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.

chinese history and literature: a guide to the chinese century

Grades: 10-12

Global political, economic, and ecological crises will not be solved without reckoning with China. To develop some understanding of the historical and literary ideas fundamental to “Chinese civilization,” students will read a selection of important texts and try to enter the debates inside China itself as to what constitutes “Chinese civilization”— what will and won’t work for China culturally and politically. Arguably, the traditional course on modern China has been a barrier to such an understanding: Chinese history has been taught as a series of catastrophes culminating in the ‘Century of Humiliation,’ during which China was subject to political domination and economic manipulation by Western colonial powers. In this course students will look at the history and the literary heritage of modern China in an attempt to understand the rise of Chinese power and the full range of possibilities for China’s modern identity and the world.

Empires and nations in modern eastern european history

Grades: 10-12

This course will examine the role of nationalism and national identity in the political, social, and cultural history of Eastern Europe between the late 19th century and the present. The force of nationalism has profoundly affected the history of Eastern Europe for the last 100+ years. In the 19th century, the multi-national Austro-Hungarian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires controlled most of Eastern and Southeastern Europe. At the end of World War I in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires collapsed, and the Russian Empire was replaced by the Soviet Union. The peacemakers at Paris tried to use national self-determination as an organizing principle for redrawing the boundaries of most of Eastern Europe, although other principles and realities affected the borders of ‘the New Europe’ as well. Between the end of the World War II in 1945 and the end of the Cold War in 1989, various forms of Communism dominated in Eastern Europe. Since 1989, borders have again been redrawn, most prominently in the lands of what was once Yugoslavia.


Grades: 10-12

The 2016 election season and defeat of Hillary Clinton left many women asking themselves what it meant anymore to be a feminist. The subsequent Women’s March on Washington blew up, on a very public stage, the tacitly accepted exclusivities of feminism in the United States. It was a reminder that one did not need to be a woman, or a person who identifies as a woman, to be a feminist, and one could arrive at feminist conclusions through a multitude of intersecting identities. This statement may seem odd or even anachronistic, but many would argue that one of the unspoken rules of American feminist thought has been that the leaders of the movement should be white, probably educated, women. Though the focus of this class will be a close examination of Second Wave feminist thought and literature, the goal of the course will be to try to piece together how we have arrived where we are today – only on the brink of coming to terms with the complexities of race, class, and colonial pasts that have shaped western feminism. With this in mind, students will delve into questions related to the definitions, goals, and various articulations of American feminism in the 20th and 21st centuries.

history of baltimore

Grades: 10-12

This is a course on the History of Baltimore, from the colonial period to the present. In this clear-eyed and affectionate view of our city, students will study how race, class, religion, economics, and politics all interact, as they play out in different areas of the city over time, and in relation to national trends. Topics for study include industrialization and de-industrialization, migration and immigration, streetcar suburbanization, redlining, white flight, and the events of ’68 and ’15. The text for the course is Antero Pietila’s Not In My Neighborhood, supplemented with History of Baltimore readers. Students will experience the city by taking regular field trips, and also explore its history and culture through film

modern africa

Grades: 10-12

“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” — George Kimble. “Out of Africa, always something new.” — Pliny the Elder. Imagined by the rest of the world as either a place of exotica and the destination for expensive safari vacations, or as the background to natural disasters and political chaos, the nations of Africa comprise amazing stories of political and cultural dynamism. In this course students will explore modern Africa’s history, from independence in the mid-twentieth century to the present. The course will cover some of the seminal literature that has come out of modern Africa and view the cinema of some of Africa’s contemporary filmmakers. Portions of this class will be in collaboration with students from the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

science and modern society

Grades: 10-12

This course examines the development of science in the West from the sixteenth century to the current day. While students will be tracking the major scientific advances that have come to shape the modern world, the main focus of the course will be on how science has both reflected and impacted the societies in which it developed. Key questions include: What is science? How has it been variously defined and why? Is science uniquely western? What roles have religion, race, gender, and class played in the production and impact of scientific discoveries? How have political and social interests shaped the uses of science? What is the nature of scientific progress, and what have been its costs?

Spring Semester Courses

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?

introduction to lgbtq+ studies

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. The central goals of this class are twofold. On the one hand, students seek to understand how and why binary categories such as male/female and gay/straight came to be seen as “normal” and “natural” in mainstream culture and politics. On the other hand, they will explore alternatives to these binary categories by engaging with writers and thinkers within the LGBTQ+ community. Topics include the lived experiences of queer communities; the intersection between LGBTQ issues and the politics of race and class; foundational readings in queer theory; and the rise of LGBTQ activism. This course can be taken for either English or History credit.

irish history and literature

Grades: 10-12

The Irish poet William Allingham probably could not imagine what this course might cover. On November 11, 1866, he summed up the history of Ireland in a diary entry: “Lawlessness and turbulency, robbery and oppression, hatred and revenge, blind selfishness everywhere — no principle, no heroism. What can be done with it?” So where did the Ireland that we know come from? — the Ireland of noble freedom fighters, brilliant poetry, beautiful music, and earthy wit? In this course students will study the history of how a poor, despised “subject people,” thought incapable of governing themselves, came to capture the imagination of the world. The course will begin at the ancient druid barrows that still stand in the Valley of the Boyne, then examine the reinvention of Irish myth and legend, and follow the violent Troubles between Catholic and Protestant Ireland from their origins to the present. This class will be taught by members of both the History and English Departments and may be taken either for history or English credit.

middle east since 1945

Grades: 10-12

This is a survey course of the Modern Middle East from the mid-20th century to the present. Though this course will focus on the Middle East in the wake of post-World War II settlements, the semester will begin with an overview of the ethnic groups and religious sects in the Middle East, as well as a brief examination of the Mandate period of the Interwar Years; the goal is an understanding of the context in which the events of the post-1945 era unfolded. After 1945, the Middle East saw the emergence of newly independent nations, the rebirth of an ancient nation – Israel, and the seemingly steady continuity of countries such as Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. During the last 70 years, however, the Middle East has regularly made the front page of American newspapers not because of its rich, diverse, and complex histories, but because of a seemingly endless number of wars, upheavals, and acts of violence centered on or emanating from this area of the world. The job for this class will be to try to understand and then challenge this narrative. Major moments that the class will examine will range from the foundation of Israel and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and the Syrian Civil War.

modern international relations

Grades: 10-12

Bilateral agreement, defcon level, peacekeeping forces, non-state actor, nongovernmental agency, security council resolution, WTO, WHO... These phrases and acronyms and many more are the language of international relations. By exploring the concepts of this lexicon and raising basic questions regarding how the modern international system works, how it evolved in the postwar era, and what disputes are most difficult for it to resolve, students will expand their vocabulary and understanding of global politics and economics. The course will involve debate, speech writing, film, mock negotiations, a guest speaker, and the requirement of keeping up — on a weekly basis — with world events in the news.

research and writing

Grades: 10-12 

This is a course for students who love reading, digging around in libraries and old archives, exploring mysteries, and writing. In one sense, the class is like an independent study, in that students can explore whatever subject or set of subjects they want. In another sense, though, there will be much more support than an independent study. There will be class time devoted to developing advanced research techniques, learning how to use archives and other collections, and practicing different kinds of writing in history. The class will visit the Library of Congress, the National Archives, Maryland State Archives, and the Maryland Historical Society – along with any other relevant collection.


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).