirement is strongly recommended, but not required. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of some of the reading assignments, students should also be well versed in analyzing literature and poetry, seeing each work of fiction as both a product of its time and a thematic piece presenting a message. Participation is particularly important in this course, and so students should be ready to engage regularly in spirited but civil class discussions. Reading may include The Vietnam Reader (O’Nan, ed.), The Tunnels of Cu Chi (Mangold and Penycate), and Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq (Kinzer).
  • American Conservatism 1945- present (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. In 1950, liberal critic Lionel Trilling proclaimed that “Liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition,” for “the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.” The nascent ideas that were maturing even before Trilling’s bold statement have grown and spread over the last 70 years, firmly planting Conservatism as one of America’s dominant political traditions.

    This course will examine the Conservative intellectual movement in America since World War II, focusing on the ideas and intellectuals that have created, accelerated, or described the rising revolt against liberalism. The key goal of the course will be to define American conservatism. Is it an ideology or a tradition? Are conservatives necessarily reactionary, or on the Right? What is the relationship between conservatism and the Republican party? Can one big tent contain libertarians, traditionalists, Rockefeller Republicans, arch-reactionaries, neocons, paleocons, and crunchy cons?

    We will answer these questions and more through primary sources written between 1945 and today that furthered the Conservative dialogue. We will start with authors such as William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk and end with current commentators like Ross Douthat and Jonah Goldberg. The story will hang together with the help of George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, which will serve as a textbook and reference work for most of the course.
  • Behemoths: The Decline and Rise of China and India (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. During the past thirty years, the economic growth of India and China has far outpaced that of the United States and Europe. While most inhabitants of China and India remain significantly poorer than the majority of Americans and Europeans, Chinese and Indians increasingly enjoy living standards and access to technology and global networks that rival those of many Americans and Europeans. China and India will become even more important in our world, if one believes that demographics are destiny, because today China and India each have a population approximately 1.4 billion and these 2.8 billion people comprise more than a third of the world's total population of 7.7 billion.

    This course aims to explain Indian and Chinese society in the 21st century by examining how in the 19th century once great Indian and Chinese civilizations underwent unexpected and dramatic decline and then in the late 20th century re-emerged in equally surprising fashion. The texts include Orville Schell, Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century, and Barbara and Thomas Metcalf, A Concise History of Modern India. Other readings come from a variety of primary sources and journals such as Foreign Affairs. Students are expected to be able to conduct independent research and to engage classmates in spirited but appropriate and effective discussion and debate. Students should be able to write well-organized and comprehensive essays.
  • Comparative Government and Politics (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will consist of six units of study—one
    each on the United Kingdom, Russia, China, Mexico, Nigeria, and Iran. Students will
    learn about each country’s political system including its institutions, political culture,
    elections and parties, and political and economic changes from 1900 to present.
    Comparisons will be made throughout our course of study both among these countries
    and with the U.S. political system. There is no prior knowledge expected of any of the
    countries of study; however, students who have already taken U.S. History or have a
    strong background knowledge of the U.S. political system will be better positioned to
    make the relevant comparisons. This course will prepare students to take the AP
    Comparative Government and Politics exam, though that is not required. The text for
    this course is Mark Kesselman’s Introduction to Comparative Politics: Political
    Challenges and Changing Agendas (8th edition).
  • Court & Constitution: Equal Protection and the Law (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course examines the role of the Constitution and the Supreme Court in American life with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee to the equal protection of the laws. Students will examine the scope and meaning of the Court’s adjudication in this area. Most of their inquiry will look at the Court’s post-war work in this area with respect to race, ethnicity origin, gender, and sexuality. We begin with a brief examination of the meaning and scope of the equal protection clause in the early decades following the ratification of the 14th Amendment, its evolution in the 1930’s and 40’s, and its dramatic expansion in the 1950’s with the Brown v. Board of Education decisions. The class traces the Court’s equal protection jurisprudence across the landscape of racial segregation, gender discrimination, and ethnic classifications. This study includes an array of issues that define equal protection interpretation in recent decades, including school desegregation, busing, voting rights, employment discrimination, affirmative action and same-sex marriage. The readings for this class include excerpts from relevant monographs, briefs, opinions, and documents related to the syllabus.

    Students are expected to possess a survey knowledge of US History, an ability to exploit resources in the library and on-line and write clear analytical essays. In addition, students are expected to contribute their thoughts, ideas, critiques and perspectives to class discussion as a means of developing their own analytical framework in interpreting constitutional issues. By the end of the term, it is hoped students will be more purposeful and persuasive in their ability to engage in textual analysis of legal briefs and opinions, summarize and assess historical/constitutional concepts and themes, and recognize that the Court’s work is best understood as an interrelated thematic whole. An end-of-term mock court simulation, occasionally often conducted against students from either Deerfield or St. Mark’s, is a capstone opportunity for students to display a mastery of these skills.
  • Court & Constitution: Ind. Liberty and the Law (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course examines the role of the Constitution and the Supreme Court in American life with respect to individual liberty. The focus in the fall is on individual rights in the development of federal jurisprudence and constitutional interpretation from the framing of the Constitution to the work of the contemporary Court. This study includes the origins and development of judicial review, the nationalization of the Bill of Rights and the “incorporation controversy,” and the development of substantive due process adjudication with respect to individual liberty. The term ends with a public mock court simulation of a recent Court decision, most often dealing with the privacy right, and includes written briefs, an oral argument, and written opinions. The texts of this class include: Fred Friendly and Martha Elliott, The Constitution: That Delicate Balance and a book of supplementary readings that includes excerpts from relevant monographs, briefs, opinions, and documents related to the syllabus.
     
    Students are expected to possess a survey knowledge of US History, an ability to exploit resources in the library and on-line and an ability to write a clear, fairly sophisticated analytical essay. In addition, students are expected to contribute their thoughts, ideas, critiques and perspectives to class discussion as a means of developing their own analytical framework when interpreting constitutional issues. By the end of the term, it is expected that they will be more purposeful and persuasive in their ability to engage in textual analysis of legal briefs and opinions, summarize and assess historical/constitutional concepts and themes, make historical/juridical connections and recognize that the Court’s work is best understood as an interrelated thematic whole. It is hoped that the mock court will serve as a capstone experience in displaying a mastery of these skills.
  • Economics (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Understanding economic forces is vital to any good analysis of history or current events. This course will introduce the student to the economy, including: the basic laws of supply and demand at the marketplace; how an economy is measured and evaluated; the problems of unemployment and inflation; and how the government might try to correct any problems in the economy. The student will also learn how the US interacts with its neighbors through trade and finance. If time permits, the class will examine how economies develop over time, and what forces—such as population pressures or political conflicts—may affect the course of their growth.
     
    Economics is a discipline that requires students to be proficient in mathematics and be comfortable with quantitative concepts such as graphs and algebraic equations. A grade of B or higher in Algebra II is highly recommended. This course is reading-intensive, and all students are expected to enter the course with a thorough grounding in the foundation skills for historical study taught in World History.
     
  • Media and Elections (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques
    Rousseau each had his own beliefs about the relationship between citizens and the
    state. After considering these philosophical departure points, this course will
    explore different types of linkages between the citizenry and the state. In addition to
    doing a research project on the current election cycle, students will explore
    interactions among the media, politicians, and citizens in the U.S. including media
    types, the effect of media on public opinion, the role of rhetoric, voting behavior
    and party affiliation, aspects of political leadership, and changes in campaigning
    over time. Comparisons will be made between the U.S. and other political systems
    including the U.K. as well as potentially Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, China, and Iran.
    The text for the course is Shanto Iyengar’s Media Politics (4th edition).
  • Nationalism and Populism (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. What exactly is nationalism? Is everything
    “populist”? Where do these ideas originate? Both terms are often used pejoratively
    and are so widely used that precise definitions are seemingly elusive. This course will
    explore the theoretical debates and defining attributes of each term as well as the
    emergence and endurance of both nationalist and populist movements and candidates.
    The course will consider both historic examples as well as contemporary cases
    including but not limited to Latin America, Europe, and Africa, as well as the rise of
    Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the United States. No prior knowledge is
    expected of the topics covered. The text for this course is Benedict Anderson’s
    Imagined Communities.
  • Racism and Genocide (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course examines the nature of racism and genocide by exploring in detail the history of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and of the Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery in the Americas. Students will also conduct independent research on episodes of genocide and ethnic conflict in places such as Cambodia and Rwanda. Readings will be primary sources including, Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, a Slave, Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative and Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African, Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, and Elie Wiesel, Night. Students are expected to be able to conduct independent research and engage classmates in spirited but respectful and effective discussion and debate. Students should be able to write well-organized and comprehensive essays that reflect an understanding of the topics and an appreciation for the relevance of the material. Some of the language and images used in the various course materials may make some students uncomfortable.
  • Sacred Texts and Ancient Peoples (Y)

    Taught jointly by the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department and the History Department, this course introduces students to the world’s great religious traditions and the cultures that produced them. The course begins with the traditions of the East (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese philosophies) and emphasizes Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as they developed within their historical contexts, including the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. This foundational course seeks to develop students' skills as note-takers, critical readers, analytical writers, researchers, and interpreters of primary sources.
  • Collapse & Transition: Communism to Putin (S)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will focus on the demise of the Soviet Union and its empire as well as the transition to democracy and capitalism after 1991. It will look at the problems within the Soviet state as well as the Eastern European Revolutions of 1989. Finally, students will study recent developments within Russia under Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin.  Potential texts and sources include Stephen Kotkin’s, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000 and Masha Gessen’s The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin.
  • International Relations

    Open to VI and V Formers. This course examines major issues in international relations today such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, globalization and the growth of transnational agencies and economies, and the preponderance of failing States as a result of the spread of ethnic and religious intolerance. Specific geographical regions of conflict such as the Korean Peninsula or the Balkans may also be investigated. The starting point for the course is a look at differing theories of International Relations by important thinkers such as Von Clauswitz, Kenneth Waltz, and Samuel Huntington as well as an examination of how American foreign policy is made. Students then conduct extensive research to prepare for role-plays and debates on the current aforementioned issues. In addition students play the board game, Diplomacy, a simulation of international relations.

    Most readings are articles from Foreign Affairs magazine, and the rest come from other periodicals such as Current History, The National Interest, Foreign Policy (The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), and The Foreign Policy Association's Great Decisions series. A regularly updated Groton School web site helps students to access sites such as the United Nations, The U.S. State Department, and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, as well as various universities, think tanks, and private foundations.
  • International Relations (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. Why is the Korean peninsula still divided? What does the WTO do? What island does China consider a “renegade province”? What is an ICBM? Where is Latvia and why should Americans care?

    This course examines major issues in international relations today, including regional conflicts in places such as the Middle East and Asia, and various aspects of globalization, including trade, migration, and  the rise of authoritarianism. Students learn about the international challenges facing both the United States and the world at large. The starting point of the course is a look at differing theories of International Relations and how US foreign policy is made. Students then conduct extensive research to prepare for role-plays and debates on a variety of topics including Sino-American relations, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and humanitarian intervention. In addition, students play the board game, Diplomacy, a simulation of international relations. Most Readings are articles from the archives of Foreign Affairs magazine, and other readings include articles from journals such as Foreign Policy, The National Interest, Current History, The American Interest, and The Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions series. Students are expected to be able to conduct research independently and engage classmates in spirited but appropriate and effective discussion and debate. Students should be able to write well-organized and comprehensive essays that consider solutions to difficult questions as well as reflect an understanding and appreciation of the complexity of international relations and different points of view.
  • Native American History – 1890 to Present

    Although the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 is often seen as the end of the American Indian story in the US narrative of US History, it should instead be understood as the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.  Military conflict between the United States and American Indians had largely concluded by 1890, but Indians’ struggle in legal, cultural, and at times physical terms was far from over.  American Indian history in the 20th century illuminates the unique position of tribes within American society and law as “domestic dependent nations,” as well as the ongoing tension between assimilation and cultural preservation.  Through a combination of primary and secondary sources, fiction, and film, this course examines various episodes and problems throughout the twentieth century, including the founding and operation of the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania, the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and contemporary issues in reservation life.
  • The Cold War: The Soviet Union and the World (W)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will focus on the Cold War through the lens of Soviet leadership with particular attention to the importance of ideology, personality, and realpolitik in foreign policy. We will also look at the global impact of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and the role it played in various regions, including: Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Potential texts and sources include Vladislav Zubok’s A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev and the CNN documentary series Cold War.
  • The Russian Revolution: Leninism and Stalinism (F)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers. This course will examine the Russian Revolution from the creation of the Bolsheviks through Joseph Stalin’s consolidation of power and subsequent purges. In particular, it will focus on Vladimir Lenin’s role in shaping the communist movement, the February and October Revolutions of 1917, the Civil War, and the struggle for power following Lenin’s death. From that point, the course will study Stalin’s Five Year Plans and his use of terror throughout the 1930s. In addition to historical texts, primary documents, and scholarly articles, personal memoir and foreign film will help students develop a thorough understanding of the period. Potential texts/sources: Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution; Ginsburg’s Journey into the Whirlwind; Burnt by the Sun.
  • United States History (Y)

    Open to Sixth and Fifth Formers who have completed The World and the West and required of all students in the Upper School, United States History is a survey course that begins with the pre-Revolutionary War Period and continues through the post-War era. While recognizing the different cultures that have contributed to the American experience, this course emphasizes the values we all share in common: democratic participation in government, freedom of expression and basic civil liberties, the rule of law, social movements, and the relationship between liberty and equality. In addition, students also explore the changing role the United States has played in the world.
     
    Enrollment in U.S. History assumes that students will have a thorough grounding in the foundation skills for historical inquiry taught in Sacred Texts and Ancient Peoples and The World and the West, including the experience of having written major research papers. During the year, students will continue to develop as analytical writers, critical readers and inquiring roundtable discussion participants while enhancing their understanding that our history may be interpreted in many and varied ways.
     
    Though this course is not designed to prepare students for the Advanced Placement Examination and SAT subject test in U.S. History, they are welcome to take the exam(s) if they wish. They will, however, need to do substantial extra reading during school vacations in advance of the exam(s).
  • World and the West (Y)

    Open to Fifth and Fourth Formers and required of all students in the Upper School. World and the West is a year-long course that carries the human story forward from the year 1000 to the present. The course examines the role played by western and non-western societies in the development of the modern world, and focuses in particular on the cross-cultural interchange between the world's societies during the past millennia. Because of the broad time span it covers, World and the West fills an important role in the larger school curriculum by enabling students to place knowledge acquired in other courses in its proper chronological context.
     
    Students entering The World and the West should be able to write a five-paragraph essay with effective thesis and topic sentences. They should be able to take notes and organize information on their own when preparing for both objective and essay tests. They should have an enhanced capacity for abstract reasoning beyond that expected in the Lower School. Among the many skills taught in World and the West are: an understanding of point of view and the ability to make judgments concerning relative reliability when using primary sources, the ability to use these primary sources in document-based essay questions, the ability to handle multiple-choice questions of a type generally used on standardized national exams, and the ability to engage in spirited but civil class discussions. As they continue to hone their critical thinking and essay writing skills, students will also undertake two research papers sometime during the year. Their instructors lead them through all phases of the process including: identifying an appropriate historical question as a topic, orientation to the library, finding and discriminating among printed sources (whether accessed in person or online), developing an argument based upon this research, understanding of what plagiarism is and how it can be avoided, and formatting proper footnotes and a bibliography according to the University of Chicago style.
     
    Though this course is not explicitly designed to prepare students for the Advanced Placement Examination in Modern World History or the SAT subject test in World History, they are welcome to take the exam(s) if they wish. They will, however, need to do substantial extra reading during school vacations in advance of the exam(s).

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Jennifer Wallace
    Jennifer Wallace
    History Department Head, F. Trubee Davison Chair in History
    978-448-7801
    Bio
  • Photo of Renee Bai
    Renee Bai
    Chinese, History and Social Science
    978-448-7794
    Bio
  • Photo of Harold Francis
    Harold Francis
    Assistant Director of Athletics
    978-448-7247
    Bio
  • Photo of Tommy Lamont
    Tommy Lamont
    Lawrence Family Chair in History and World Affairs
    978-448-3363
    Bio
  • Photo of John Lyons
    John Lyons
    Director of New Faculty Development, John Hay Whitney Chair of History and Public Affairs
    978-448-7428
    Bio
  • Photo of Eric Spierer
    Eric Spierer
    978-448-7716
    Bio
  • Photo of Ryan Spring
    Ryan Spring
    Dorm Head
    978-448-7302
    Bio
  • Photo of Stacey Spring
    Stacey Spring
    978-448-7302
    Bio