Brooklyn private independent school


Berkeley Carroll’s history program embodies the content, methods and values of several disciplines including history, social studies, geography, and philosophy. We believe that this diversity is key to the strength of our department. Our rich program helps students develop empathy and understanding, as we strive to have them grasp the factual grounding that will allow them to become critical and analytical thinkers. We encourage our students to shun simple answers, to understand that people create histories, and that interpretations can change over time.

The idea that knowledge of the past provides a lens to understand the present and to view the future aligns with our goal of teaching students to think like historians. Guiding questions, focusing on such essential themes such as immigration, war and peace, human rights and religious tolerance, shape our units of study.

The Upper School history department offers a foundational course in world history in 9th grade, followed by a variety of semester-long 10th grade electives that focus on cross-cultural and global understanding. An American Studies course, co-taught with the English department, in 11th grade, is followed by a variety of semester-long 12th grade electives that focus on specific questions, problems, and themes in American history. Our most ambitious 12th grade historians take on a Senior Scholars research project.

Course Catalog

9th Grade

Modern World History

What is modernization?
How is modernization achieved?
Does modernization equal progress?

This course introduces ninth grade students to the major political events and intellectual movements of the modern era and provides the concepts and analytical questions needed to discuss major themes in world history from 1700 to the present. The expansion of the European nation states, powered by industrial and liberal revolutions, is a central focus of the course. We are equally interested in how the African, Asian, and Latin American peoples coped with the challenges of modernity, broke colonial shackles, and established independent nations. In studying the 20th century we follow the contradictory threads of totalitarianism and liberation, poverty and plenty, fundamentalism and internationalism. To capture this panorama of three centuries of human endeavor we employ a variety of primary and secondary source materials, liberally salted with film and fiction, that illuminate the lives of ordinary men and women as well as the great and powerful. Everyone writes a research paper on an important historical topic.

10th Grade

Cultures in the Caribbean

The politics and cultures of the Caribbean island nations of Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and Trinidad will be the focus of this course. We will trace their development since the era of imperialism, paying special attention to the fusion of different religious beliefs, to the slave experience, and to independence struggles beginning with the Haitian Revolution. How do their histories shed light on their recent government structures and struggles? What do the customs of these countries tell us about their national identities? By examining the languages, music, religions, and food of these countries, we will explore the unique developments of each island while keeping in mind their connected past and present.

Russia: From Peter to Putin

In 1939, Winston Churchill famously spoke of Russia: "I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest." Given the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine, as well as charges of meddling in the most recent US election, Churchill’s words seem as relevant in 2017 as they were in 1939. The course will examine Russia from its reorientation from East to West under Peter the Great and the later autocrats of the Romanov dynasty through the emergence of the USSR as communist role model and superpower to the “new” Russia of Vladimir Putin and its reemergence on both a regional and global level. Particular emphasis will be placed on seeking the historical antecedents that influence Russia’s current policies, both internally and in its relations with neighboring states.

Ancient Rome

Why did the Roman republic disappear? What is the legacy of Ancient Rome?

Students will study the story of Ancient Rome from its foundation to its fall. They will concentrate on the two centuries in which a republic of free citizens was replaced by the rule of dictatorial emperors and ask how this loss of liberty happened. They will learn how Rome built a vast empire and study those who resisted Rome’s power and were crushed - people like Hannibal, Spartacus, Boudicca, and Josephus, leader of the Jewish revolt. They will study the deeds of powerful emperors as well as the lives of those at the bottom of Roman society, and follow gladiators, lions, and Christians to their bloody end in the Colosseum. And they will learn about the Roman city of Pompeii and its destruction by the volcano Vesuvius. Throughout the course students examine how the idea of Rome has influenced later civilizations and how Rome brought a unity to Europe that has never since been replicated.

Modern Middle East

Which is more important in the Middle East today: a shared Muslim heritage or national borders?
How has national development in the Middle East been both enhanced and impeded by relations with the Euro/American West?
What is the future of Israel in the Middle East?
What are the impediments to economic development in the Middle East?

This course will investigate the recent history of the peoples and nations of the Middle East. Students will learn how the modern countries of that region came to life when both the Ottoman Empire and European colonial schemes fell apart after World War I. The origins of the state of Israel will be considered in detail. Then we will track these countries’ struggles as modern nation states in the land of ancient civilizations and sacred geography. We will ask if loyalty to country is greater than loyalty to traditional clan or religious community. We will confront some big paradoxes of today’s Middle East: oil riches and grinding poverty, deep religious faith and unrelenting violence, yearning for modern freedoms and undemocratic governments. As we pursue these goals we will seek to complicate our understanding by reaching beyond the western narrative through examining translated resources from Middle Eastern media outlets.

The Holocaust and Human Behavior

How do you explain genocide?
Is the Holocaust the product of culture and history or the byproduct of human nature?

How is a person’s identity defined?
How is membership in a nation defined?
What choices are available to people when they see evil?
Are bystanders culpable?

Students examine how the Nazis came to power in Germany, established a totalitarian state, and carried out a policy of genocide. They study the roots of the racism, anti-Semitism, and ethnic hatred that were integral to the Nazi takeover and the Nazi state. Primary source readings, films, and videos focus on the moral dimension of history and guide students to see the universal themes inherent in a singular historical event. They discuss how a person’s identity is determined and what happens when prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination push people outside “the universe of obligation.” Students explore how obedience to authority and propaganda can influence human behavior. They are encouraged to see the world from more than one perspective and to put themselves into the shoes both of authority figures and ordinary people. As they analyze the testimony of perpetrators, bystanders, victims, and rescuers, students learn that history is not inevitable but rather the result of human choices.

South Africa Under Apartheid

Apartheid was the policy of strict racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994, enforced by a complex web of laws. This course begins by examining the origins of the apartheid state and the laws that codified white supremacy. We will study the lives of South Africans who endured this segregation and those who fought against the National Party’s policies and programs. We will focus particularly on moments of unrest, including the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 and the Soweto Uprising of 1976. What were the successes and limitations of the various forms of protest that brought apartheid to an end? We will study not only figures like Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, and Desmond Tutu, but also people from all walks of life who fought to make possible the ‘long walk to freedom.’

World Religions

What is the role of myth and ritual in each religion?
In what ways does each religion attempt to provide morals and ethics by which its followers should live? How have historical events affected the development of each religion?
Does each religion reflect its own unique reality? Or, do religions reflect the same reality, just in different ways?

“No one can understand humanity without understanding the faiths of humanity. Religion has permeated human life since early and obscure time.”

- Huston Smith

In this course we will examine the following world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Through readings and the study of sacred texts, we will compare and contrast the origins, central beliefs and practices of each religion. We will investigate the historical and cultural impact of these religious traditions and assess their power as a unifying and a dividing force. In the spirit of diversity and tolerance, we will not discuss the relative worth of various traditions and will instead concentrate on gaining an understanding of the basic tenets of each faith

The Atlantic World

Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World in 1492 triggered the start of a broad mixing of Indigenous, European and African cultures along with seismic changes in global economies, politics and religion. The conquest of the Americas, the colonialization of new territories, and the expansion in trade of both people and goods are some of the topics we will study together. By the end of the term, students will be able to explain how the creation of the Atlantic World, of trade, cultural mixing and political economy shaped our modern world.

History of Decolonization

By the late 1940s the old colonial era of unchecked European political power unraveled across the world, as independent countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean emerged. This class will focus on the causes and effects of decolonization both in the newly independent nations and former colonial powers. In order to better understand the global impact of dismantled empires and the new map it created, we will study international independence movements and the journey to nationhood by foregrounding the histories of nations in the modern Middle East, Africa and Asia, through specific case studies. Students will come away with a greater understanding of the roots of independence movements, their goals and strategies, and colonial response, along with understanding emergence of a “Third World.”

China and India

India is the world's largest democracy while China is the world's largest authoritarian society. This course examines how they each got that way and compares the paths they are on in the twenty-first century. Today China and India account for 36 per cent of the world’s population. Both are ancient civilizations with deep cultural histories founded in Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu and Islamic traditions. Our class will see how the two countries each shook off the rule of the West in the twentieth century and how Gandhi and Nehru created a working democracy while Mao Zedong established a brutal Communist dictatorship. We will study the ways in which modern India has followed or forsaken Gandhi's teachings and how far modern China has kept to or departed from the ways of Chairman Mao. The two countries are now stronger and richer than they have been in centuries, yet each one faces huge problems: is democracy or dictatorship working better to solve these difficulties? What are women’s lives like in countries which until the 20th century still let infant girls have their feet bound and broken or allowed widows to be burned alive in loyalty to their dead husbands? And while China and India can each claim to be leading the world into the future, they both face uncertainties and fears which are causing many of their people to turn back to the security of the Confucian and Hindu philosophies. These are the ideas (which may raise more questions than answers) that our class will read, talk and write about.

Reading will include Somini Sengupta's The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's Young and Rob Gifford's China Road: a Journey into the Future of a Rising Power. These books contain the voices of ordinary men and women living in India and China in the twenty-first century.

Modern India (Not offered in 2017-18)

This course explores the history of the world's largest democracy. It begins with the myths and legends of India, for as Gandhi said, "we are an ancient civilization." Students learn how Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam shaped India each in its own way. They go on to study how India was colonized by the British, how India responded to British rule and achieved independence in the twentieth century, and how India has become a vibrant and successful nation in the early twenty-first century. There are many Indias, not just one, and students will examine the rich variety of ideas and experiences found in India's past and present.

Modern Africa (Not offered in 2017-18)

We are determined to be free. We want education. We want the right to earn a decent living; the right to express our thoughts and emotions, to adopt and create forms of beauty. We demand for Black Africa autonomy and independence, so far and no further than it is possible in this One World for groups and peoples to rule themselves subject to inevitable world unity and federation.
- The Sixth Pan-African Congress (1945)

Leaders on the African continent saw the end of WWII as the perfect opportunity to obtain and cultivate goals of national sovereignty. After a devastating war, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany and several other European powers focused on internal rebuilding and chose to uncoil often longstanding colonial ties to the second largest continent in the world. In addition, Cold War-fueled geopolitical sparring by the USA and the USSR influenced African national independence movements.

Were there opportunities to mitigate the Cold War’s impact on African nations undergoing independence movements? What caused failures at self-rule and the violence that often ensued? What characterized successful transitions to independence? We will focus on case studies including the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Each student will also have the opportunity for in-depth learning about an additional country through a research project and accompanying paper.

Modern East Asia (Not offered in 2017-18)

What important history and culture do China and Japan have in common?
Why have they been so antagonistic to each other so often?
Are China and Japan destined to be enemies or to be friends?

The great global magnet has always had (at least) two poles, the civilization of Western Europe/America and the civilization of East Asia. Today, these two civilizations share a great deal in common. But there are still significant differences between East and West that require that we look closely into the history and culture of this region if we want to understand it well. This elective course will attempt to do that. It will be an overview of history of the two principal East Asian countries, China and Japan, over the last century and one-half.

We will use a comparative approach to try to understand how these countries emerged, tangled, competed, cooperated and competed some more. Our study will have three parts:

  1. China and Japan emerge as modern nations. With mixed success, and on different schedules, China and Japan embrace independence, industry and popular government to become modern nations between 1850 and 1950.
  2. Japan makes war on China. For almost 50 years Japan tried to impose its authority on its old mentor, China. A crushing defeat in World War II ended Japanese imperialism.
  3. China and Japan in the 21st century. As the communist grip weakens, China makes a great economic leap forward, surpassing Japan. Will they find a way to coexist peacefully in East Asia?
We will study this topic through a variety of primary and secondary sources, videos and newspapers, visitors and excursions into the city. We will be open to evidence from historians and novelists as well as musicians and painters. While China and Japan will consume most of our attention, we will also take a sidelong glance at the other East Asian tigers, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

11th Grade

American Studies

What does “American” mean?
What are the contingencies that shape history?
How can literary texts help us to read the past, and vice versa?
Who narrates history?
How and to what extent can we shape history?

America is a country, but it is also an idea. The American Studies course is devoted to the study of that idea and the country that produced it—where both began, and how both have changed. In this course we will study 200+ years of American thought. How did America become "America"? What ideas form the bedrock of this idea of America? What makes America different, and for that matter, what do we believe makes us different that isn't really different at all?

The purpose of this co-taught, double-credit course is to encourage you to be independent learners and thinkers as well as thoughtful, engaged citizens. We hope that you will be able to draw from what you've learned in the classroom to understand what you see outside the classroom. With an eye toward college preparation, this course promises to be a unique challenge in fostering reading, writing, discussion, and research skills. Your coursework will culminate in a research essay and walking tour located in New York City, as well as a double-period final exam.

12th Grade

Principles of Economics

What is supply and demand?
Why are some people rich and other people poor?
Why can’t the government fix the economy?
What are the secrets of a successful business?

These are the questions that this one-semester introduction to economics will try to answer. We will begin by reading a classic text, “The Worldly Philosophers,” to try to understand the foundations of capitalism and the origins of this academic discipline. We will continue with a new, modern textbook that will introduce us to the arcane vocabulary of economics as well as the math and graphs with which economists communicate. There will be regular exams and also short papers that will require questioning family and friends. Also, before the semester is over we will get off of Lincoln Place to investigate the universe of money and business in the great city around us.

Coming to America: The immigrant experiences of those who came here

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are the famous words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. This course will examine in depth the stories of those who came to find a new life in America. It will pay special attention to the Irish who fled the Famine in the 1840s, the Chinese who came during the California Gold Rush, the Russian Jews who escaped the pogroms in the late nineteenth century, and the peoples who have come in more recent times from Mexico and Central America. The course also deals with the various changes in U.S. immigration policy in the past century. Students will make at least one visit to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and they will research the 20th or 21st century immigrant experience of one ethnic group of their choice.

Essential questions for this course include why people left their homes to come to America, how they fared upon arrival, the degree to which they assimilated to the prevailing American culture, and how those who were already here responded to the new arrivals. Students will also consider how these movements of people have repeatedly renewed America and how this has shaped America’s image in the wider world.

The Age of Machiavelli and Elizabeth

This course explores the people and ideas of sixteenth century Europe. Beginning with a time when Europeans lived in fear of the bubonic plague as God’s dreadful punishment for their sins, students will see how in the Renaissance people came to think that they could take charge of their own destiny. They will read selections from the best-selling scholarly book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, which explores such eternal questions as the meaning of life and death and the nature of the soul. They will study the political theories of Machiavelli and the religious ideas of Martin Luther and Erasmus, set against the political and religious turmoil of the times, and consider how the rulers of the time ruled in “Machiavellian” ways. Students also read selections from Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: a Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey, examining Henry VIII’s story through the eyes of the women who married him. They study the life and times of Henry’s daughter Elizabeth and explore the question of how for nearly fifty years she successfully exercised power in a patriarchal society that mostly preferred women to be silent and pregnant.

Cold War America: Ideology, Policy, Culture

Through primary and secondary texts, this course looks at the tumultuous history of American foreign and domestic policy during the country's entanglement in the Cold War. Students will sketch the escalation of tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union after Kennan’s policy of containment, and follow American participation in the nuclear arms debate, the space race, world economic development, and regional wars in the Global South. These foreign policies and military strategies transformed social, economic, and even physical landscapes in the U.S. Students will have opportunities to trace connections between international engagements and domestic life through researching topics such as the military industrial complex, urban renewal and decay, the Great Society, youth subculture, the culture wars, and ‘Reaganomics.’ Through these projects students turn their eyes inward and to the present. How should Americans today characterize and evaluate the role of the U.S. as a global leader in the second half of the twentieth century? The course concludes by looking at perceptions of American leadership from abroad and at home, then and now.

Art History

What questions does one ask oneself in order to interpret a work of art?
How does historical context influence the progression of artistic style over time?

In this course, students will build the necessary skills that will allow them to analyze any piece of artwork to which they are exposed. As they learn to identify a core set of masterpieces from each period, and explore the evolution of styles through the ages, the main objective will be to develop an “art language” as a method of visual analysis and interpretation. Throughout the course, we will be visiting various museums and galleries around New York City. The art history course offers a chronological survey of art from the beginning of civilization to the present time, including the most modern trends and ideas in the ever-changing world of art. The course combines proper historical techniques and procedures with an emphasis on the role played by the artist and the work of art, its context, and the critic. Special attention is given to our interpretation of a work of art based upon its intended use, audience, and role in a particular society. As a survey course, the material is approached as an introduction to the discipline. The study of Art History will change the way one looks not only at paintings and statues, but also advertisements and any visual phenomenon.

Senior Scholars Program

The Senior Scholars Program, which will replace the former “Senior Projects,” will prepare Seniors to be responsible researchers, inquisitive citizens, and dynamic writers for their lives ahead. This selective and demanding program is designed for students who are interested in pursuing serious scholarly work. By developing students’ independent research skills and their capacity for philosophical inquiry, the program will support Berkeley Carroll Seniors in designing and pursuing a year-long independent research project of their choice. Projects may range across disciplines, from investigating the role of Artificial Intelligence in contemporary computer science, for example, to analyzing Toni Morrison’s novels, to researching gender dynamics in the history of Jazz. Students will work with mentors who are experts in their fields and will also meet as a class three times per cycle. The curriculum will prepare students for their projects by focusing on writing, research, and philosophical inquiry skills. The program culminates in a formal written paper and an accompanying public, oral presentation. A committee of peers, teachers, administrators, parents and other community leaders will evaluate the final paper and presentation. In addition to traditional teacher assessment of student performance, the Senior Scholars program includes a major emphasis on self-assessment.

Who can apply?
Rising seniors can apply by April of their Junior year. Applications will be evaluated on the quality of the written application; on past interest and achievement in the chosen field; and on evidence of capability for sustained independent work.

The American South

Has the South ever healed from the Civil War? To what extent does the South constitute its own nation? This course delves into the history of the American South since the Civil War, focusing primarily on the rise, fall, and aftermath of Jim Crow. We will examine various constitutional crises, the (re)codification of white supremacy, African American resistance, industrialization and labor activism, schools and education, music and literature, the civil rights movement and the rise of the Republican South, and changing regional identity. The course will include a trip to key landmarks of the U.S. South (Alabama and Louisiana to visit Birmingham/Selma, New Orleans, the Whitney Plantation/first museum dedicated to American slavery, etc.). The course will culminate in a final research paper or oral history paper, perhaps based on one of the sites from the trip.

Movement Soundtracks

This course focuses on the history of African American popular music over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries from Bessie Smith to Beyonce and Solange, with particular emphasis on the ways in which the Black musical tradition has provided a soundtrack to political movements, migrations, awakenings and uprisings. Histories of jazz, blues, gospel, R&B/Soul, Funk, Motown, Pop and Neo-Soul will be covered. Topics include race, culture, society, and popular culture. Students will leave the course with greater understanding of theories and practices of race, gender and politics in the United States and how popular culture shapes and is shaped by these issues.

U.S. LGBT History

This course examines the history and writing of lesbians, gay men, and other socially constituted sexual and gender minorities in the United States. Because the creation and regulation of queer life and literature has been tied to the creation and regulation of “normal” sexuality and gender, we will learn about the fluid boundaries of normative sexuality, particularly heterosexuality. We will trace developments in American history that influenced gay life, such as World War II, the Cold War, urbanization, and civil rights protests. Students will learn about the rise of homosexuality and heterosexuality as categories of experience and identity; the cultivation of lesbian and gay subcultures and their representation in popular culture; the roots of antigay hostility; religion and sexual science; generational change and everyday life; AIDS; and gay, antigay, feminist, and queer movements. We will also get a chance to look at the history of queer life in New York City by taking a field trip to important historical sites.

African American History

How has African American culture and politics evolved from the late nineteenth century to the present? How have African Americans sought to exercise agency over their lives in the face of Jim Crow and other forms of institutional racism? What are the unique issues African American women face in the struggle for equality? We will explore these questions and many more in our course. The class explores African American history and culture from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 through the present. Prominent themes include, the Great Migration,Harlem and Chicago Renaissance the long Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, black feminism, the election of Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter Movement. We will study the myriad perspectives of black women and men, intellectuals and politicians, artists and activists to deepen our understanding of black history.

Modern Terrorism (Not offered in 2017-18)

We live in a world where acts of terror frequently dominate our headlines. In 2015 alone Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of women in Nigeria, ISIL perpetrated coordinated suicide bombings in Paris and mass shootings continue to threaten Americans from coast-to-coast -- from Charleston, South Carolina to San Bernardino, California. What do these few examples have in common? How do they differ? The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”Do the referenced events fit the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation’s definition of terrorism?

In this course we will glance back into the past in an effort to apply a critical lens to dissect the beast that is modern terrorism. Though Mithradates VI’s anti-Roman campaign in 88 BC will be our first case study, we will begin our investigation by focusing on government perpetrated terrorism during the French Revolution and the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror. As we leave the 18th and step into the 19th century we will witness the growth in the number of non-governmental terrorist groups and by the time we march into the 20th century we will be prepared to ask which causes the most damage?: state, group or individual acts of terror.

This course will provide seniors a space to develop their critical thinking, speaking and writing skills through course readings, daily classroom exercises and outside assignments. At the end of the semester students will collaborate on a small group project seeking to deconstruct an aspect of modern terrorism.

Critical Elections in U.S. History (Not offered in 2017-18)

Using the November 2016 election as a focal point, students will look at other presidential elections in our history, e.g.1800, 1828, 1860, 1912, 1932, 1960, 1968, 1980, 2000, 2008. As students study these elections they will learn about the evolution of our political parties and how voting patterns change by race, gender, and geography. They will ask to what extent a particular election moved the country in a new direction. They will also engage in counterfactual history, asking what might have been different for the country had the defeated candidate won the election.

The United States since 1945 (Not offered in 2017-18)

In what ways has democracy in the U.S. expanded since 1945 to embrace more Americans?
How has the government balanced the demands of foreign security and domestic civil liberties?

This course begins with the premise that the government created by the U.S. Constitution in 1789 was a “democracy in progress.” Much of this progress has taken place in the post-World War II era. The tension between America’s Cold War priorities and the demand for civil rights among African Americans, women, and homosexuals is a central focus of this course. Students will examine the ongoing struggles of these groups to gain equal access to American democracy during a time of great political turmoil. We will consider how the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Reaganomics affected the political climate of America. In what ways are Americans still struggling to secure their rights, particularly in the face of terrorism and continued discrimination?