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.
This course introduces students to major themes in world history from 1800 to the present as well as to the questions, analytical tools, and ways of thinking central to the discipline of history. The course is organized around a series of questions that form the basis for in-depth historical investigations. We begin by reading Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, which anchors our discussion of the question: what is history, and how do we study it? We weave another central question into our introductory unit: How have ideas about race, gender, and other social identifiers shaped the past and our understanding of history? This opening unit provides a framework for thinking historically that students will use throughout the year and in the rest of their Berkeley Carroll history courses. We then move into an investigation of the nineteenth century that asks: how were the industrial revolution, imperialism, and racism intertwined? Subsequent units ask questions such as: what were the worldwide consequences of World War I? To what extent is China a communist country? How did the Cold War affect Latin America? In exploring each of these questions, students will learn background information and analyze a variety of historical sources (both primary and secondary) in order to arrive at their own interpretations, based on evidence, of many of the most important changes over the past three centuries that have shaped the world in which they live today.
- Africa and the West
- Apartheid and Jim Crow: Racial Segregation in South Africa and the United States
- Cultures in the Caribbean
- History of Globalization
- Latin America in the 20th and 21st Centuries
- Modern China
- Modern Middle East
- Reading War
- World Religions
- World War II
How have Africans navigated enormous political and economic upheaval from the end of the 19th century to the present? Using Belgian colonialism in the Congo as a case study, the class will begin by dissecting how Eurocentric myths and stereotypes justified colonial expansion throughout Africa. The class will then discuss resistance to European interference, touching up on the leadership of Menelik II and Haille Selassie in Ethiopia, as well as the creation of anti-colonial solidarity via the Non-Aligned Movement. The course will then trace paths to independence, juxtaposing the relatively peaceful anti-colonial struggle of Ghana with the violence that accompanied Algeria’s quest for freedom. Finally, it will conclude with a study of contemporary issues and their interplay with Western foreign policy, such as the role of the World Bank and IMF in fomenting neo-colonialism and the causes and consequence of intra-state conflict in Rwanda. Sources will include narrative histories from Adam Hochschild, Philip Gourevitch, and Martin Meredith; as well as philosophy of Frantz Fanon, the speeches of Selassie; essays by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chinua Achebe; and films such as The Battle of Algiers. Along the way, we will contemplate the following: How did Africans resist European subjugation? To what extent are Africans truly free of Western control? What challenges and opportunities greet Africans in the 21st Century? Finally, we will critique the very premise of this course by asking: how can the way we study history either challenge or reinforce the power imbalance between Africa and the West?
Apartheid was the policy of strict racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994, enforced by a complex web of national laws. Jim Crow was a system of state and local laws in the United States designed to codify white supremacy. Our course begins by examining the origins of the South African apartheid state and the Jim Crow South. We will then study the lives of both non-white South Africans and Black Americans, who endured segregation and fought in various ways against oppressive policies and programs. We will focus particularly on moments of unrest. In South Africa these moments include the Sharpeville Massacre and the Soweto Uprising. In the United States tensions arose in the aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, and during the Freedom Rides across the South and Freedom Summer in Mississippi. What were the successes and limitations of the forms of protest that unraveled apartheid and Jim Crow? To what extent are these systems fully unraveled today? We will study not only well-known figures like Nelson Mandela and Steve Biko in South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ella Baker in the U.S., but also people from all walks of life who fought to make possible the "long walk to freedom."
This course will focus on the creation and evolution of cultures in a selection of Caribbean island nations, including Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua, Trinidad, and Cuba. We’ll place emphasis on the humanity and resistance of enslaved and colonized people in the region by examining art, music, religion and spirituality, food, fashion, and more. We will explore the unique developments of each island while keeping in mind their connected past and present.As scholar Joshua Jelly-Schapiro noted in his book Island People, “The Caribbean has been anything but marginal to the making of our modern world.” The goal of the course is to uncover the ways that Caribbean peoples have crafted individual and community identities, empowering themselves and changing the world——making the islands a central zone and force in modern history.
We live and breathe globalization. Our shirts are made in Bangladesh, our phones come from China, bananas travel 3000 miles before they arrive on our plate, and despite these distances communication across the globe is instantaneous. Our interconnections make our world seem smaller, but also make it puzzling and more complex. This course aims to make us aware of how our choices as consumers and producers shape this global world, and in turn how we are shaped by the environmental and cultural impact of global exchange. In this 10th grade elective we aim to understand what globalization is, how it came to be, and how we should live with and in it. We will examine turning points that shaped global development and exchange, specifically how migrations of people, flows of goods, and exchanges of ideas help explain our world today. We will also consider how geography, gender, race, and consumerism play a role in this history as we examine historical case studies of communities across the globe--in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Understanding this history will allow us to ask ourselves hard personal questions, like: what are our responsibilities in an interconnected global world? Should I buy that and, if I do, what is the impact on other people and the earth? What does it mean to think globally? Join this journey to embrace close reading, question-asking, and personal growth and reflection.
Does Latin America, a region encompassing 20 countries and more than 600 million people, really have a single history? We will grapple with that question as we study both broad trends in Latin American history and specific narratives from countries including Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. We’ll start with a brief look at Latin America today because, in the rest of the course, we will be asking: how did the past create the present? Then we’ll move backwards in time. At the dawn of the 20th century, dictators and oligarchs governed most Latin American countries, guiding their economies through an export boom in which international sales of products like coffee and rubber drove economic growth as well as social inequality. We’ll look at how nationalist, populist, and Marxist movements reshaped governments in Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, and elsewhere in the middle of the century, following the Great Depression. Then, we’ll study how Latin American countries navigated the Cold War, when many embraced socialism while also facing intervention from the United States, which had vowed to prevent the spread of Marxism in Latin America. As the Cold War ended, a new embrace of free trade and globalization, often called neoliberalism, took hold in Latin America, and we will learn about both the spread of neoliberalism and the nationalist reactions that brought leaders including Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro to power. Finally, we will return to some of the most significant issues facing Latin America today, including climate change and migration.
China is one of the oldest continuous civilization in human history. The Chinese had a fleet ready for global exploration before Europe was out of its dark ages. It produced important technology and social systems that shape our own lives. But in modern history China has emerged only recently as an economic force. What is the story of this nation? Why is it the next global superpower? This course will involve an intensive investigation of modern Chinese history from the late 19th century to the present. We will explore interactions between China and the West, the rise and development of nationalism and communism, modernization, important political leaders and recent political events. We will conclude by grappling with China’s current unique brand of socialism and its emergence as a major player in the world economy. A consistent theme of the course is the Chinese quest for a stable political, economic and cultural identity in the modern world. How can we understand such a complicated country full of richness and contradiction?
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.
Why do nations go to war? And even more importantly, why do individuals serve in battle, often willingly giving their lives?
Is there such a thing as a “moral war”?
What is the effect of war on those who lead it, those who serve in it, and those who stay at home waiting for news of it?
How are stories of social class integrated into stories of war? Who leads, who fights, who runs?
Where are the women and children in a war story?
This course will examine these questions from a primarily historical perspective, but also a literary and philosophical one. The Roman philosopher and poet Horace wrote that “it is sweet and noble to die for one’s country,” a line so memorable and important that two thousand years later, it is engraved above Arlington National Cemetery. In our study, we will ask whether WWI poet Wilfred Owen is right when he calls Horace’s line about war, “The old Lie.” We’ll analyze the historical nature and value of a wide range of texts about war such as paintings, novels, comics, songs, short stories, documentaries and plays. Those texts will be rooted in the historical context of WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, the Sierra Leone war, the war in the Congo and the Iraq War, amongst others.
Every few weeks we’ll have a guest speaker, such as a veteran, a war photographer or a documentarian who will share their experiences with war. Each of you will end the course by writing your own war story, based on an interview you’ll conduct with a veteran.
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
How did the deadliest conflict in global history reshape the world? This course will begin with an exploration of the pre-war era, including the destabilizing fallout from World War I, the continued rise of right-wing, militaristic dictatorships, and the lead-up to the Pacific War. We will examine in detail Japan’s encroachment upon China, beginning with the creation of the Manchukuo puppet state and continuing with the Nanjing Massacre and Sino-Japanese War. The course will briefly tackle the nature of the conflict itself, delving into the unprecedented casualty rate and the development of total war. Finally, we will discuss the outcomes of the war, in particular the nascent anti-colonial movement in India, Indochina, and West Africa and the beginnings of the Cold War. The class will investigate the following questions and more: Why was it difficult for nations to remain neutral? What factors contributed to the brutality? How did the war reshuffle traditional global hierarchies? How are we still grappling with the unresolved issues of World War II today?
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.
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?
*11th grade students who want to take an additional course in the humanities may have the opportunity to choose from the English and history departments’ 10th and 12th grade elective offerings.
- African American History
- American South
- Art History
- Cahokia, Conquest and Contingency: An Indigenous People’s History of the United States
- The Cold War
- History, Popular Narrative, and Social Change
- Senior Scholars
- Theories of the “Self”: Nietzsche, Freud, and Existentialism
- Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
- Voting Rights -- and Wrongs -- in U.S. History
African American History: from Enslavement to Freedom I (1st Semester)
African American History: from the Great Migration to the Present II (2nd Semester)
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? How has the presence of Black immigrants from the diaspora helped to shape and influence African American culture and life? We will explore these questions and many more in this year long course.
The fall seminar, African American History: from Slavery to Freedom, will start with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and will end in the Reconstruction era. We will study the first decades of African American history and culture and trace the historical, political, social, and cultural contexts of Black Americans from the slave trade to freedom post-Civil War.
The spring seminar, African American History: from the Great Migration to the Present, will commence with the turn of the 20th century; the central question of the course is taken from W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk: “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” The spring course will cover the Great Migration through the 2008 election of Barack Obama, as well as current debates in African American political and cultural life.
Students may elect to take both classes for the year long survey, or either class as a stand-alone course.
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
The American South occupies a precarious position in the American psyche. On the one hand, the South has a timeless, magnetic pull on popular American imagination. On the other hand, critical analysis of the American South gives insight into some of the most destructive and dehumanizing practices of American society. To understand Southern society and culture in the present, we’ll move backwards in time, uncovering the layered history of the Deep South since the end of the Civil War in 1865. We’ll explore the intersections of social, political, and economic institutions, highlighting the role that individuals have played within and against these institutions. In foregrounding the (re)codification of white supremacy and black resistance, we’ll touch on these topics: music and literature; gender and sexuality; labor activism; childhood, schools, and education; immigration; the evolution of political parties; the influence of religion; and popular culture. Participation in a trip to the American South during Spring Intensive is an optional part of the course.
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?
What are the important historical events and ideas, and who are the key historical figures, in Native American history?
What influences are shaping how Native American history is being taught today?
What important and lasting contributions have Native Americans made to American life?
What opportunities and challenges do rural and urban Native Americans face today?
This course will look at the tumultuousness of United States foreign and domestic policy during the country's entanglement with the Soviet Union between 1945-1991. It will trace the ideological origins of the conflict, as well as the way in which post-World War II bi-polarity fomented tension. The course will pay special attention to proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as CIA-sponsored interventions in Latin American nations like Cuba, Guatemala and Chile. It will also dissect the foreign policies of Presidents Truman through George H.W. Bush, noting their relationship to doctrines such as “containment,” “flexible response,” “detente” and more. Students will trace connections between international engagements and domestic life by researching topics such as the military industrial complex, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Movement, youth subculture, and ‘Reaganomics.’ Through these projects, students will turn their eyes to the present as they evaluate the role of the U.S. as a leader in international affairs.
In this course, students will use the tools of the historian to evaluate significant works of American journalism and narrative non-fiction written in the last twenty years. In examining these texts, we will aim to decipher how authors use the past to comment on the weighty issues of the present. Students will analyze, for example, excerpts from Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, works that comment on 21st century racial injustice, in the context of scholarly sources about slavery, Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era. Students will also read excerpts from Too Big to Fail and Nickel and Dimed, which investigate different tiers of the American economy, while studying public policies that have exacerbated income inequality. In our discussions of these and other topics, we will explore the values and limitations of crafting popular narrative. What are the benefits of writing for a broad audience as opposed to a scholarly one? Students will hear from non-fiction writers discussing research methods and then embark upon their own projects to complement or update the narratives presented in the readings. Ultimately, this course will enable students to become more skilled consumers of journalism and more effective political and social actors.
The Senior Scholars Program 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 the end of February 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.
In the Modern Era era when people came to feel unmoored—when industry replaced craft, science surpassed religion, urbanization and population boomed, and modern warfare and genocide of the World Wars traumatized—philosophers and artists grappled with important questions: what is the meaning of our lives? What is our responsibility in a seemingly meaningless, arbitrary world? What is good and right? These historical events and questions fundamentally shaped how philosophers came to understand the self. Our class will be an exploration of (1) how historical circumstances like the industrial revolution, scientific discovery, political revolution, and world wars shaped ideas, (2) how Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and existentialists—like Sartre, Camus, Beauvoir, Fanon—specifically responded to these conditions by developing new ideas about morality and the individual, and (3) how these ideas continue to influence philosophy and even our own lives today. Our study will help us understand how humans responded to a rapidly changing and modernizing world, and how changes in the world might still affect our understanding of ourselves.
This elective provides seniors with an overview of influential texts and theories across world cultures in epistemology, aesthetics, and ethics. These three branches of philosophy will constitute the three distinct yet interrelated units of the course. When studying truth, we will ask, “How do we know what we know?”; when studying beauty, we will ask, “To what extent are notions of beauty socially constructed?”; and when studying ethics, we will ask, “What does it mean to be, or do, good?”
As students read excerpts of theory, they will not only deconstruct the texts and make connections across time and place, but also reflect upon their own beliefs regarding the nature of truth, beauty, and goodness. This course is thus designed to serve as a bridge between Berkeley Carroll, whose mission is to cultivate “critical, ethical, and global thinking” and the world beyond. Students will examine the people and institutions that shape high school students’ worldviews; consider contemporary social implications of the fields, from artificial intelligence to beauty standards to humanitarian aid & philanthropy; and interview non-academics on their experience of and views on truth, beauty, and goodness. An emphasis will be placed on acknowledging and addressing counter-arguments and alternate perspectives.
Course requirements will include at least one analytical essay and at least one creative work, which may take the form of a podcast, literary work, visual art piece, manifesto, community action plan, etc.
In this history elective, we will examine the major campaigns for and against voting rights (women’s suffrage, black suffrage, e.g.), and the subsequent changes in law and practice from the nation’s founding through the present. The course will ask what the conflicts over voting rights suggest about the state of democracy and about the power structure in the United States at various moments. We will study the legislation (Civil Rights Acts, Voting Rights Act of 1965, state voter ID laws, e.g.), amendments (15th, 19th, 24th, 26th), and court cases (Baker v. Carr, Shelby County v. Holder) that defined voting rights; the often-lengthy activism (and the opposition to it) that expanded voting rights; and the attempts (ongoing; many successful) to subvert and undermine that expansion. The course will focus on the electoral progress and setbacks of marginalized groups: in terms of age, class, race, gender, immigration status, and incarceration history. In the fall of this presidential election year, students will keep a weekly journal that tracks, documents, and responds to ongoing attempts at voter suppression and intimidation and to claims of “voter fraud.” Through the course and the journal, students will make connections between the current state of voting rights and the historical moments we are studying.