The Park School History Department considers the ultimate goal of the study of history at the secondary level to be the formation of attitudes and skills that enable students to analyze the world around them so that they can constructively participate in society and politics. We encourage young people to recognize the non-objective nature of information and to take time to seek alternative ideas, arriving logically at personal positions concerning the key issues of their world.

The emphasis in course organization is on historical problems. Assignments include a discriminating analysis of both primary sources and secondary interpretations. We employ a variety of readings and teaching techniques to stimulate and develop effective self-expression, both written and oral. Basic research skills are taught in required courses, culminating in a major research paper each year.

Three years of history are required for graduation; most students take at least one elective course in history. Electives are described below, after the list of required courses. 

Independent Study can be arranged for semester credit; every year a small number of students—usually juniors or seniors—seek this opportunity to work on history projects.


  • Grade 9: U.S. History to WWI
  • Grade 10: World History to WWI
  • Grade 11: 20th Century History

Full Year Courses


U.S. History to World War I 

Grade: 9 Required

This course provides a general overview of the history of the United States from pre-colonial times through the onset of World War I. Using primary documents and secondary sources, students explore the cultural, political, geographical, economic, and technological changes of America’s past. Major topics include colonization, independence, the Constitution, sectionalism, the Civil War, Reconstruction, industrialization, immigration, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era. The course involves a good deal of discussion, reading, and writing, including a research paper.

world history to world war i

Grade: 10 Required

Students examine the various forces shaping the history of the modern world. Emphasis is given to the changes brought about by the Enlightenment, revolutionary politics, the development of the modern nation-state, and industrialism. Case studies of colonialism, independence movements, and the conflicts engendered by the new nationalism of the 19th century are undertaken. A research paper, building on skills learned in ninth grade, is required.

20th Century History

Grade: 11 Required

Students analyze and explore the competing political philosophies and global trends that defined the turbulent period after WWI: nationalism, liberalism, imperialism, communism, fascism, independence movements, and decolonization. Integrated into this course is a study of 20th century United States history. A research paper is required, building on skills learned in the ninth and tenth grades.

Fall Semester Courses


art history: Recurring themes

Grades: 10-12

More than ever before, we live in a world of manmade appearance, and whether we are conscious of it or not, what we see affects us. In this course, the ultimate question is this: how does art (from painting and architecture to advertising and fashion) influence our sense of reality and identity and shape our desires? To approach this question in a manageable way, students will examine three or four major themes that recur throughout art history, such as Sacred Space, The Body, Power and Protest, and The Natural World. Students will study a broad range of works, comparing the ways artists from different time periods and cultures have responded to each theme. They will examine, discuss, read and write about art, and may even make some art, too. This course can be taken for art or history credit.


Grades: 10-12

This course is broken into two units—microeconomics and macroeconomics. In microeconomics, students study the forces governing individual markets: the relative prices of goods in different markets and the allocation of resources among various goods. The course starts with the case where markets work well (Adam Smith’s famous Invisible Hand) and finishes with instances where markets do not work so well—monopoly, water pollution, poverty, and global warming. In macroeconomics, students study the forces governing inflation, unemployment, and business cycles. An important part of this examination is the study of financial markets. 

Ethics seminar

Grades: 10-12

Would you kill one person to save five? Are private schools a threat to public education? Would it be wrong to eat your cat after it dies? Should your friends trust you? In this seminar on ethics, students will wrestle with hard questions. To deepen their thinking, they will read short stories, watch films, examine current events, and explore the ideas of philosophers, both ancient and modern. Topics for examination will include issues of privacy and the public good, gender equity, crime and punishment, animal rights, abortion, the reparations for the holocaust and slavery, cannibalism, and the meaning of life.

four historical simulations

Grades: 10-12

Nothing beats the intensity of role playing when everyone is trying to maximize their position, but this maximizing behavior doesn’t necessarily mean the resolution reached will be optimal. Sometimes a conflict is best solved through negotiation and cooperation, not conquest. (See the idea of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma.’) Sometimes the game isn’t zero-sum in nature. In this class, students will play out four major historical episodes and discover which elements of the historical role playing may have been zero-sum and which probably weren’t and why. They will also learn a lot of historical content relevant to the time periods by inhabiting roles in four different areas of the world. Three will be: “India: seeking independence, c. 1945”; “Kentucky: defining loyalty, 1861”; and the “Cuban Missile Crisis: saving face and the world, 1962.” The fourth simulation will be determined. Assessments will include four essays with a self-evaluation component.

modern middle east

Grades: 10-12

This is a survey course of the Modern Middle East from the late 19th century to the present. Though this is a history course that will examine the dominant narrative written about this region, the class will be driven by larger questions such as: What are the prevailing ideologies in the Middle East of this era? What is the relationship between the “West” and the Middle East, and how has this relationship (and the region) been shaped by European and then American political and cultural hegemony? How have Middle Easterners sought to adapt to changing national borders, shifting identities, and massive political upheavals during the last century or so? And finally, what role do the Middle East and Middle Easterners play in the imagination of the West, both in terms of being the abstract “Other” and as immigrants to non-Middle Eastern nations? The intent of these lines of inquiry is to unpack the diversity of experiences amongst the variety of religions and ethnic groups of the Middle East. This class will, of course, also consider events that are unfolding in the region as they see fit.

the Orwellian century

Grades: 10-12

The term “Orwellian” has become shorthand for efforts of authority to alter the truth to suit its needs, and the name George Orwell has become synonymous with a resistance to the power of deceitful language and a commitment to truthful inquiry. To read Orwell’s works is to examine some of the essential problems of the twentieth century. In this class, students will read a sampling of Orwell’s work that will take the class through the issues of colonialism and imperialism, poverty and class, labor and social structures, politics and language, and the rise of totalitarianism. Readings will include essays such as “A Hanging,” “Shooting an Elephant,” and “Politics and the English Language,” fictional works, including “Down and Out in Paris and London,” and non-fiction, including “The Road to Wigan Pier” and “Homage to Catalonia.”

a queer history of modern america

Grades: 10-12

This course explores the history of gender and sexuality in the United States through the vantage point of queer communities. The term “queer” encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender-fluid identities. One of the central goals of this class is for students to understand how and why binary categories such as male/female and gay/straight came to be considered “normal” and “natural” in mainstream culture and politics. Topics include the lived experiences of queer communities, the intersection between LGBTQ issues and the politics of race and class, and the rise of LGBTQ activism. The primary focus of this course is twentieth century U.S. queer history. On occasion discussion will dip into the nineteenth century to draw the connection between sexual and gender identities before and after the turn of the century.


Grades: 10-12

This course will examine the modern totalitarian state, primarily through its two most prominent examples, the Soviet Union under Stalin and Nazi Germany under Hitler. After achieving a theoretical understanding of totalitarianism, the class will study the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in detail to try to determine to what extent these regimes met the criteria of totalitarianism. The totalitarian state extended past the standard authoritarian regime, using a variety of means to gain the support of the people and to achieve certain goals. Both the USSR and Nazi Germany present many questions in this context. In addition to the two primary examples, the course will also touch on other 20th century regimes that are sometimes described as totalitarian.

Spring Semester Courses


Grades: 10-12

Hippies and Yippies. The Cultural Revolution in China and Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. The Tet Offensive in Vietnam and Biafran War in Nigeria. Riots in Chicago, Washington D.C., and Baltimore. Hey Jude and 2001. The Kennedys and Nixon. Black Power at the Mexican Olympics and student strikes in Paris. 1968 was a year of revolution, rebellion and reaction; liberation, confusion, wild  hopes and dark fears. This course will take a close look at what happened, why, and the lessons those events might hold for us today.

american feminism in literature and history

Grades: 10-12

On January 21, 2017, close to 500,000 protesters converged on Washington to provide a visual and vocal objection to the inauguration of Donald Trump. Like a confluence of rivers, this gathering brought together a swirl of cultures, races, genders, and ages and flowed inclusively down the streets of D.C. For many, it also launched the next wave of feminism in the United States, a wave that had previously been defined in more narrow terms and by more exclusive membership. This course takes as its starting point the Women’s March on Washington and examines the history of Feminism in literary and historical terms. Working through second and third waves, through definitions, actions, stories, and laws, the class will arrive at this inspired moment of our time and consider where the collective goes next. This course is team taught and may be taken for history or English credit.


Grades: 10-12

No two people reading the Constitution are likely to agree on exactly what it means. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Does this mean that church property should not be taxed? Does it mean that a religion that requires human sacrifice should be tolerated? Countless questions of this sort are decided by the Supreme Court, and these decisions have fundamentally shaped many aspects of American life. In this course students will look in detail at a number of constitutional disputes that were decided by the Supreme Court and how those Supreme Court decisions determine the meaning of the Constitution itself.

disease and epidemics in american history

Grades: 10-12

This seminar explores some of the most notable diseases in American history, from the role of smallpox in European colonization to the Ebola scare in 2014. The central goal of the class is for students to understand the links between social, economic, and political change on the one hand and disease on the other. Topics include the origin and impact of epidemics in society, the changing science of disease, the development of public health, the role of class, race, gender, and religion in disease responses, and the tensions between protecting the public good and individual rights. Students will also use this course to reflect on the legacies of the past for the epidemic present.

the holocaust

Grades: 10-12

The main subject of this course will be Nazi Germany’s mass murder of six million Jews during the Second World War, certainly one of the defining events of the 20th century. Although the focus will be on the genocide of European Jews, the course will also study the Nazis’ murder of other groups (Roma, homosexuals, political opponents, the disabled, the mentally ill) during this period. Students will examine the Holocaust from the perspectives of the perpetrators, the bystanders, and the victims. How and why did Nazi Germany conduct this genocide? How did those people who were not either participants or victims of the atrocities, but knew something of what was happening, react and respond to what they saw? And what was the experience of the victims and survivors? Finally, how have historians and students of history come to understand the Holocaust? Does ‘history’ have a unique responsibility when it comes to the Holocaust, and if so, what is that responsibility?

international relations

Grades: 10-12 

Imagine living in an apartment building where everyone can do whatever they want, or what they can ‘get away with.’ No outside authority will provide a source of ultimate authority for disputes inside the building. This is akin to the underlying hypothetical state of anarchy that characterizes international relations. Over time (and especially since the defeat of 1940s fascism and militarism) nation-states and non-state actors have developed sets of relationships that have created somewhat greater order than mere anarchy. This course will examine states (like the ‘Great Powers’) and non-state actors (such as inter-governmental organizations, like the U.N. or the World Bank, and nongovernmental organizations, like Doctors Without Borders or Amnesty International) and the treaties and agreements they’ve generated, which collectively are called ‘the international system.’ It’s a good time to look at this post WWII system because after 70 years it appears to be changing substantially as the world experiences tension between nationalism and globalism. This course will employ Goldstein’s International Relations (10th ed.) textbook, and emphasis will be given to keeping up on international news during the semester.

race and film in u.s. history

Grades: 10-12

Cinema has been integral to the exploration of American history from the earliest days of film in the late nineteenth century. And just as the issues of race and racism are central to the nation’s history, so are they to film history. In this course we will examine the way film has addressed race in the United States, including: “race films” of the 1920’s that employed black directors and all-black casts; treatments and representations of African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Latinos; and the aesthetics of black American cinema. Course work will combine an investigation of historical themes with an exploration of the contributions of the films to the development of film art. This course may be taken for either history or art department credit.


We believe that an Independent Study, under the guidance of a faculty member, can offer certain students a unique opportunity to pursue academic and/or artistic interests that our program does not specifically satisfy. Such work requires initiative, commitment, focused energy, and a prior engagement and familiarity with the subject. Students who demonstrate these qualities may apply to do an Independent Study.

To apply, a student must find a faculty member willing to sponsor the work and advise the student. Together, they complete the Independent Study application, describing the project, its goals, and the criteria for evaluation. The completed application is submitted for approval to the student’s academic advisor, the appropriate department chair, and, finally, the principal. Students must receive approval prior to the registration date for that term. (The application form lists specific dates).