The Park School history department considers the ultimate goal of historical study at the secondary level to be the formation of those attitudes and skills that enable students to understand the world around them so that they can constructively participate in a democratic society. We hope to graduate young people who recognize the non-objective nature of information and who take the time to seek out and compare alternative contentions in arriving logically at personal positions concerning the key issues of their world.

The emphasis in course organization is generally on historical problems, and assignments emphasize 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 historical research skills are taught in required courses, culminating in a major research paper each year.

Three years of history are required for graduation; additionally, most students take at least one elective course in history.

Independent Studies can be arranged in the history department for semester credit; every year a small number of students—usually juniors and seniors—seek this opportunity to work independently on a subject of their interest.


  • 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

This course examines the 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. Students study colonialism, independence movements, and the conflicts engendered by the new nationalism of the 19th Century. A research paper, building on skills learned in 9th grade, is required.

20th Century History

Grade: 11 Required

In this course, 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, building on skills learned in the 9th and 10th grades, is required.

Fall Semester History Electives

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, students will develop visual literacy and learn to recognize how various cultures have expressed and perpetuated many of their most deeply held values through art and architecture. The ultimate question is this: how does art (from painting and architecture to advertising and fashion) influence our own sense of reality and shape our own 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 & Protest, Gender & Identity, and The Environment. 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 discuss, read and write about art, and plan to take a field trip or two to see some art in person. (Readings will be provided in class.)

This course can be taken as an art or history credit.

case studies in American women's history

Grades 10-12

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” Declaration of Sentiments, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1848

The United States of America was founded on principles of equality, justice, and freedom. Yet as this nation was built, a patriarchy was born: unequal opportunities were bred, unjust systems were instated, and freedom was accessible only to those who were educated, wealthy, white and male. By studying the exclusion and participation of women in American economic, political, and social life, students will gain a more complete understanding of those who held America accountable to its founding principles. This course will focus on the evolving role of gender and on the struggles and achievements of American women from the mid-nineteenth to late twentieth century. The class will not only examine power relations between men and women, but will also gain understanding of the power relations between women of different races, class, cultures, and sexual orientation. Through a multicultural approach, students will consider case studies of women undermining the patriarchy with the aim of challenging old narratives of American history.

Elections, past and present

Grades 10-12

“There is only one redeeming thing about this whole election. It will be over at sundown, and let everybody pray that it’s not a tie, for we couldn’t go through with this thing again.” – Will Rogers

If you haven’t noticed, there’s an election campaign going on. While it may seem like a saga without an end, there will in fact be a presidential election this fall. What better time to look into the history of presidential elections in modern U.S. history? Students will study the factors in elections, including media, interest groups, polling, and the language of politics. They will also examine classic journalistic accounts of campaigns, including books and documentary films.


Grades 10-12

In this one-semester Ethics seminar, students will grapple with questions of rights, justice, fairness, what people deserve, and the common good. If approached with care and civility, any topic is up for discussion in this class, including issues of crime and punishment, animal rights, abortion, gossip, reparations for the holocaust and slavery, gender equity, cannibalism, and how to program ideas of right and wrong into our future robot overlords. Students will read short stories, watch films, examine current events, talk about dilemmas here at Park, and explore the ideas of philosophers, both ancient and modern. The books for the class are Gordon Marino’s Ethics: The Essential Writings, and a supplementary reader.

latin American history

Grades 10-12

An interdisciplinary introduction to Latin America, the course draws on film, popular press accounts, and scholarly research. Topics include economic development, human geography, ethnic and racial identity, religion, revolution, democracy, social justice, and the rule of law. Examples come from a range of countries in the region, especially Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Peru, and Brazil. The main historical text for the course, Silver, Sword, and Stone, Three Crucibles of Latin American History (2019) by Marie Arana examines the vital link between complex pre-colonial societies and their profound transformation by European conquest. Arana reveals the continuities of that epic narrative in understanding present-day culture and politics of Latin America by tracing the lives of three contemporary, ‘ordinary’ people: Leonor Gonzales, Carlos Buergos, and Xavier Albó. Two documentary films and a small document Reader will also be used.

Plagues and Peoples in World History

Grades 10-12

This course explores some of the most notable epidemics in world history from the Black Death in the Middle Ages to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Humanity and epidemic disease have shared a long and intimate history. A central goal with these case studies is to understand those links between societal change and disease. Topics include the origins of epidemics; how warfare, commerce and imperialism have shaped disease and vice versa; and how race, class, religion, and political context have informed the ways societies have dealt with (or not dealt with) disease. Students will also use the materials in this course to reflect critically on how they themselves explain changes in health over time and across space.

World War II

Grades 10-12

World War II was the most destructive and widely dispersed conflict in human history. Sixty million people died, including 40 million civilians. The war undermined Europe’s world dominance and ushered in the American-Soviet global rivalry. What began as separate German and Japanese expansionist drives became a truly world war in 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Japan attacked the United States. This course will examine all aspects of World War II: military, political, diplomatic, economic, social, cultural, and ideological. Although students will study the causes and aftermath of the war, the focus of the course will be on the war itself, and particularly on the years 1939-1945.

Spring Semester History Electives


Grades 10-12

Regardless of who you are or where you are from, economic forces play a major role in your life. Where you live and work, the price of Berger cookies, where you go to school, the taxes you will pay, what movies are in the theaters, and even whether or not you read to the bottom of this course description—the study of economics pokes its nose into all of these, and a lot more besides. Students will study forces that govern individual markets and the allocation of resources (microeconomics) and inflation, unemployment, and business cycles (macroeconomics). The purpose of this course is to provide a new lens for understanding the world.

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?

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 resistance to the power of deceit, 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 them through the issues of colonialism and imperialism, poverty and class, labor and social structures, politics and language, and the rise of totalitarianism. The class will read essays such as “A Hanging,” “Shooting an Elephant,” and “Politics and the English Language;” fictional works, such as 1984, “Down and Out in Paris and London;” and non-fiction, including “The Road to Wigan Pier” and “Homage to Catalonia.”

Renaissance and Reformation

Grades 10-12

After chipping away for three years at a 17 foot block of marble, Michelangelo Buonarroti finished his famous statue of biblical King David in 1504. (This is the one where a naked David stares over his left shoulder at his opponent like a Roman god, you know the one?) The small but influential city of Florence, Italy, commissioned Michelangelo for the statue. By then Florence was the acknowledged capital of the Renaissance. Almost exactly 1,000 kilometers due north is the small but historically influential town of Wittenberg, Germany. It was here just a few months later that a young Roman Catholic school teacher named Martin Luther posted a set of statements about what he believed should be human beings’ relationship to each other and to God. In the end both these fellows set in motion revolutionary new standards and were part of larger rebellious movements. What was the milieu (the socio-political culture) of central ‘Germania’ and ‘Italia’ in which they arose? And how were their ideas at the heart of the Renaissance and Reformation era? Through a selection of primary documents, art work, films, and scholarly essays, this course will seek to explore and connect two contemporaneous movements in European history and measure their worth for us today.

the Vietnam wars

Grades 10-12

The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the 20th century. How did it happen? Why were the Vietnamese at war with each other? Why did France, China, and the U.S. involve themselves? Why did so many people outside of Vietnam care? Why did it drag on for so many decades? Why does it continue to loom so large in American memory and foreign policy today? This seminar-style course draws on a rich variety of sources and perspectives to explore these questions. Specific topics include: the impact of French colonialism on traditional Vietnamese society; the role of World War II in the rise of nationalism and communism in Vietnam; the motives, stages, and strategies of American intervention in Vietnam; the experiences of the Vietnamese; the rise of the anti-war movement in the U.S.; and the lessons and legacies of the conflict for both Vietnam and the United States.


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 as specified prior to the registration date for that semester.