Upper School History

Menlo School history students hold a debate and mock election.

Exploring the past to impact the future.

The History Department seeks to give students a sense of the importance of the past, the present, and the future, and their connection and responsibility to all three. By the time of graduation, students are prepared to understand and appreciate past peoples, ideas, and events, as well as to maintain an informed understanding of current events for the rest of his or her life. It is our hope that our students will become critical, active participants in the community, nation, and world.

Course Catalog

  • Modern World History (9th Grade)

    The course begins with a look at how global trade led to an explosion of wealth and cultural production in the Ottoman Empire, Mughal India, Qing China, and Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. We then examine how the 19th-century world was shaped by topics such as Enlightenment ideals, nationalism, industrialization, imperialism, and reactions against these developments. The second semester focuses on the 20th century and the continuing tension between integration in a global, mostly Western-dominated system and the preservation of local traditions. The two world wars, decolonization, and the challenges facing the world in the 21st century are also major topics. Emphasis is placed on developing students’ skills in discussion, analytical writing, and conducting research.

  • US History (10th)

    This course examines the factors that led to America’s transformation from a relatively weak, divided, and isolated collection of colonies into the dominant nation of the twentieth century. In this course we will study the foundations of the United States; The Civil War and Reconstruction; Industrialization and Immigration at the turn of the 20th century; U.S. Imperialism; the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression; the impact of both World Wars on America’s government, economy, and society; the Cold War; and the Civil Rights Movement. Readings and class activities are structured to provide students with an opportunity to hear a variety of voices, explore differing and often opposing interpretations of history, and develop the tools necessary to define and support their own point of view. Special emphasis is placed on historical thinking and reading skills, media literacy, and the careful analysis of primary and secondary sources, as well as historical writing. Course requirements include several analytical essays and an independent research project.

  • AP US History (10th)

    Covering the United States from the first inhabitants to the present, this course addresses social, political, economic, geographic, and cultural topics. The course considers such major themes as the evolution of American democracy, race relations, and America’s changing role in the world. Emphasis is placed on the careful analysis of primary and secondary sources and analytical writing. Long-form essays and a major research paper are required. The Advanced Placement version of this course offers a more extensive independent research project than the non-AP option. In addition, it prepares students for the AP exam each May.

    Prerequisites: AP-level performance on multiple writing assessments, including two document-based essays, in Modern World History. A student who does not meet the History Department’s analytical writing standards before the course enrollment deadline may be added to a waitlist and subsequently enrolled in the course based on their academic growth during the final quarter of 9th grade.

  • Contemporary American Issues 2S

    Instructor: Mr Nelson

    Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    Trying to #StayWoke? Wondering about rising economic inequality, the national debt, mass incarceration, transgender rights, immigration and the rule of law, the “gig” economy, fake news and the fate of facts, the opioid crisis, and other pressing contemporary American issues? Interested in discussing how President Trump’s agenda squares with economic justice, human rights, and the Constitution? Do you want to learn how to address your representatives with your informed views in the clearest ways possible? Or reach out to the rural, blue-collar worker who has seen his livelihood vanish overnight, and understand his world? We will consult liberal and conservative thinkers – using film, field trip, and focused readings – to understand what it means to be American in the twenty-first century. This second semester class is ideally suited for the completion of the Junior history research project as you will sift through government data, think tank position papers, university research, and the like – you get to explore the contemporary American issue of your choice!  

     

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Ethnic Studies 1S or 2S

    Instructor: Ms. Borbon

    Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    Are you interested in learning from your peers’ personal experiences?  Do you enjoy frequent discussion and debate in a safe classroom environment? Ethnic Studies operates from the consideration that race and racism, have been, and continue to be, profoundly powerful social and cultural forces in American society. This course focuses on the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanas/os and Latinas/os, Native Americans, and other racialized peoples in the US. We will base our work on the concrete situations of people of color, and use a methodological framing that emphasizes both the structural dimensions of race and racism and the associated cultural dimensions.  The purpose of this course is to educate students to be politically, socially, and economically conscious about their personal connections to local and national history. We will focus on themes of social justice, social responsibility, and social change. The course spans from past to present, from politics to social reform, allowing students to identify similar social patterns and universal qualities present in other societies, including their own. Former students have said this course helped them develop as writers, researchers, and presenters while helping them to both challenge and clarify their personal beliefs surrounding identity, citizenship, and belonging in American society. In the fall, honors students complete an eight to ten-page research paper, and in the spring they complete a ten to twelve-page paper. Both papers are completed largely outside of class and in consultation with the teacher. As a result, honors students can expect a greater homework load than non-honors students.

     

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors, juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Global Issues for Global Citizens/1S

    Instructor: Mr. Nelson

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    Calling all future politicians, diplomats, businesspersons, philanthropists, lawyers, scholars, and activists. This course will prepare you to be a knowledgeable leader in an increasingly globally-connected world. You will study the Global Chessboard to understand all the stakeholders in international affairs, the United Nations along with the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, and global issues such as poverty, education, gender equality, health, environment, global security, and development. You will participate in the HAND Foundation Youth Philanthropy Project (YPP), a unique opportunity to advocate for a cause you are passionate about in collaboration with an NGO of your choosing. Our class activities, along with guest speakers, will help us understand that there is no “one size fits all” to the vexing issues that face our planet and us. Honors students complete an eight-page research paper from the YPP, largely outside of class and in consultation with the teacher. Additionally, honors students can expect a greater homework load with extra readings and more class discussion preparation than non-honors students. Non-honors students complete up to an annotated bibliography of the research process from the YPP.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Global Scholars Research/2S

    Instructor: Mr. Brown

    Global Scholars - IP supports upper level students interested in learning about global issues, gaining skills in presentation, and experiencing the thrill of deep-dive, long-form research in an area of their choosing and interest. Modeling a form used in higher education, students work with a panel of thesis advisors, write an extended essay or dissertation, and present and defend their conclusions before faculty, family and friends. If you are interested in investigating and understanding the wider world, choosing the focus of your learning, and gaining insight and experience into a kind of research done at higher levels of education, this course is for you. This is an honors course open to Juniors and Seniors. 

  • Introduction to Law 1S or 2S

    Instructor: Mr. Devitt

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    The Introduction to Law course has several purposes.  First, it introduces some of the basic concepts, theories and vocabulary related to criminal and civil law and the legal system of the United States. Second, it analyzes some of the core underpinnings of the American political system, specifically constitutional law and the interaction between the government and its citizens regarding civil liberties and rights.  Third, it provides students an opportunity to learn practical information and “survival” skills that can provide a road map to our law-saturated society. Finally, the course will allow students to think critically about the legal issues, laws and public policies that affect the world they live in. The course involves substantial reading and writing. Students also participate in trial simulations, debates, and have opportunities to work with legal professionals. Former students have commented that this class improved their ability to make persuasive oral arguments, to apply and synthesize case law relevant to current events, and to improve their argumentative writing and research skills. Honors complete an 8-10 page research paper accompanied by an oral presentation. As a result, honors students can expect a greater homework load than non-honors students.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors, juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Modern Political Rhetoric 1S

    Instructor: Mr. Nelson

    Bad Hombres & Deplorables

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    Calling all of you “bad hombres,” “deplorables,” and “nasty women” along with “makers and takers,” “gang-bangers,” “red-necks,” “Feminazis,” “yuppies,” “Jesus freaks,” “commies,” and “robber-barons.”  America has experienced increasing political gridlock since the 1990s, and has hit new levels of extremism since the 2016 presidential election. Political rhetoric, the art of political persuasion, has contributed substantially to the gridlock in Washington and the nation as a whole. In this class we will: study the modern history of political rhetoric (of comedians, religious leaders, activists, and politicians); learn how to package political ideas in their most persuasive form; practice rhetorical strategies with each other; and engage in civic advocacy. We will conduct rhetorical analysis of vital (yet oft-neglected) topics in recent American history, such as: the American conflict in Vietnam, the HIV/AIDS crisis, and the modern environmentalist movement. Additionally, you will develop surprisingly practical skills that will enable you to be a more effective communicator and political operative. Honors students complete an eight-page research paper, largely outside of class and in consultation with the teacher. Additionally, honors students can expect a greater homework load with extra readings and more class discussion preparation than non-honors students.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Philosophy/1S

     Instructor: Mr. Bowen

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    First Semester Philosophy–The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates) In this course we examine such questions as: What is the meaning of life?  The purpose of life?  Who decides and how do we do so? What is the connection between my mind and body (and soul?)? What does it mean to be an “authentic” person? How do I know whether God exists? Can this be proven? What is the role of belief and faith in examining this issue? What is art? What is good art? What do I know and how can I know it? How does language frame our reality? In what way am I truly free to choose what I do? What factors influence my choices, i.e. advertising, nature & nurture, my DNA, etc.? What is “fairness”?  How can we maintain a just and fair society? What does it mean to behave ethically? In exploring these and other issues the student will learn the approach taken by some of the greatest thinkers throughout history. From a skills perspective, philosophy students should expect to develop the ability to decipher the logical structure of an argument and, in doing so, determine whether an argument is both valid and cogent as well as to understand various logical fallacies and pitfalls.  In addition, students will hone their ability to write clearly and creatively, defending their own position on various abstract “big picture” issues in both written and spoken form.  Lastly, students will learn to read closely and critically in order to decipher the position of a philosophical paper, how it is defended, and what their own position on that issue is (and why).  The Honors Student will have three additional assignments throughout each semester involving taking on three subjects of their choosing. In addition, honor students will be required to write longer papers than other students, including a longer research-based paper at the end of the semester and more activity on an on-line Discussion Forum.

     

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Philosophy/2S

    Instructor: Mr. Bowen

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.  Juniors who take this course MUST take the honors option.

    In this course we examine such questions as: What is the meaning of life? The purpose of life?  Who decides and how do we do so? What is the connection between my mind and body (and soul?)? What does it mean to be an “authentic” person? How do I know whether God exists? Can this be proven? What is the role of belief and faith in examining this issue? What is art? What is good art? What do I know and how can I know it? How does language frame our reality? In what way am I truly free to choose what I do? What factors influence my choices, i.e. advertising, nature & nurture, my DNA, etc.? What is “fairness”?  How can we maintain a just and fair society? What does it mean to behave ethically? From a skills perspective, philosophy students should expect to develop the ability to decipher the logical structure of an argument and, in doing so, determine whether an argument is both valid and cogent as well as to understand various logical fallacies and pitfalls.  In addition, students will hone their ability to write clearly and creatively, defending their own position on various abstract “big picture” issues in both written and spoken form.  Lastly, students will learn to read closely and critically in order to decipher the position of a philosophical paper, how it is defended, and what their own position on that issue is (and why).  The Honors Student will have three additional assignments throughout each semester involving taking on three subjects of their choosing. In addition, honor students will be required to write longer papers than other students, including a longer research-based paper at the end of the semester and more activity on an on-line Discussion Forum.

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.  Students do not have to enroll in Philosophy I in order to take this course.

  • Swords & Ploughshares 2S

    Instructor: Mr. Nelson

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    Students will investigate horrendous evils and abominable acts in history, art, and film; and pose the question: How can we end such things in our world? We will first explore perspectives of human nature. Then, we will look at wars, psycho/sociopaths, genocide, and evil deeds in light of psychological, philosophical, and historical research. For instance, the Jewish Holocaust will figure significantly into our study with Philip Zimbardo’s seminal text, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil and Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem. We will conduct thorough historical investigations into the American war in Vietnam, the Rwandan Genocide, and America’s so-called ‘War on Terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan. Finally, we will study Just War Theory and International Humanitarian Law to determine what kinds of international conflict is justifiable, and scrutinize theories of non-violence, especially in collective action, asking together: Can all war, conflict, and violence be overcome through non-violent means (especially in an age of global terror)?  Honors students can expect a greater homework load, with extra readings and more class discussion preparation, than non-honors students. Moreover, honors students have enhanced requirements for the required junior research paper, with extra readings and intermittent leadership of class discussions.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • Leadership Case Studies 2S

    Instructor: Ms. Hanson

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    Bloodthirsty tyrants, foreign invasions and deadly plagues. You name it, Europe went through it; and the famous European leaders you’ve heard of are famous for a reason. Take this class if you’re interested in leadership tips from the men and women who transformed a chaotic and war torn landscape into the high-functioning Europe we know today. We will study the daunting challenges that confronted kings, queens, popes and parliaments as well as the life and death decisions they made. Students will develop skills in close reading of primary sources, advanced analytical writing, and decision analysis. Honors students will choose a leadership text from the era to write about and present in class. They will also conduct more advanced research for class projects and consult more sources than non-honors in our culminating research projects.

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • U.S. Foreign Policy 2S

    Instructor: Dr. Hanson

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    The United States has long had a twin reputation for idealism and self-interest in its international relations. This course will introduce you to major theories of international relations and themes related to the history of U.S. foreign policy, as it has been debated both by Americans and members of the international community. The course will begin by addressing Henry Kissinger’s question, “Does America need a foreign policy?” The course will then focus on diplomatic and military relations with foreign countries as well as topics such as immigration, economic relations, missionary activity, and links between foreign policy and domestic politics. Special attention will also be devoted to neighborly relations with Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. While this course is a History course that emphasizes primary and secondary source readings, in-class writing, and the completion of an independent research project, it will also cover concepts from political science, economics, literature, and communications.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • War and Peace: the Modern Middle East 1S

    Instructor: Ms. Hanson

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors. 

    What is it with the Middle East? The whole region seems to brim with conflict over territory, ethnic strife, and diplomatic conundrums. Some suggest the combustibility of the region is a result of European imperialism (politics), and others point to the centrality of the oil market (economics). Still others identify religious difference (cultural factors) as the culprit. On top of this, the complex combination of forces in play is only half of the problem for anyone trying to understand the Middle East. There is also the problem of how to navigate the different assumptions and biases that have influenced Western understanding (and misunderstanding) of the Middle East over time. This class is designed to face both of these challenges head-on. Students in this course will study the turning points in the region’s history since 1919, and develop a nuanced picture of the forces at work today. You will sharpen your primary source analysis skills, expand your argumentative writing toolkit, and conduct independent research. Honors students in both the fall and spring will become experts in 21st-century trends by reading and presenting selections from an additional text, and will consult substantially more sources than non-honors students in our culminating research projects.

    Prerequisites: Open to juniors and seniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

  • AP Economics

    Note: This course does not satisfy Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    The fall semester looks at microeconomics—how individuals and companies make decisions. Students examine basic market theory and consumer decision-making. The bulk of the semester covers the theory of the firm. Topics include perfect competition, oligopoly, monopolistic competition and monopoly. The role of government is also considered. The semester ends with a brief overview of the history of American economic history. The second semester is the study of macroeconomics—how the nation’s economy functions. The course looks at how to measure the size of an economy, unemployment and inflation. Most of the semester is spent on understanding the tools the government has at its disposal to manage the economy. The unit on international economics includes trade and currency exchange rates. Keeping up with current economic events is an on-going part of the course.

    Prerequisites: Enrollment is based on a placement test administered by the History Department. A student who does not automatically qualify for enrollment may be added to a waitlist and admitted on a space-available basis. (Complete Honors Pre-Calc or earn a B+ in Analytic Pre-Calc or earn an A in Principles of Pre-Calculus.) Open to seniors.

  • AP Government & Politics

    Note: This course satisfies a requirement for Citizenship & Leadership IP certification. This course does not satisfy Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement.

    This introduction to American and politics is the equivalent of Political Science 101 at many universities and colleges. The course examines the enormous power and control various governments have over their citizens and what affects this has on politics in general. It is designed to help students understand not only the nature and function of government, but also their relationship to it. Students are given an introduction to constitutional theory, analyze the institutions and policies of the United States, and debate the current issues affecting their lives as Americans.

    Prerequisites:  A- or higher in the non-honors version of any fall History Department elective, or a B+ or higher in the honors version of any fall History elective. A student who does not automatically qualify for enrollment may be added to a waitlist and admitted on a space-available basis. Open to seniors, and juniors on a space-available basis.

  • AP European History

    Instructor: Mrs. Hanson

    When comedian Eddie Izzard is asked about his background, he says “I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.” Take this class if you want to step up for some in-depth (and fun) analysis of the politics, ideas, conflicts, societies, and cultures of Europe since the Renaissance. This course has a lot to offer the history lover. The AP syllabus we cover is laden with rich, challenging topics. It demands patience for rigorous skill exercise in reading and evaluating sources, attending to the narrative details of 600 years of Europe’s history, conducting research and frequent analytical writing assignments. Students will be expected to commit to energetic class participation. The course is designed to prepare you for an AP exam next May, but the ultimate purpose of the class is larger than your exam results. We will engage critically with people and ideas of the past so as to be able to enhance the future, as informed individuals and as members of ever wider global communities.


    Juniors need to have earned at least an A- in RUSH, or a B+ in APUSH.

  • Contemplative Traditions of Asia

    Instructor: Mr. Brown

    This course explores wisdom lineages of Asia, including Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. We will emphasize Buddhist philosophy and meditation because of their particularly strong influence in both Asia and the West, and we will explore the resonances traditions of the East have with elements of indigenous, classical and Western religions. Within the scope of this content there are four primary aims: to understand the development of each tradition within its distinct historical and cultural context; to compare and contrast these wisdom teachings and practices; to consider the relevance of these traditions in light of contemporary research in psychology, ethics, biology, and related fields; finally, the course encourages students to try out different contemplative practices and to reflect on their effects. An honors option is available.


    Open to Juniors and Seniors.

  • The 2020 Election

    Instructor: Mr. Schafer

    The Biden-Trump showdown in the midst of a pandemic and major economic downturn is historic. In this semester-long class, we will not only follow the presidential election closely – the issues, the strategies, and the coverage – but also learn about the mechanics and architecture of American campaigns and elections – money, media, advertising, polling, interest groups, and political parties. The course will feature guest speakers, discussion of current events, and an extended research project on a topic of the student’s choice.

  • US Economic History 1S

    Instructor: Dr. Hanson

    Note: Honors option available to juniors and seniors.  Availability of this course is contingent upon the ability of the History Department to meet other staffing needs.

    This research-based survey course will focus on three central questions. Given that the English were the last Europeans to establish colonies in America, how did the least desirable territories give rise to the most successful economy in history? What role have international forces played in different stages of American economic development? To what extent did the drastic changes of the 19th and 20th centuries lay the foundation for continued economic success in the 21st?  This class will introduce you to some skill sets that will be useful in college and beyond, including basic statistical analysis and economic modeling. Along with economic history itself, you will get an introduction to the intersection of politics and economics called political economy. You will also have the opportunity to hone your reading, writing, speaking, and research skills. Non-honors students will read various news articles and one short book, conduct short research projects involving the use of library databases, and complete a Do-It-Yourself DBQ on a topic of personal interest. Honors students will prepare a longer DBQ with formal Chicago-style citations and bibliography, engage in one-on-one meetings outside of class, and complete additional writing and oral presentations based on their independent research.

    Prerequisites: Open to seniors and juniors, and sophomores with instructor permission.

Course Sequence

  • All 9th grade students take Modern World History.
  • All 10th grade students take either U.S. or Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History. There is no grade prerequisite for enrollment in AP U.S. History. Rather, the History Department analyzes student performance on multiple writing assessments to gauge readiness for the advanced study of History. Students who do not meet the standards for automatic enrollment in the AP course may be admitted if places become available AND they demonstrate requisite academic growth for the duration of their freshmen year. AP U.S. History is designed to be a college-level course, expectations of students’ ability to work independently and learn from initial setbacks are correspondingly higher.
  • All 11th grade students take two semesters of coursework from the History Department’s wide range of elective offerings. Every elective with exception of Philosophy, AP Economics, and AP U.S. Government satisfies Menlo’s three-year History graduation requirement. Every student must write a lengthy research paper in the elective of their choice during the spring of their junior year.
  • There is no requirement to take a History class in 12th grade. Seniors are given priority in signing up for the electives taken by juniors, and courses are also open to sophomores when space permits. Some electives are divisible at the semester, but others such as AP Micro- and Macro-economics are available only as a two-semester sequence.